Word Clouds as an Assessment Strategy

I am always searching for new assessment strategies to engage my students and recently one strategy that has been popular in my classroom and with some of the teachers in my division has been word clouds. Depending on the context, word clouds can be used for assessment for learning (diagnostic), assessment of learning (summative), or assessment as learning (reflective).

A word cloud is a cluster of words, with varying size dependent on the popularity of the term. This is an example of a word cloud that I created with my class, after we examined poetry as a form of expression through Tagxedo.com.

There are many websites that you can utilize to create a word cloud. I have used Wordle, and Tagxedo in my classroom and both are very user friendly. There are many other options out there as well.

Word clouds can make a great assessment strategy as they provide a visual image that can be utilized as a discussion starting place. Based on the context, word clouds can serve varying purposes. Here are some ideas related to how word clouds can be utilized in the teaching and learning process.

Assessment for learning (diagnostic)
• Prior to beginning a unit, ask students a basic question and record their answers or have them type them in a word processing document. A Google Doc or other collaborative space like a wiki works excellently as students can all input their ideas at the same time. If you create a chart with two columns – the students names in one and their response in the other it makes it easy for the students to know where to enter their ideas.
• The word cloud will give you a great frame of reference for the most common ideas presented by the group as a whole.
• It will also show the vocabulary they are using related to the topic.

 Assessment of learning (summative)
 • At the end of a unit, ask students a “big question” and record their answers or have them type them in a word processing document or Google Doc (see above for tips).
• The word cloud will give you a great reference point for the depth of understanding within the group or individually (depending on if you put each students response as a word cloud, or as a group).
• It will also show the vocabulary they are using related to the topic.
• It is interesting to do a before vs. after view where you place the two word clouds side by side and see the development of their vocabulary.
• Extensions/Applications – Asking student to explain the most popular terminology on the word cloud or select the most important words that they feel are necessary to explain the concept.

Assessment as learning (reflective) 
• Have students reflect on what their word clouds includes.
• Are they using the vocabulary or terminology associated with the unit?
• How did their ideas grow from the beginning to the end of the unit?

TIP
– Always type the text into a word processing document first, as I have typed it in the website box before and had an error and lost all of the data!

Reflective Practitioner
A few of the teachers in my school have also taken their report card comments and create word clouds to look at the vocabulary they were using in their comments. Where there words that they were using too frequently? Was there too much “teacher jargon”? Was there a common theme for a specific student between various teachers? It was interesting to see what the report card comments looked like as a word cloud.

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