Wordle your way to writing (and reading) insights

By Pewari Naan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pewari/4504899937

A random wordle someone else put on flickr because I’m too un-tech-savvy to figure out how to put MY wordle here. How lame is that?

You’ve seen them around, those super cool clouds of most frequent words in a text. Maybe you saw the ones that were floating around after the most recent state of the union speech. See word clouds for a number of Obama speeches here.

What’s the appeal of these word clouds? Well, they can make us see surprising emphases that come across through accumulation over many pages. But after making my own wordle and seeing how the tool works, I realize that–even if you don’t change the actual words included–how you resort the words or lay the word cloud out can draw much more attention to certain words. This is not to say that the wordle is any less cool, just a mild caution against putting too much stock in them when they’re being used to highlight partisan differences (“see what the enemy was talking about!?”).

You can make your own wordles and play around with them at www.wordle.net.

This could be interesting as an opportunity for reflection after a first draft–do the words I use reflect what I think I’m writing about? Are there any surprises? Should I do something to build on the surprises? What new directions can I try based on connections I see between the more frequent words? Are there words I thought I’d see here but don’t? Here’s the wordle for a full draft of What Can’t Wait.

Teachers might use this as a pre-reading activity with classroom texts. Can you tell anything about Romeo and Juliet from its wordle? What do you observe? What questions does it make you want to ask? Similarly, in my infinite dorkiness, I could totally imagine myself using a wordle of a text to launch some of my own prewriting.

Bottom line: wordles give us a chance to shuffle words and think about the connections between them without the (wonderful) distraction of the narrative structure or rhetoric that originally organized them.

 

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