Using word clouds for social collaborative learning

Google wordcloud - Tes from Jisc article : Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement

Google word cloud – Created from a Jisc article: Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement


What is a word cloud?

A word cloud is a graphical representation of word frequency. I am big fan of word clouds and have introduced these to my own students to visually analyse a piece of text and also as a visual representation of keywords as a graphic to use in posters, both printed and as digital infographics.

Tools allow you to generate word clouds from any text that you provide (or via a URL). You simply copy and paste the the text into the cloud generator. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. The more times a word appears in the selected text, the bigger it will appear in the word cloud. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. Also if you wish to add a selection of words and give prominence to one, you add this word multiple times. To keep two words together add a tilda ~

Wordle text box

Click submit to create the word cloud. As mentioned this can then be edited by selecting different fonts, colour schemes or layouts.

A wordle word cloud

Example of a simple word cloud

There are a number of tools that you can use to create word clouds. The examples below are ones where you do not need to register or download:


Using Google Docs

This is the point where word clouds becomes social when integrated within Google Docs. Users can collaborate on shared projects and communicate in real time or asynchronously through comment boxes within the shared document. The added word cloud can form an additional focus for discussion.

First of all the text to be discussed needs to be added to the Google Doc. Then you can activate the word cloud  tool. Here it is referred to as a tag cloud generator.

Go to: Add-ons > Tag cloud generator > Create tag cloud

Google tagcloud

Below is text taken from a Jisc article written by Lisa Parcell titled ‘Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement’. To the right of the image you can see the word cloud created.

Google wordcloud


Social collaborative learning

Within Google Docs as mentioned you can then use the Comments tab for discussion. In this context it could be about the shared article and keywords highlighted in the word cloud with peers. The doc could then of course be shared using the URL to encourage wider conversations. Adding a further dimension a Google Hangout could be set up and the group share the Google Doc as a focus for their verbal discussions.

How have you used word clouds in a social learning context?


About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
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