Good Writing – Using Word Clouds to Determine the Main Point of an Essay
A word cloud is a visual representation, or “cloud” of any body of text. Typically, a word cloud program creates a picture of your text, with the words that are used most often in a large font and the words that are used infrequently in progressively smaller fonts. These visual maps allow visual learners to determine the main point, or theme, of an essay.
Pschologists have identified several distinct learning styles. Among these learning styles are
- Verbal: Learn primarily through the use of words
- Kinesthetic: Learn primarily through motion
- Auditory: Learn primarily through hearing
- Tactile: Learn primarily through touch
- Visual: Learn primarily through sight.
Visual Learners at Disadvantage
In a writing class, students who have a verbal learning style are at an obvious advantage. The text they read consists primarily of words; the grammar exercises are made up of words; the essays they write are all words. But what about students whose learning style is not verbal, but visual? These students are at a disadvantage. Sometimes these students fumble through their essays without being able to articulate a main idea, whereas their verbal counterparts just breeze through.
A word cloud can be seen as a “drawing” or map of an essay. Once a student has written an essay, that student may submit the essay to a word cloud generator, and that student can literally “see” the main point of the essay by looking at the size of the relevant words that he or she uses most in the essay. For example, if a student wishes to write an essay about the topic of “animal rights,” then that student might expect to see the words “animal” and “rights” in large bold letters of the essay’s word cloud. But what if the words “animal” and “rights” are very small? Then that student knows, visually, that he or she might want to revise the essay to emphasize the main topic.
Using word clouds to help visual learners determine the main point of a draft is only one tool, among many, that may help a student write a better, more focused essay. Like any tool, these visual maps have limitations. Words like “is” and “the” are typically not included in a word cloud. Only “content” words are drawn. This feature may be a limitation if the teacher is trying to emphasize the limited use of the verb “to be.”
Used correctly, word clouds can be a useful tool for visual learners to determine the main point of their essay drafts and to revise accordingly. I have used this tool successfully in writing classes I teach. Students often print and submit different clouds because they find them striking. Most importantly, the visual learners get a visual image of their essay, with the main point, as they have articulated it, in big, bold letters.