Wordle: Thinking About Time Poems and Calligrams

Over the past fortnight, a number of posts and tweats have circulated about Wordle a "Word Cloud Generator." This morning a backlog of work out the way, and the arrival of rain when I was gardening left some time to explore the tool for myself and ponder on the uses I might have for the tool. Word play seems a great place to begin, perhaps using Wordle to develop poetry tasks, or to collect and present WOW words during class talking for writing sessions, in a different way.

A favourite poem to use with students is "Morning" by Grace Nichols. I first used this with my class supported by a series of activities I found in a book by Ray Barker and Christine Moorcroft called Developing Literacy: Poetry Year 4. The activities presented here, have worked really well as starting points for work with students of differing ages and across the ability range, including my current class. Here is an example Wordle, generated from this poem.

The poem if you are not familiar with it has a repetitive two line structure, and is it evolves rhythmically "Morning comes with a .." series of nouns and onomatopoeic verbs to describe their actions. Innovating on and adapting this poem with students I have enjoyed initially brainstorming and collecting morning objects and the actions they make. The children taking the skeleton of the poem, and changing the noun verb phrases using new words we have collected. It seems to me that interms of wordplay and presentation of the words we collect, a "Wordle" cloud would be a really interesting way to display these for the students to use.

I particularly like the way the tool displays repeated words in larger fonts, and how the more times a word is used determines how large it will appear in the Wordle. I find my class often repeat words, and so entering them as they arise, no matter how often it is repeated could present an interesting starting point for the talk for writing and initial drafting of their works. We could discuss our favourite words, since these will be the largest, but also highlight the less frequently used words, perhaps adding some of our own to the mix.

Returning to the morning poem:

Morning Comes
With a milk float jiggling

The students could be encouraged to use our class wordles to innovate on the format to write their own Morning poem using the word cloud for inspiration. M
ost of the students could begin selecting suitable words from anywhere on the cloud while others could be challenged to use the less frequently used vocabulary, the smaller words in the cloud. The Cloud helping to support diferentiation and challenge.

The milk float jiggling, might become birds chirruping, sunbeams dancing, toast burning, brothers and sisters squabbling and so on.

What I really like about this poem though are the expansive possibilities, and the temporal nature of the subject. "
Morning" might just as easily be night as in the text mentioned above, but could also become hometime, playtime, assembly, Saturday, Summer, Christmas.

Once familiar with the original poems structure, and the Wordle enviroment it might be a fun place for the students to begin collecting, playing with and arranging their ideas using a word cloud on their own or in small groups. Thinking about events and objects that occur at different times?

Wordle clouds are potentially interesting ways to collect Wow Words for display and use not only on the wall or IWB, but in terms of collaborative wordplay they could be useful places to play with and explore multimodally other ways these words might be be presented. Changing font style, colour and orientation, to match the subject of the poem being developed providing further challenges to support talk for writing where in plenary or review students present their Wordles and reasoning for the final presentation style, the outcome of the word cloud itself recieving treatment as a poetic form.

An After Thought

As I have beeen drafting this post an interesting thought about linking these activities to mathematics work and the passage of time has come to mind. A class timeline of our day, our week, the seasons or even the months of the year, using either the poem or wordle to help seems an interesting idea. They would also look great as a new or end of month post/summary on a class blog, a collection of thoughts, memories, feelings to prompt and engage studetns in talk with each other or parents about the learning that has happened during that time. This is a tool that I realy must share with my colleagues, and which would make a cool addition to the year 3 Calligrams and Shape poems unit we developed with students in the Autumn Term last year. Thanks to all who shared..

Update 30/10/08

Since publishing this post I have worked with my students to write innovations on Grace Nicholls' poem morning, example outcomes can be found on the student blog by following these links.

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