If you have ever used Wordle, you know what a word cloud is. Also called a tag cloud, word clouds are visual representations of word frequency. Word cloud generators work by analyzing text and counting the number of times each word has been used. They then create an image in which the more frequently used words are larger. This allows students to see at a glance which words are the most repeated in the document. Word clouds are wonderful tools for helping students identify main ideas and key topics in a passage. They allow for student creativity in a way that just listing ideas in a graphic organizer does not. Here are a few of my favorite word cloud generators for you to explore. I also recommend that you take a look at slideshare user Gemma Holtam's presentation, 50 Interesting Ways to Use Wordle in the Classroom. Her suggestions are applicable to any of the word cloud generators below.
Tagul (http://www.tagul.com) allows for many types of customizations (layout shape, fonts, colors, etc.). What makes it really stand out is that if you embed your created image, when you roll over a tag, it animates and can be clicked to a Google search for that term (the default behavior) or to any other website you have assigned. The service is free, but requires registration with a valid email address to use, which may limit some classroom applications. Text may be added by typing in the box or copying and pasting, but can also be uploaded from a spreadsheet or pulled from any website you desire. The commonly used word filter can be customized to remove the basic set of words or just those you want it to remove. Below is an example of the text from the Declaration of Independence; be sure to hover over the tags to see how they move.
ABCYa Word Clouds for Kids (http://www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm) works just like Wordle, but doesn't run on Java, so it runs on all popular browsers. It is easy for young students to use, since it offers enough color and font options to make them happy, but not so many that they are overwhelmed. Text can be added only by typing directly in the box or by copying and pasting; there is a filter (on by default, but you can turn it off) to remove the most common English words. The generated word clouds can be saved to your computer or printed easily. The image below was created using text from an information page for elementary students.
Tagxedo (www.tagxedo.com) works similarly to Tagul, but doesn't require a login. There are many choices of shapes, and you can upload your own as well, although it is not as easy to do as it is in Tagul. Text can be added by typing in the box or by copying and pasting. You are also supposed to be able to add text from a URL as well, but I have not been able to do so. Saving and printing your image is easy. This site could be a good solution for many who liked Wordle but are now finding that it no longer works for them and don't want to use a site where logins are needed.
Word Sift (http://www.wordsift.com) is a website maintained by Stanford University ELL Resources, but it is wonderful for all students. It works a little differently than the other word cloud generators, as it identifies the 50 most common words in the text you enter and only incorporates those into the cloud. They appear in alphabetical order, but can be easily sorted in various other ways with the click of a button. The most frequent word is entered into the Visual Thesaurus below the cloud and the resulting word web is shown. The results page also includes sample sentences and images from Google searches of the most frequent words. If you are interested in learning more about this excellent product, I recommend that you visit the site and watch this video explaining how it works (4:42 minutes).