I’m now filing Wordle alongside Animoto in my drawer labeled “Cool Technology The Classroom Value Of Which The Edtechnoblogosphere Grossly Overestimates.”

The output of each is interesting – jittery, rhythmic slideshows in Animoto; neatly formatted word clouds in Wordle – but for classroom purposes we need to stop judging these tools on the quality of their output rather on the rigor of their input and the interpretation of their output.

Each requires input which would hardly challenge a toddlerBetter Wordle Activity: Have the students develop the frequency distribution chart for a small text themselves and then create the cloud from rules like “between nine and twelve instances receives a thirty point font.” Even then, I’m not sure what this thing does, though I’m sure it has little to do with “theme.”.

Taking up Sylvia’s reductio ad absurdum here:

Maybe I’ll keep mashing these tools up in real-time as y’all fawn over them, hoping that if I exaggerate the cookie-cutter enough it’ll persuade someone to jump ship.

Anybody want to elect a shelf for these tools in Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy?

It’s only a matter of time before y’all find Thumber, which only asks you to select a movie file and press “Go” before it does all the heavy lifting for youBetter Thumber Activity: Have the students select fifteen posters from high-grossing movies from child rating though restricted. Use IMDB. Build a color distribution (ie. what colors do you see and in approximately what percents?) and compile something like this, which shows children’s movies consistently employing bright blues and restricted movies employing blacks and reds. Awesome..

Let’s call it what it is.


  1. This Thing I Just Realized
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m with you on both counts. As toys, they’re fun (or Wordle, for me – I never got Animoto), but it’s hard to see them as anything but Twinkies for the classroom.

    Interesting stuff you’re doing with video. Don’t call me a thief when I branch out similarly in the coming months – even if I do steal some of your ideas.

    And apparently you’re somehow marital or something. If congrats are in order, there they are. Good luck. I’m loving it so far.

    Hugs and kisses.

  2. I can’t see using Wordle as more than eye-candy elementary-school style. It’s the same as bulletin board borders and pre-cut letters so the words on the bulletin boards look really nice and sharp.

    Yes, my students might have fun making a Wordle but what would it teach them? Not much. Maaaaaaaybe I could stretch a lesson on overuse of certain words but even then there are easier and more effective ways to make that point, I’m sure (like COUNTING! :) ).

  3. Don’t knock Wordle, man. I have seen the light. The theme of all literature in English is “THE.”


    So you have to ask: where might a quick visual rep of a word frequency count make sense?

    Say, for instance, that middle schoolers are notorious for their lack of diversity in word choice and being oblivious to said weakness. (This is a pure theoretical, of course.) So have them pump in a paragraph or two of their own text and see what Worldle tells them about “cool,” “nice,” “fun,” and “and”. Much more interesting than my sympathetic face and green pen circles.

    I can also see a means by which some opportunities for fun poetry might come out of a Worldle cloud– but honestly, opportunities for fun poetry can come off a Campbell’s soup can label, so no real earth-shattering pedagogy there.

  4. Let me disagree a bit. I totally agree with the input being more important than the output. However, one thing that helps with engaging students is the short and sweet. Using Wordle as a 15 minute warm up, a 15 minute assessment (instead of a quiz) can make things a little fun for the students without it being the major grade/project for a lesson.

    For example, it’s Monday morning, and the week before, you taught about the Cold War. Giving them 15 minutes to use Wordle to highlight the main ideas would be a great way for kids to recall what was taught, and then for them to display and even justify why they gave certain themes more weight.

    Would I use this to replace a major essay or project that’s intended for a group of students? No way. But for a quick hit, I’m sure your students would enjoy the break from monotony.

  5. Personally, I’m feeling Animoto dizzy.

    “Math” ain’t in your adorable Wordle poster?

    But “lawns” and “lawnmower” are?

    Guess that makes you like a Stephen King short story character.


    [Scratch. Scratch.]

    Man. There. Must. Be. A. Lesson. In. Aggregated. Tagging. Relationships. Here. Somewhere.


  6. Or you could give the the total word count and have them work backwards to figure out the frequency (or a range) for each word.

    Does this have any value? Perhaps with estimation, reasoning, … Is there a better way – most likely.

    Have I played with Wordle? Yes, it was amusing for a few minutes (especially the ACT College Readiness Standards for Math Wordle). Am I designing a lesson around it? Nope.

  7. [Smile]

    [Kinda funny what pops up in the comment thread as you’re waiting for your own comment to make its way through the comment robot filter. Just saw Dina’s add.]

    Kinda digging the teacher-sans-red-pen approach that Dina mentioned above re: having kiddos squint really up close and personal like at the frequency of their own word choice.

    But. Wait.

    Perhaps that’s because I wrote the following in a post last month when I grabbed a seat on the Wordle bandwagon like all the rest of dem new school voices:

    Dawns on me that it would be intriguing to run my students’ own essay through a Wordle cloud tag blender to show them in real terms which words bullrushed the reader’s mindspace:

    * Would words like “like” run roughshod over the rest in visual cacophony of rad-ness?
    * Or would it be an obnoxious — and seldom grasped — litany of hey, look at my SAT word explosion choices instead?


    Since I’m going to make it a grade-impacting requirement this coming fall that that they submit every essay (in-class and formal/typed alike) to me in ‘digital’ and ‘paper’ forms (alike), it wouldn’t be that hard to do a little cut-n-paste job into Wordle to see what pops up.


    Yet another English classroom geek moment is born!

    Link to that post, for anyone that cares one little Wordle bit:


  8. Now we need some sort of random audio generator so we can have a trifecta. Audlemoto? Maybe the user picks a favorite color, food, and animal to generate 3 minutes of smooth jazz.

  9. I’m just shooting from the hip here, but what if you had a moderately large set of data, and needed to find the mode quickly? You could just dump the numbers into Wordle, and shouldn’t it give a cool diagram that shows me the mode?

    OK, that’s really stretching it to try to use a verbal tool with quantitative data, but now I’m actually sort of curious to see if it works!

  10. Rich-dude: You’re gonna make me like math again if you keep that naughty quantitative business up.

    But will our kids learn how to use a calculator? Or will they go the way of the slide rule once the lil’ buggers figure out what Wordle can do for them late at night when the homework candle is burning low?

    Creepers: Is Wordle the new black or what?

  11. @Clay, your School 2.0 backsliding is safe here. re: your video endeavors, I’m trying to wrap my head around some sort of how-to curriculum so please lemme know if I can help. If I recall, you’re using Mac software which gives you a homecourt advantage right there.

    @the defense attorneys (Liza Lee, Dina, Mike & Jackie), mostly agreed w/r/t your classroom applications. I’m not saying Wordle has zero value, just that its value is “grossly overestimated.”

    Props to those who recognize this thing won’t do much for “theme” but maybe, in some cases, will illustrate overused words.

    @Christian, acute, painful observation there. (“Math” absent from my Wordle.) Frankly, I’m a little intimidated by math teacher bloggers, folks like Jackie who traffic in math Olympiad problems which I haven’t touched since college. I have fallen more gracefully into the “teacher” niche, I guess, focusing on general classroom efficiencies at the expense of the subject I teach.

    Chris Lehmann would approve. (“We teach students first,” etc.) My math methods professors would not.

    @Rich, FTW! Awesome, just awesome.

  12. Grossly overvalued, perhaps. As a Language Arts teacher however I could see using it for the publishing phase of a writing project.

  13. I continue to “delurk”. I teach elementary school – intermediate and prep as the teacher-librarian. I’m also a newbie supreme as far as Web 2.0 goes and have been on a massive 5 month learning curve, so pardon me if I it seems like I’ve missed the point here.
    I see Wordle as an interesting addition to my field study on computer-based graphic organizers. Maybe using Wordle for key words/main ideas connected to note-taking that will end up as a research paper would help kids retain the information? The colour, the graphics, while all glitz and glam, may have a deeper impact. Thanks for the tres interesting site.
    Animoto – hmmm, could think of a few interesting things to do with that too, but I don’t teach high school. I think it would be great for a gr. 7 project or two or a lunchtime activity.

  14. Jason: Is it bad that you said that and I immediately remembered seeing something like that before? Because I’m pretty sure you just described soundbadge, minus the three minutes bit. Scary.

  15. I just wrote a lengthy post on U of Quebec’s “Vocabulary Profiler,” which I called “Wordle with Teeth.”

    Combining corpus linguistics with color-coded word frequency breakdowns, it does everything Wordle can’t.

    @Dina, it’s applicable to your point about student self-assessment of their writing, and serves that purpose far more admirably than Wordle.

    It also can guide teachers to enhance their practice by quickly identifying low-frequency vocab in their class readings so they can pre-teach them, yadda yadda.

    Great tool. Too bad it doesn’t have a catchy name like Vookab or something else 2.0.

  16. Several other sites might be added to the waste of time list–you might take a look at Voki and one of my favorites Blabberize. I know, I know, everybody wants an avatar but talking llamas—pleezzee.

    Here is one you might actually like– http://zipskinny.com/

  17. Wordle–useless for me
    Animoto–just a bunch of fun to show a whole lot of pics to a group, but I wouldn’t use it in class except to say, “here is something you might like, use it if you want.”

  18. Funny, I wrote a post about Wordle a few weeks back and had no idea anyone else had even picked up on it other than the design blog where I found it. I thought you might have found it from me, but I guess others are ranting, too.

    While I certainly do enjoy “the quality of their output,” it’s only because of “the interpretation of their output” that I’d even use Wordle in class; that’s where my judgment of this comes from. But the quality of the output cannot be ignored — you and I both, Dan, have used more than one blog entry to discuss the importance of design in the classroom.

    Getting ready to teach a complicated text? Start it off with a word cloud of that text and have students find meaning in the frequency of words. In the middle of a unit? Run a sample essay of the writing style you’re teaching and see what comes up. Finished with something? Debrief as a class, getting each student to contribute a word/sentence which sums up their understanding. Run all those words/sentences through Wordle.

    With both of these products, it seems that they suffer from trying to condense long works. What if Wordle was used for only the first few paragraphs of a book? Animoto for just a certain 5 minute segment of video? Would the results be more meaningful then?

  19. Damn it. I didn’t realize you’d already done this.

    On a positive note, I haven’t memorized everything you’ve ever done- so your fear that I’m stalking you can diminish slightly.

    I keep trying to put my animoto in prezi but I end up getting dizzy and falling down. My coworkers have begged me to stop.

  20. @Tom, ripping an Animoto file to embed it in Prezi sounds like a pain. I’d listen to your people.

    @Nancy, your kids get bored with Animoto for the same reason I do: automation isn’t fun after the first round. So we’re only a couple degrees removed from each other.