Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yeah, Right: How I met Wordle...

No wonder "words"is the most common word in this post!!
Every teacher will tell you that there were certain moments in their teaching lives where students inspired them to create certain teaching techniques or just come up with an interesting idea. Sometimes this can also be an idea for a little research, which happened in my case. It wasn't the discovery of Wordle, as you might have guessed, but another aspect of how Wordle can be used. Wordle is a word cloud generator which creates a cloud of words using the most common words in a text. The cloud is designed in a way that the most common words are written in large fonts and the less common words in smaller ones. The text can be provided either by copying/pasting it or typing the URL of a website or a blog. I use Wordle a lot because it is a great tool to start your lesson, especially a reading class. You can make students guess what the text is going to be about or you can highlight unknown target words. You can spend a substantial amount of time in class with one word cloud but that is a topic for another blog post.

So, while working on one of those clouds in one of my classes, a student asked me how to use this application. I told him about the website and asked him why he was interested in it. He told me that he was going to live in the U.S.A for a while. He wanted to download all the subtitles of "How I Met Your Mother" episodes and copy them into Wordle. This way he could get a cloud of the most common English words from the lives of hip/cool single people in their 30s. This way he would know the basic English words needed to survive in such a culture. I thought that this was a great idea. This would be something like a corpus study of "How I Met Your Mother". I don't know if he did it, but I knew I would do it. And I did. I didn't just use "How I met Your Mother" but other popular series such as "Dexter", "Mad Men", "Community" and "The Office" (both the UK and American versions).