Most English teachers at my school will have netbooks in their classroom next year. This opens up numerous possibilities and one of those is word clouds.
A word cloud is a group of words created from a larger text. In the cloud the words that appear larger are the words that occur most often. This is a word cloud based on the text of this blog post.
Word clouds have a lot of potential uses in the classroom. Students can create word clouds from their own writing, from webpages, from mentor texts. The word cloud gives readers and writers another way of looking at the text.
In this article Nate Sliver used a word cloud creator to generate word clouds based on the comments of people on both sides of the heathcare debate. Then he wrote an expository essay around his images. (Please click the link and go see his article. It is a great example.) http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/03/two-pictures-tell-story-on-health-care.html
Students can do the same thing with an issue related to their curriculum. They could also use a word cloud comparison to look at two different works of literature. Because a word cloud distills a text to it's largest (and smallest) ideas students are required to make inferences, see patterns in ideas, and wonder.
Word clouds can also be used to introduce a complex text. The teacher can create a word cloud before the lesson and ask students to make predictions about the text based on the words they see in the cloud. Last week I made a word cloud from the text of a chapter of The Great Gatsby and then asked students to predict from that before we read.
There are several different word cloud creators on the web. The one I used for the clouds in this post was Tagexedo. It allows you to enter text by copy and paste or to enter the URL for a webpage you want it to pull the text from. You can also play with the fonts, colors, shapes etc. of your creations.
Also check out this great post by Tony Borash about using word clouds as a pre and post assessment tool.