Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tagxedo: A Tuxedo for Word Clouds

Tagxedo is another nifty free tool for creating customized word clouds. Compared to Wordle, Tagxedo has more options and the ability to customize the shape of the word including uploading a picture of your own choice. Tagxedo will also use one's blog, tweets, website, and other sources for the content of the cloud.

Think of Tagxedo as a way for dressing up word clouds. While I like Wordle's simplicity for using a word cloud for analysis of a speech, poem, or short story, I prefer the use of Tagxedo for embedding symbolism in student-created projects and to guide students through the process of making artistic choices in an activity that is relevant to their own lives.

How to...

Students wrote "Where am I from" poems as modeled by poet George Ella Lyons and then created a word cloud  symbolic of their identity and the places that shaped their identity. The screencast below shows how to use Tagxedo and upload your own image (by the way, using Screencast-O-Matic, I created the screencast and uploaded it to Youtube in about 7 minutes total during 2nd period today).

Student Examples

Students posted their projects to their small groups in Edmodo for review. Students can then discuss artistic choices, as well as easily see commonalities among their classmates.  This quick project could also be used as an ice-breaker in the beginning of the year as a way for the students and teacher to get to know one another. 

We are using this activity as an introduction to John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men-- a novella centered on the themes of belonging to and yearning for one's own place. OMM is also rich in symbolism ("Tell me about the rabbits, George!"), and this activity provides an introduction to the meaning of chosen symbols. 

Student often question an English teacher's analysis of literature: How do you KNOW John Steinbeck intended the rabbits to represent George and Lennie's dreams? One answer is found in asking the author and conducting literary research: go through John Steinbeck's published letters and journals or contact the folks at the Steinbeck Institute in Salinas, California (I have!). The other answer can be found in activities where students are authors and create. Students should be making the same kind of informed choices when crafting a creative piece. The three students pictured to the left used the star, infinity, and yin-yang shapes. While I, as the reader, can postulate that these shapes represent always reaching for balance in one's learning and life, the only way to know conclusively is to ask the artist. So ask the students, "why?"  You just might learn something new.

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