Using Word Clouds

Christopher Jon Pope, Tokushima Bunri University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Vocabulary, Word Cloud, Graphic Organizer, Brainstorm
  • Learner English Level: Beginner and above
  • Learner Maturity Level: Elementary and above
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity Time: 20-30 minutes (depending on post-activity discussion)
  • Materials: Word cloud handout, graphic organizer handout

Word clouds are visual images created by arranging groups of words into a shape or design. They can easily be created using various websites. Since I first learned about word clouds, I have thought about a way to utilize them in English classes. I discovered that by using a word cloud in combination with a graphic organizer, an interesting and useful brainstorming activity was possible. For this activity, students search for words in a word cloud handout and categorize those words into groups on a graphic organizer handout. This is a nice warm-up activity when teaching themes.


Step 1: Create a word list connected to a class theme. Include a variety of word types such as verbs, nouns, adjectives, proper nouns, complex words, and so on. For a university class, a list that includes around 75 words is a good amount. Create your own list or find them from textbook vocabulary, the Academic Word List, a text corpus, word banks, or websites.  

Step 2: Determine six categories for students to use for categorizing. For example, if the word cloud covers the theme of architecture, you might ask students to find verbs, nouns, and adjectives, as well as things such as construction problems, construction machines, and building materials. Students could also help select these categories.

Step 3: Using the word list from Step 1, create a word cloud handout. Word cloud websites are free and available online. Sites vary in terms of images, fonts, and simplicity. To create the word cloud, import your word list into a word cloud generator. The generator arranges words so that they appear like a graphic image; you can upload or choose images depending on the site. I usually choose images that relate to a class theme. For example, if the class theme is architecture, our word cloud image would be of a building or man-made structure.

Step 4: Create a graphic organizer handout to accompany the word cloud handout. For my class, graphic organizers are a simple classic design, with the theme listed in a circle at the center of a paper, and that circle surrounded by six items.


Step 1: Distribute the word clouds and graphic organizer to individual students or groups of students.

Step 2: Inform the class of the six categories for the graphic organizer.

Step 3: Instruct students to locate and categorize words. I often use a timer during this step or give the class a predetermined number of words to list per category.

Step 4: Check and discuss the placement of words in a whole class discussion.


This activity is easy to prepare and adapt to different levels. Whether or not students use dictionaries is up to the teacher. This activity often leads to discussions about semantics, supports scaffolding in a mixed-ability class, and provides opportunities to explore word meanings and usages. My classes follow this activity with small group conversations centered on the same class theme, speed reading, and quick writing related to the theme. I find this activity supports all of those additional activities by building a quick foundation of words that are used for speaking about the class theme. It is also helpful for training the eye to skim and scan English words and letters, and it generates ideas and words for writing.