Wednesday, July 24, 2013

6 Ways to Use Word Clouds in the Classroom

Word clouds rock. You'd expect me to say that--I'm a writer, and writers love words. But I'm a
teacher too, and word clouds are a cool way to pick out frequently used words from a text, so in a sense, word clouds are a little like notes (as in note-taking).

I've found a couple really cool websites that allow you to create your own word clouds by either pasting in a URL or by pasting text into their program. The results are really cool, and are sure to pique the interest of students.

I've tried several, and most create, well, kind of a blob of words in different colors and sizes (the largest of which are the most frequently used words, but this cool site, Tagexdo, let's you create shaped word clouds, which for me equals concrete poetry! You can either paste in text, or link to a URL and those words will be sorted into a cloud. Most let you choose a color scheme and font style, but Tagexdo lets you do that plus choose a shape. Shapes are limited, of course, but they have a wide variety which I believe could be used in the classroom with a little stretching of the imagination.

To test this out, I used my manuscript from Beco's Big Year, and here is the result:

Love it! These can be then transferred to mugs, t-shirts, etc., if desired. A class t-shirt or tote bag with student names could be a fun end of year project, or could be an awesome teacher gift!

Here are 6 ways you could use word clouds in the classroom:

1) Type in text from a book, as I did above, to create a visual reminder of the book or to be part of a book report.

2) Concrete Poetry, as I mentioned before. And why not? If students are studying a topic, give them their notes, help them to create an outline of their subject (trace an image that they've found in a resource, or find a printable outline online), and set them loose to fill their outline with words that pertain to that subject. This could also be done as a collage by cutting out words that pertain and gluing them into the outline

3) A cover for a subject report. Again, this could be done by hand, or through the use of technology. It's an engaging way to represent the report.

4) Use the word cloud as the report itself. It might help students to break up the image into sections, stained-glass-window-style, then write information (where this animal lives, what it eats, what type of animals it is, etc.) in each section.

5) Using Tagexdo to create the word cloud ensures that it consists of words, not sentences (which might be used in example number 3). Have students choose 5 words from the Tagexdo word cloud and present information about each. This will encourage the students to present more from memory than from simply reading aloud to the class.

6) Use a teacher-made word cloud as a study guide for your kids. You give them the topics in this fun, visually stimulating way, and they know what to study.

Any way you slice it, this is fun technology. What ideas do you have for using word clouds in the classroom?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mazza Museum Summer Conference Day 5

Wow! It's hard to believe it's been a whole week! Today started with a bang with a keynote from Roger Roth. Roger grew up in a family that embraced the arts--his father was a writer and taught radio drama, and his mother went to art school, painted, and took Roger to art museums as a child. Roger himself attended art schools as a youth, and has kept a sketchbook his his first class. After a false start at a university, Roger worked odd jobs, painting in his free time. Eventually, he landed at the Pratt Institute and when he graduated, he worked as a freelance illustrator for the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. After doing an ad about Paris for a travel magazine, an editor contacted him. "We have a book about Paris," she said. "We wonder if you'd like to do it." That became the book (recently released by another publisher) The Giraffe That Walked To Paris. It'sbeauty!

Roger has since illustrated 18 books, including several by Jane Yolan. One fascinating story Roger told was of doing the book The American Story, which is 368 pages long. When he asked when they needed the art they said, "In a year."

Do the math, illustrators.

His answer was "I don't think I can get it to you that quickly," but they agreed to have him illustrate it anyway. For the next two and a half years, Roger delivered a finished drawing to them every three days! This book is worth taking a look at. The art is beautiful and wow--you've got to be impressed by the speed! Roger was a comfortable speaker and put his audience at ease. He shared about his family and hobbies ("Ice fishing is a very slow sport. Great for creative work.") We all enjoyed him.

Following Roger was Chris Raschka. Chris is a meticulous guy who admits to putting away all his art materials every night so "I can see my empty table in the morning." Whoever said creatives are messy? Roger is also very smart. He turned down medical school to pursue his love of art and has published over 50 books in his 20 years in the industry.

One particularly interesting thing Chris shared was that his book Otter and Odder: A Love Story (Candlewick 2012) was actually printed from the color book dummy (blown up 200%) he sent the
publisher. Can you imagine?
Chris won the Caledcott honor in 1994 for Yo! Yes!, and the Caldecott Medal in 1996 for Hello Goodbye Window, and again in 2012 for A Ball for Daisy. 

Chris looks the part of an artist, but on the other hand, I can imagine him a doctor as well. His speaking style is warm and friendly and at the same time to the point, with a "let's not waste time" attitude. It was a treat to hear him speak and to meet him!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mazza Museum Summer Conference Day 4

Tom Lichtenheld began our today. He is the illustrator of 19 books (more
currently being illustrated). Tom confessed that he was not good at school, but in middle school, his teacher submitted a piece of his artwork to a contest with Scholastic and Tom won a pin. Hurray for the teacher who recognized Tom’s gift and found a way to help Tom receive the affirmation that he had gifts, even if he didn’t fit the regular “school success” mold!
Like so many authors I know, Tom belongs to an illustration critique group and he showed how a simple crop of a picture (that Tom had not seen himself) took a really nice illustration to the next level.  I love this message for students who sometimes think of suggestions for work improvement as discouraging or even mean. Whenever authors and illustrators can share that they seek out good helpful criticism, it’s good for kids to hear. Two heads are better than one, I always tell kids (and explain it to the younger kids!)
Another thing I loved learning is that Tom’s website has free teacher resources here for book-use in the classroom. Yay! I guess that makes this a Freebie Thursday!

Following Tom we heard from author Sherri Dusky Rinker. Tom illustrated Sherri’s first two books, Good Night Good Night Construction Site, and Steam Train, Dream Train. Sherri spoke of how she feels she “won the lottery,” by being published by the amazing Chronicle Books—on her first submission ever. Okay children’s writers—deep breath—it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  Sherri a likeable speaker who is very transparent about her writing and revising process. She spoke of the agony she felt going through the editorial process the first time around—and how it’s getting easier. Sherri's presentation was interesting, informative, and funny!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mazza Museum Summer Conference Day 3

Our day began with Michael Hall (My Heart is Like a Zoo) speaking about his books.  Michael had a fun presentation style, sharing pictures of the women in his life—his wife, daughters, agent, and editor, all of whom came into his story as the presentation progressed.  After a while I decided that, despite his classic looks, he reminded me of Bob Newhart, so I’m now dubbing him the Bob Newhart of the kidlit world. Bob—I mean Michael—showed us some of his design work, and it’s easy to see how he went from that to the books he And he did. Brilliantly!
does. One logo was a pelican. “I would never draw a pelican,” he said, “there are people who do that much better than me, but I would try to find a pelican in a few simple shapes.”
Michael also shared that he was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 8. I can’t help but think that this “disability” might be the driving force in the kind of artwork he excels at. He takes simple shapes and flips them, rotates them, and moves them around the page until he has created something else entirely. He also works a great deal with negative space—more divergent thinking.
Toward the end of his talk, Michael shared his 2014 release, It’s an Orange Aardvark. Cute stuff!

Michael is a quiet man with a story of hope for all the kids out there that struggle with any type of disability. As much as these things can be a struggle, they can also be something that kids grow into in a way that makes them unique, and uniquely abled.
Michael commented, “Brokenness is the source of all beauty,” followed quickly by “we are all broken.”

Next up was Ed Young, illustrator of nearly 90 books, one of which won a Caldecott.  Ed, who was born in China but has lived nearly 60 years in the U.S. considers himself to now have a mostly American mindset. Yet what I heard from Ed rang with a deeper, more philosophical tone than I normally encounter.
Ed was transparent in his generous sharing of his life story. He spoke of a time when he left an entire book of final art in a taxi cab and could not recover it. This happened at a time when his wife had just been diagnosed with cancer.  He promised his editor that he would recreate it, but he wasn’t sure when. His wife died two months later, leaving him with two preteen daughters to help grieve and heal. After a time, Ed left his daughters with friends for a week and went home where he worked on the book from 6 am until 11 pm. In a week’s time, he had “most of it down,” (and he feels the second version is better than the first.)

Ed feels that losing something, while stressful and unnerving, “is not the end of the world. It’s the promise of something more.”

Ed went on to tell us about growing up in China in a house his father built, (The House Baba Built). He shared artwork from the book at various stages, and photos, as he told stories of his family. He even told of the Jewish German family that came to live with his family at the end of WWII. With them, he said, was a blonde-haired little girl name Jean, whom he referred to as his "Jewish sister, and me, her Chinese brother." To our surprise, he asked a tiny woman in the front row to stand. It was Jean.

Ed was warm, funny, and sensitive, letting us take in a peek of his fascinating life, and I think we could have listened to him all day!