My college students can verbalize that “a piece of writing ought to be all about one thing,” but many don’t understand the concept of unity in writing. The fact that repeated words are a clue to the central point of a piece of writing has not dawned on many of them.
Many English teachers are having students use word clouds to help them teach the concept of writing unity. Word clouds show the frequency of words in a document by the size or color of the type. Nine word cloud alternatives to the popular Wordle are discussed here.
Word clouds can be manipulated to produce artistic results, which is cool, and can help students find the important words in a text. But to get real benefit from word clouds, you can’t just stop with the pretty picture.
In a nonfiction document that is presented using the thesis and support pattern—which means nonfiction other than narratives—repeated words are a clue to the central point. The most important words are not only going to occur throughout the document, but they are almost certainly going to be in most of the topic sentences of the body paragraphs and in the thesis statement.
With the word cloud results in hand, students can do a find-and-replace within a document to change each of the three to five most important keywords to a distinctive color. In a nonfiction document that is presented using the thesis and support pattern—which means nonfiction other than narratives—students will be able to see that repeated words are a clue to the central point. The most important words not only are going to be repeated throughout the document, but also are almost certainly going to be in most of the topic sentences of the body paragraphs and in the thesis statement.
The colors will also reveal that nonfiction writers tend to put their thesis at the end of their introductions, and tend to put their topic sentences at beginning of their body paragraphs.
Using word clouds to help students discover how key words are used to create unified nonfiction documents is an effective and engaging way to help students learn concepts that will help them be better readers and more efficient writers.