Should I Use Word Clouds?

Word-clouds look really cool. Here’s one in Spanish:

Somebody asked, should I use word clouds in Spanish? My answer: it depends. Here are bits of the conversation and comments.

First, it seems to me that if you need “support” to write, you havn’t fully acquired the language you are using. This raises the question of what exactly one is assessing. Second, using written prompts for oral output…this won’t help acquisition, but— for the kids who actually bother doing it instead of chatting in L1 to their friends— it might boost confidence. Third, for the music, there is no meaning processing going on, which means no acquisition.

If somebody gives me the Blablabian word “gerfzl,” gets me to listen to a song by Blablabian singer Zpfl, and I hear Zpfl sing 🎶 gerfzl 🎶, I have completed a task that I could do without knowing the meaning of what I am hearing. And not only am I not necessarily processing the individual words, but I am almost certainly not processing Zpfl’s meaning at the sentence & verse level.

I pointed this out, and got the following response:

I’m not sure what is meant here by “recognition.” I do think demonstrating comprehension is a good idea though. The second writer’s comment again raises the problem: this activity can be done without processing meaning.

Another person chimed in with the following:

If you didn’t take more than a minute to show the kids how many words from the cloud they know, great. But again…processing isolated words means students are not processing grammar, or sentence-level meaning.

The final comment— using word-clouds to see what ppl know and don’t— is mayyybeeee not a bad idea. But it raises the question, why in a c.i. class are people processing or working with non-comprehended vocab? As somebody who follows TPRS dictae— comprehended, or stop and circle/review until comprehended— I wouldn’t use anything non-comprehended.

Another question here is, what will you do with the info regarding which words are comprehended or not? If we find students know most of the vocab, great. If they don’t? Well, you have to “review,” and we know how poorly the “hear it once and try to remember” approach works.

I think a much better way to show kids vocabulary that you want them to use would be…in a story. There, they get “whole” language where the words are used in context.

We should remember one thing: acquisition occurs when comprehended input is processed for a purpose in a communicative context. And “communicative” means meaning-based. An activity that has students “recognizing” words, or putting words into blanks (cloze), or reviewing meaning (basically a test) is not communicative. And if the purpose is “learning” or “reviewing” vocab, this is also not meaning-based in an interesting way.

How interesting would you find it if your _____ language teacher said “ok here is a lis— er, cloud— of words. Tell me which ones you don’t know, and I’ll tell you their meanings”? 😉

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