Wordle: Previewing Importance in Informational Reading

I love thin slicing skills so that students can focus their energies on the part of the skill that I really want them to learn.  Our tech consultant, Mike Gorman, gave me a beautiful idea for thin slicing the skill of summarizing.

What seems to get in the way of most students when they’re trying to approximate summaries, is the skill of determining importance.  Determining importance is inherent in creating a good summary.  But its hard to separate out the skills of determining importance and creating the summary itself.

Mike’s suggestion was to copy and paste the text of an informational article into Wordle and let Wordle do it’s thing.  Wordle uses the low-level strategy of repetition of words to determine which words are important.  It’s not a bad strategy.  It’s not a great one, but it works a lot of the time.  Wordle then makes the most frequent words HUGE and the lesser words very small.  (You can set the parameters, so that Wordle will ignore small words such as “the” and “and”.)  This quick tech trick gave students a strong sense of what words or concepts are most important.  Those are the ideas to include in the summary.  The words that Wordle made smaller can be omitted from the summaScreen Shot 2015-02-24 at 3.01.01 PMry (in all likelihood).

Using the Wordle, students could begin drafting a pretty good attempt at a summary right away.  The task of determining importance had been stripped away, leaving just the task of constructing the summary itself.  Students could focus on how the summary hangs together, how the transitions from one idea to the next are managed, and how the word choice impacts the length of the summary.  All of this is the work that I wanted them to grapple with.  Now, with Wordle handling the determining importance, they could.

Would I want them using the Wordle strategy forever?  No!  Of course not.  But it sure did the job of thin slicing for them.