Wordle is a website that allows you to create word clouds such as the one on the right. If you haven’t used it before, you’ll want to read my previous blog about Wordle. I have been thinking a great deal lately about how to use technology to teach creativity. As an English teacher I often use the principle of forced association as a writing cue. The idea is to bring two words, or concepts together which are not normally found together. This biscociation, a term coined by Arthur Koestler, forces new associations, and gives rise to new ideas. Leon Festinger used the term cognitive dissonance to describe the discomfort created by the forced act of holding contrary and opposing ideas in the mind at the same time. The idea behind this technique is to use the discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance as a lever to force the subconscious mind into creating new ideas to relieve the feeling of discomfort.
It’s a great technique for generating interesting images for poetry, and while I was thinking about ways in which wordles could be used in the classroom, it suddenly occurred to me that word clouds are a neat way of bringing about these forced associations. If I look at the wordle above, for example, it seems to me that the juxtaposition of the words Hooliganism and Pizza might be used to generate some interesting images and the phrase Lout with extra Cheese springs into my mind. This would be a pretty good first line for a haiku! Well, maybe not, but in any case it does illustrate the creative process. It is important not to stop at the first new association generated. Creativity involves assessing the new ideas generated to see which ones are good, and which are bad!
It might be a good idea to get students to generate their own wordles using random words or texts, and then use these word clouds as the basis for free-writing activities. Students could then discuss the outcomes generated and decide which to sue, and which to reject. When teaching writing, it is always a good idea, I believe, to have the class organized in writing-circles, groups which always work together to help edit, mentor and advise.