Word Clouds

Word clouds are a fun way to introduce your topics, present and teach vocabulary, and find out what the most used words in a certain text are.

Here are some websites where you can create your own word clouds. You can make one using the URL from a website, as I did for these examples (most of which I made using the “2 Minute Topic Talk” page from this site), or you can also cut and paste a list of words. On most of these sites, you have many options for shapes, fonts, colors and layouts. Try them and if you need help, ask in class.


Word Art (formerly Tagul): (the first cloud on this page was also made using Word Art)


Word It Out:

word cloud made with Word It Out

Word Cloud Generator:

The quick brown fox…

The new academic year begins this week for most of us. You’ll be writing and typing a lot this year, so if you’re not already confident in your typing skills, this is a good time to practice and improve. Try this sentence:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

It’s a pangram. That means it uses all the letters of the English alphabet, so it’s often used to practice typing.

Here’s one site that can help you: Ratatype. (Caveat: before you start, this site does not seem to work well with Safari, but I had no trouble on Chrome and Firefox.)


You don’t have to sign up to take the typing test, but if you want to try the tutorials (Typing Tutor) and save your scores, you need to sign up (e-mail or Facebook).

ratatype menu

Start with the Typing Tutor if you’re not familiar with the keyboard and finger placement. It will start you off by practicing the middle line (asdf ghjkl;) and you’ll move through the lessons if you can do them without too many mistakes. This is Lesson 2:

typing tutor

If you’re already familiar with the keyboard and just want to time yourself, go to the Typing Test section. You can do it just for yourself, or you can compete with other users for high scores.

Your profile page will keep track of your progress:


I tried the typing test again this morning and my speed and accuracy actually improved a little since I did it last year . Can you beat my score? (I’ve had a lot more practice than most of you, though, I’m sure…)

Discussion / Research Question & follow-up:

Are there any pangrams in Japanese? How about another language you’re studying? (Here are some more in English.)


Diversions and distractions

This short video from The Met explains how different lighting makes us see one famous painting very differently, and probably more as the artist intended us to see it.

… which of course makes me think of the classic movie “Gaslight” and its relevance today. The movie is the origin of the verb “to gaslight someone”.

It also makes me think of the phrase “bread and circuses”

and this amazing circus performance I saw on Colbert the other day:

Discussion and writing prompts:

  • Have you ever been to a circus?
  • Should circuses have real animals?
  • How would you explain the concept of “bread and circuses” in Japanese?  In your own words in English?
  • What do you think are the main “bread and circuses” of today’s society?
  • Have you seen the movie “Gaslight”?
  • How do you say “to gaslight someone” in Japanese? Can you think of an example from the news, history, or a book, movie or manga you have read or seen, of someone being gaslighted?
  • How would you explain the differences between the words “diversion” and “distraction”? Try using both in detailed example sentences.

Filling in those boxes

The New York Times crossword puzzles are celebrating their 75th birthday. Here’s an article about why these puzzles are so popular and relaxing: “Crossword-Solving: A Search for Connections and Answers” (NYT)

“Human brains are hard-wired to fill in blanks when they see them. In difficult times, when life begins to feel out of control or when faced with an emotional dilemma, working on something that has finite answers can provide a sense of security.”

On the NYT website you can play the Daily Mini puzzle. It’s pretty easy. And there are plenty of other online puzzle sites you can play for free.

I remember spending a weekend once in graduate school making a bilingual crossword puzzle.

crossword-1 crossword-2

It was fun to make, but it took a lot of time. If I had known about this website then, I may have used it:

Crossword Labs

create puzzle

Here’s their example:


Type in the clues and answers, hit “generate” and you’ve got a crossword puzzle. The password you use to create it will give you access to the answer key.

There are lots of ways to use crosswords for language study. Use it to introduce key vocabulary to your discussion partners. Make a bilingual puzzle in English and another language you’re studying to help you remember your new major language and review your English. Create a puzzle around a theme or a person you’re interested in, like this one, about Lady Gaga:


Using the Find a Crossword menu, you can only browse the latest 10 puzzles, but you can search for puzzles using key words.

Other ideas? You could try creating your own game app or software. This crossword puzzle maker was created by a university student at Washington State University.

Writing prompt: Do you play games on your phone when you commute? Do you prefer games like Candy Crush or whatever is popular right now, or games that make you think a little more, like crosswords or sudoku? Do you think that both the more mindless (to my thinking) games are actually just as good for you as more challenging games? (see this quote from the NYT article above)

“When you do a puzzle, the mind becomes completely absorbed in the task at hand. There is total focus on what is happening in the moment, which is the definition of mindfulness. And we know that mindfulness results in all sorts of positive changes in the brain.”