​Developing discipline-specific vocabulary using word clouds, in Oncology Nursing ​

This story is written by Diana Kassaman​ and Tayreez Mushani from School of Nursing and Midwfiery, East Africa.


Word clouds are a visual depiction of words that may appear in written materials, books, websites or lectures. By utilizing different font sizes, you can display frequency of words. Word clouds award students the agency to take ownership of their learning process, in a way that fits their style, leading to a more effective approach to understanding concepts (Miley and Read, 2011, p.93). This creative exploration of concepts enhances their motivation, which then increases success in the course (Miley and Read, 2011, p.96). 

Use of Word Clouds  

In the oncology program, each of the courses that students take build upon each other. In our class, we gave students little pieces of paper and asked them to write the words that stood out to them. We then took the papers and inputted them into an online tool, which organized results into a cloud. We would then display the clouds on our classroom bulletin boards. Keeping it student-driven and as uninstructed as possible, we could curate the concepts that came out as important in our teachings, keeping them displayed for students to have a constant reminder throughout their learning journey. This is important because the students could connect what they had learned from semester one, to semester two, to semester three, and so on. 


One of the most prominent impact of the above was that the students were clearly developing discipline-specific vocabulary, with words such as compassion, professionalism and confidentiality, as soft skills, consistently coming up in the word cloud. Even with courses that were almost pure science, dealing with lessons that mention terms such as intracranial pressure or malignant tumours, the soft skills still came out consistently. In Using a Bloom’s Taxonomy lens, one could see them advance from recalling information to application, analysis, evaluating and finally creating by curating all these important soft skills into word clouds. Students connected everything that they learned throughout each semester, weaving in concepts, and internalizing them. See the word cloud examples below for two semesters, one in 2017 and the other in 2018.​

Concluding Thoughts​

The oncology diploma is a speciality program. It was important to us that students were able to grasp concepts and feel confident about the course. We did not want to just teach them the oncology course; we wanted them to become oncology nurses. The use of word clouds gave us the forum to understand key attributes such as compassion among others that students grasped in their learning which is important in oncology nursing. To see soft skills identified, as resonant terms was a pleasant surprise, but reinforced to us that, we were training a class of caring, intelligent and perceptive oncology nurses. One student remarked; “Word cloud-increased my engagement with the courses we learnt. The three words every month helped me to remember the key concepts we had learnt”.


Miley, F., & Read, A. (2011). Using word clouds to develop proactive learners. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,11(2), 91-110.​