WordSift Features

Tag Cloud

A Tag Cloud of the 50 most frequent words in the text, excluding function words (such as is, of, at, the). The words in the cloud are alphabetically ordered, and their relative frequency is indicated by text size. Singular and plural nouns are, for the most part, counted together. The cloud can be sorted according to their frequency in the printed English language from common-to-rare and rare-to-common, and alphabetically from A-to-Z and Z-to-A. The cloud can also be made to disappear and re-appear by clicking on squish and unsquish. Words from selected word lists can be marked by clicking on the appropriate list name, and they are displayed in orange. The current lists are: Academic Word List (AWL), General Service List (GSL), Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies words. The user may also cut and paste a customized word list into a separate pop-up box under “Custom”. Words featured in the Word Generation program can be automatically entered as a customized list.

The most frequent word is entered into the Visual Thesaurus® and the result is displayed as a word web. The Visual Thesaurus® is a product based on WordNet, a digital dictionary and thesaurus created by Princeton psychologist George Miller. It displays the word, plus related words including antonyms and synonyms. If the most frequent word happens is not in the database (for example, it may turn out to be a proper noun such as California), then a blank will be displayed. The Visual Thesaurus® display is interactive: the definition of each word on the display pops up when the cursor is scrolled over it, and a click on any word on the web re-configures the display to bring that word to the center. This display is just a sampler taken from the Visual Thesaurus® website, and after several clicks, it will ask you if you want to subscribe (we believe it is well worth it for a modest price, even though we are not affiliated with the company). If you click “remind me later” it will continue to function without much annoyance.

We recommend purchase of the product for the following reason: Some great additional features of Visual Thesaurus® can be accessed by clicking on the bottom right link that says open the full version. One neat feature enables the user to hear the word by clicking on the speaker icon next to the word. Another feature will provide an overlay of words from selected languages, including Spanish. This feature is accessed by clicking the EDIT button on the SEARCH / DISPLAY bar, and clicking on the appropriate language. It is a neat way of working with bilingual students on vocabulary development, in identifying cognates, and it can be used to enhance development in both languages. Use of these full features is limited to approximately 7 attempts without purchasing the product. After that, going back to WordSift and re-initiating the open the full version button will refresh the function.

Sample Sentences

Examples from the source text containing the most frequent word in the text is displayed under the Visual Thesaurus word web. The key word is marked in green. All relevant examples from the input text are listed. One intended use of this feature is to organize the text to preview key vocabulary. This feature can quickly show different meanings of the same word. For example, in the article on climate change, here are two sentences that use “area”: (1) Weather scientists project that the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere will heat up more than other areas of the planet, and glaciers and sea ice will shrink as a result. (2) The area covered by sea ice during summer has declined by 15 to 20 percent in the last 30 years, and is projected to disappear almost completely late in the 21st century. The first meaning of area is “region” whereas the second meaning refers to a specific quantity, in terms of surface area. A look at “area” under in the Visual Thesaurus box shows that these are two of the major distinctive branches from the word.

Tailoring the Results

The WordSift display can be tailored by clicking on any of the words in the Tag Cloud. That word will be entered into the Visual Thesaurus, the Google Images and Video searches, and also the sample sentences. The Search box for Google and the Look It Up box in the Visual Thesaurus® are active and independent, so the user at any point can enter key words into those boxes and tailor the results accordingly. Entering a key word in the Google Images and Videos search box will not change the display results in the Visual Thesaurus® box, and vice versa.


WordSift has been tested with Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer 7.0. The display has problems with earlier versions of Internet Explorer, so if you encounter difficulties, please download Firefox or the latest version of IE. Currently, the maximum text size to be pasted is 3 mb. Please report other problems to hakuta@stanford.edu or wientjes@stanford.edu

Google Image Search. The results of Google searches are also displayed, using the two most frequent words as the search terms. We have found that the images search frequently results in photos that are of very close relevance to the topic of the text. Even results that seem to be somewhat off base can be used as a way of talking about why the program might have chosen it. For example, entering the article on “climate change” from MSN Encarta produced a cloud with “warm” and “greenhouse” as the top two words, and pictures of warm greenhouses. The teacher can use this to offer an explanation about climate change being caused by greenhouse gases, and why greenhouses stay warm.

Google Video Search. The video search results are a bit more hidden, because the results tend to be a bit more racy, sometimes offensive, and certainly distracting to students. The videos can be displayed by clicking on >Video. The YouTube videos resulting from the Google Video search is much more random. Many school districts also block YouTube, but this can be a very rewarding part of the exercise if the teacher can use it as a source of talk about language, rather than as a distraction!