• Home
  • Blog
  • Exploring Emotions with a Word Cloud: A New Approach to Communication
Word clouds with school related words

Exploring Emotions with a Word Cloud: A New Approach to Communication

Community Voice Word Cloud leverages the power of data science to provide district leaders with customer intelligence and a fast way to identify issues and spot critical trending topics in their district.

School districts receive thousands of inbound inquiries each school year. And teasing meaningful insights from a large volume of inquiries is no easy task. 

Even when humans take the time to read every dialogue, social media post, and email, identifying trends from hundreds of incoming communications is challenging and extremely labor intensive. 

And yet, we intuitively know there is a treasure-trove of valuable information locked away in the mess of text data.

That’s where word clouds come in. 

Word cloud or word smog?

Word clouds — the most often used data visualization tool to summarize text data — are intuitive, easy to interpret, and can engage audiences in a way your typical line and bar charts cannot.

But your average word cloud can have significant shortcomings that quickly become filled with noise and more frustrating than helpful. Noisy word clouds are often littered with unimportant words, which can cause you to miss important information because the noise drowns out much of the value. 

On top of that, different forms of the same word — like bully, bullies, and bullying — tend to slice up what could be a meaningful trend into imperceptible fragments. The end result is that the word cloud is more like word smog and, as a busy school administrator, you can’t grasp the insights through the haze.

Introducing a word cloud with feelings 

At K12 Insight, our team of former educators and school administrators is all too aware that school district leaders do not have time to fiddle with a word cloud.

That’s why we’re excited to release our enhanced Community Voice Word Cloud, which leverages the power of data science to allow you to tap into your community’s feelings and gain powerful customer insights. 

Coming Friday, Dec. 2, our latest release of Community Voice Word Cloud gives you better visibility into divisive topics — helping you identify issues before they turn into full-blown crises and stay ahead of trends and conversations in your community. 

A powerful and insightful word cloud like no other 

This latest release makes it even easier for your district to analyze trends from Let’s Talk dialogues. The unstructured data (in other words, the messages submitted in Let’s Talk as dialogues and the corresponding replies) is processed into the word cloud. This means the more dialogues that come into Let’s Talk, the more insights your district can pull from the word cloud. 

This release features two new powerful versions of the word cloud to help you better understand your community: 

The Emotional Intensity Word Cloud uses colors to help you easily understand how strongly your community feels about specific topics. The intensity scale will help uncover divisive issues – like mask policies, book bans, and school safety – especially when stakeholders express split sentiment about a topic. In the Emotional Intensity Word Cloud, yellow represents high intensity words and gray represents low intensity words.

The new Sentiment Word Cloud examines all sentiment scores for words and helps districts understand whether the average sentiment behind the word is positive, neutral, or negative. Words with a positive sentiment are blue, words with a neutral sentiment are gray, and words with a negative sentiment are red. 

The new word cloud in action

To demonstrate the power of our new visualizations, let’s take a look at a series of word clouds to see how they reflect the changes in a school community from August 2019 to May 2022. All of these word clouds have been generated from real data.

The Emotional Intensity Word Cloud below visualizes data from Aug. 1, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020. “Learning” is at the center of the word cloud which is great to see. That is, after all, what education is about. Ideally, an educational community is laser focused on learning, as this word cloud shows.

Word cloud with the word "Learning" at the center


The next Emotional Intensity Word Cloud visualizes data from March 1, 2020 to March 25, 2020, the period leading up to widespread COVID-19-related school closures across the country. Words like “virus,” “spread,” “risk,” and “sick” all appear on the word cloud with high emotional intensity, aligned with the worries of the community at that time.

Word cloud with words "virus", "spread", "risk", and "sick" being the largest


The third Emotional Intensity Word Cloud shows data from March 25, 2020 to April 15, 2020, as many school systems transitioned to remote learning. Here, we see the words “technology,” “internet,” “laptop,” “login,” “reset,” and “password” rising in prominence, with the word “password” highlighted as one of the largest and the most emotionally charged words in the cloud. Parents, teachers, students, and administrators can easily recollect the growing pains as school systems around the country had to completely change the way they educated students.

Word cloud with words "technology", "internet", "laptop", "login", "reset, and "password" being the largest


Fast-forwarding two years, this next Sentiment Word Cloud visualizes data from Feb. 1, 2022 to April 1, 2022 — around the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendations for schools, including removing the federal mask mandate. The image below reveals mask mandates were a particularly hot-button issue at this time. 

mask word cloud

As school districts enter a new era of education, the Community Voice Word Cloud will be an essential tool for monitoring stakeholder feedback regarding critical topics, divisive issues, and changes that happen within a district. 

To show this at work, the Sentiment Word Cloud below reflects data from April 1, 2022 to May 1, 2022 — a time when the district was considering a proposed change to their start times and bell schedules. The word cloud reflects the changing concerns of the community with words and phrases like “working parents,” “childcare,” “schedule,” and “start time” appearing in the visualization.

word cloud

What story does your Let’s Talk data tell?

With Community Voice Word Cloud, you now have an accurate, fast, and clear way to identify issues and spot emerging trends in your district. It also gives you visibility into the emotional intensity and sentiment surrounding divisive topics across your district. 

Curious about our latest word cloud release can help your district monitor trends? Be sure to check it out in Let’s Talk on Friday, Dec. 2.




By Franck Reyherme
Franck Reyherme is the lead data scientist at K12 Insight. He earned his master's degree in Data Science from the University of Wisconsin and has nearly 10 years of experience mining insights from K-12 education data. Before moving into edtech, Franck spent eight years as a classroom teacher.
Originally published December 1, 2022 Last updated January 3, 2024