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Effective Word Walls

Word walls have been an effective tool in the classroom for many, many years. You may have a word wall up in your classroom currently! A word wall is, as the name suggests, a display of words that students can reference and utilize in a variety of ways, for both language production in writing and speaking as well as supporting students in recognizing sight words or decoding words based on the skills they have learned. By making our word walls interactive, we increase the amount of use as well as the effectiveness of the word wall.

Word Walls

Why Word Walls?

When created properly, word walls can be used as powerful resources to support the four domains of language: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

While some teachers spend their preparation time building word walls for their students, or searching the internet for premade examples that are aesthetically appealing, the most effective word walls are ones that are co-created with students and referenced often and throughout the course of a thematic unit. The words included on the word wall should be taught explicitly and comprehensively and displayed in context when possible. This not only aids students in comprehending the word, but also helps them in categorizing and developing schema.

How to Build an Interactive Word Wall

One way to create a relevant, useful, and effective word wall is through a Word Card Review.

1. To prepare for this, choose an instructional chart, diagram, or other visual resource that has been used to teach content to students. The chart does not need to be complete. In fact, we recommend doing a Word Card Review after teaching even a small portion or chunk of information on the chart.

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2. Once you have a specific chart or resource in mind, choose the most important vocabulary to review or highlight from the past lesson and write these words on brightly colored paper, one word per card. Using brightly colored paper will serve as highlighting and make the words “pop” on the chart. When appropriate, add sketches and color code the word to match the color the word is written in on the chart. Sketches and color coding serve as great scaffolds to aid comprehension.

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3. Once the cards are prepared, gather the students close to the chart. Invite students to read each word with you, using any gestures that were taught in previous lessons to aid their comprehension. After reading each card, and doing the associated gesture, hand the card out to a student.

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4. After you have reviewed and passed out all of the cards, give students time to discuss the words with a peer.

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5. After students have had a chance to talk, review the words by providing clues about each one. When students realize which word you are describing, they should come up and place it on the chart on top of or near the corresponding, building a wall of words.

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Each time you add new information to the chart, you will do another Word Card Review with a new set of words.

Go Deeper

As students get into team tasks or learning logs, where they are recording information from the charts, they can take the word cards off to reference important vocabulary. Students can take the word card to their desk to help them spell a word and then add it back to the chart for other students to use. The beauty of this process is that even when the word card is removed, the language is still written on the chart for other students to refer to. This is an organic way to scaffold and support students with the process of reading, writing, and referencing academic language.

Extended Activities with Word Walls

As the word card review is layered on your input chart, consider going deeper with this strategy by encouraging your students to add word cards in their primary language. Students can use post its to write down words that support their understanding of the topic in their primary language and add it to the whole class chart. This process celebrates multilingualism as the whole class charts are dripping with multiple languages.

Try it out!

By building word walls with students in the ways mentioned above, students develop strong connections to the academic vocabulary. They look to the word wall as a meaningful and interactive resource and the words on the chart belong to all of them. This is a fundamental shift from word walls and anchor charts that are strictly teacher created; by building the word wall interactively, students take ownership of the content and language that is presented therein.

Blog Post Author: Erick Herrmann

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