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Word Walls 411

Here’s some information on Word Walls to refresh my mind and keep in my arsenal of references and resources. 

The following is based on information about Word Walls that I acquired after attending an incredible Reading Institute for teachers at the University of Miami back in 2006.

Word Walls are an essential part of the literate classroom environment. Word Walls foster and support the development of written language. Word Walls should also be interactive by allowing students to complete Word Wall related activities on a daily basis.

Word Walls may be organized in various formats. A common organization for word walls is placing words in alphabetical order. In the upper grades, however, word walls may be organized based on parts of speech for example. Regardless of the organization of the word wall, teachers should include words that are meaningful to the learning content of the classroom. Some suggested word listings include:

  • High-frequency words (especially for lower grades and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students)
  • Vivid Verbs
  • Conjunctions or Magic Words as I call them (e.g. when, unless, while, although, if, because)
  • Transitional Words/Phrases
  • Specific Vocabulary (e.g., other words for “said”, “good”, “pretty”)
  • Examples of descriptive language (e.g., similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, sensory words)
  • Vocabulary related to lesson
  • Tier-2 vocabulary words (e.g., as mentioned in Bringing Words to Life by Beck & McKeown)
  • Important, irregular, confusing words
  • Words needed to develop automaticity

In my district, word walls are a non-negotiable part of instruction. All elementary teachers are required to have a word wall and have students use it on a daily basis, making it interactive. Teachers are also instructed to be very stingy with their word walls and to only add no more than 5 words a week. These five words need to be instroduced to the students every week and they need to be engaged in activities related to these five words and to other words on the word wall. As the year progresses, teachers may take down words that students have “mastered” in order to allow room for new words.

As far as how to introduce word walls in the beginning of the year, you should start by including words related to “Back to School” that will be meaningful for the students to know. If you are teaching a Kindergarten or First grade class, you can also include the student’s names on the word wall. One thing is for sure, you should NEVER start out the year with a Word Wall FULL of words. Words should be added progressively throughout the year. Again, a maximum of 5 words per week. It’s ok if during the first week of school you decide to include your student’s names and have more than 5 words on your word wall, but make sure that each week after that you only add a maximum of 5 essential words.

Word Wall words will come from the lessons you are teaching that week. They do not all have to be spelling words and you should not include all spelling words in your word wall. Only include those high-frequency, Tier-2, “important” words your students need to know in order to increase automaticity.

Additionally, being a fourth grade teacher I do have and use a word wall in my classroom. I organize my word wall using the parts of speech which help my students with their writing. There are various types of activities that can be done on a daily basis with a word wall. The following are some links which provide some activities that can be done using the words in your word wall:





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