Working with a Word Wall

Word walls. Common to many elementary classrooms – many teachers consider this to be a staple in helping students learn. After 2 years of it taking up my entire wall and not feeling like it got enough use to make it worth it, I scrapped the “word wall” and made it into portable word rings (an idea straight from pinterest):

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The rings had all of the words that started with that letter, but of course you would have to flip through the ring to find the words. Now I know many of you may be thinking WHAT! Ditch the word wall? But the reason I got to this point was because I had never taught my students how to use a word wall effectively and thus found that my walls were better used displaying student work, thinking maps or anchor charts that we had created as a class. The word wall was still important but, in my mind, simply could not hog so much wall space.

Well it shouldn’t be surprising that once I changed my word wall to a portable version, my students still did not use it routinely because once again I had not taught them its value or importance. My cute letter cards hanging from command hooks often sat for weeks without anyone taking the time to read the words. I supplemented this “portable word wall” with a mini word wall in students’ writing notebooks, but again students were not in the habit of using the word wall because I simply hadn’t effectively taught them.

This year I am refocusing on the word wall and establishing it as a place of great importance in my classroom. This summer I went in one day for the single purpose of making a new and fresh word wall.

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The next step has been to make new word wall words. Before, I quickly wrote my words with sharpie on sentence strips, but I always felt like they looked a little too sloppy. This year I am using word walls inside of “fences” so that students can pay attention to which letters are tall, short or hanging. They are also on different colors so that students can easily differentiate between words that are easily confused (i.e. what, who, where, etc.).

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I am so excited about how this turned out and it has now become one of my favorite spots in the room. But if I have learned nothing else during the past 3 years of teaching, it is that no matter how “cool” something looks, it is not effective unless you explicitly teach students how to use it and to use it well.

During writing and word work this year, I have the exciting chance to work with our new literacy coach! She has so many great ideas and has really been helping me work through how to effectively use a word wall in my classroom. We have been explicitly teaching students how to use the word wall, how to check word wall words in their writing, and are modeling several times a week using it in our own writing.

This week, we started to talk about how you can use the word wall to spell other words that are not even on it! By using a word wall word (i.e. all), I can spell other words too (i.e. ball, wall, stall, small). It has been amazing to see my kids help me find a word wall word that can help spell another word! Because of the focus we have placed this year on using the word wall, I am seeing my students spelling more word wall words correctly and using it as a valuable resource like it should be! Right now we are having students show that they have checked their word wall words by writing a w inside of a circle above their word wall words. This helps us see who is being conscious to check and helps the kids know which ones they might have missed.

We introduce new word wall words every week with a poem connected to our other core subjects and do things like kinesthetic spelling (students raise arms for tall letters, put hands on hips for short letters, and hang hands to the floor for hanging letters) and cheering for the words (give me an a – A!, give me an r – R!, give me an e – E!, what’s that spell? ARE!). Yesterday during the last few minutes of snack, when a few students finished early, they went over all by themselves to cheer for the words in preparation for a word wall word quiz later that day! It is fun and exciting for me to see their excitement about using words!

I know there are probably many more ideas out there on how to use a word wall and I am considering some of my own. One idea I had is to use twitter to talk about words, whether that be to note characteristics of words, to give clues and have others guess the word or to compare different words. If you have any ideas on how to use the word wall, I would love to hear your thoughts!

                                        A new believer in the power of word walls,

~Mrs. L

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