Yes! Make (and Use) a Word Wall.


It's the beginning of the school year, and this time of year always gives me the itch to decorate a classroom. As the decor goes up, teachers will often ask, "Should I really bother with putting up a word wall?"

Typically, when I've been asked that, I reply with a shrug and a "meh". I've seen word walls in countless classrooms - mine included - but I never really saw anyone DO anything much with them. They seemed to just be a basic, alphabetical listing of random words that took up some serious classroom wall real estate. And, in my case, the few words that I put on the word wall in August were likely to be the same, lone 10 words that were there in April.

As I've dug more into good vocabulary instruction, I've realized that (of course), it's not the word walls themselves that are lacking. It's how I used them ... or didn't use them. So, when I'm asked now about word walls, I'm saying, "Yes. I highly recommend an interactive word wall. Let's talk about how to use it!"

The difference between typical word walls and interactive ones is that, with the latter, students actually physically work with the words. They may sort them, lay them out in a concept map, play games with them, categorize them on the wall, draw connections between them .. and this means that you'll need to think about your word wall set up on the front end. They'll need to be able to reach them, remove them, manipulate them, and return the words to the word wall.

So, if you're thinking about the best set up for your classroom, here are 5 tips for setting up your interactive word wall.

  1. Find the space: You can use a whiteboard, bulletin board, or wall space for your word wall. It doesn't have to be huge - you'll likely leave some academic words up all year but domain-specific words may only be on the wall during that particular unit of study. A good, square bulletin board is plenty.
  2. Make sure it's kid-accessible: You'll want to make sure that students can reach the words, so consider the age and height of your students when you're planning your space. (And, of course, you can always include a safe platform or stool if you need to). Or, check out this video of how one teacher uses word wall cards to get them into kids' hands.
  3. Alphabetize or no: While most word walls are alphabetized, it's actually not necessary. Since students will be sorting and categorizing the words, alphabetizing will mean that they'll have to make sure the words go back in their proper place. Maybe you want that, and maybe you don't. It's up to you!
  4. Prep the words: I recommend prepping your words in advance rather than writing them in the moment. This requires some advance planning, but that means that they'll be big enough, you can use a large font so they can be seen from anywhere, and you can laminate them so they'll last a long time.
  5. Prep some arrow cards: At the beginning of the year, prep some cards that have one-way arrows and arrows that point in two directions and laminate them. You can use them all year when students use the word wall words to make concept maps.

Remember, simple and consistent will beat cute and time-consuming any day of the week. So, set up a space, grab some cards, and make this the year you use your word wall!

Here's to simply teaching well,

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