Academic journal article Science and Children

Interactive Word Walls: Create a Tool to Increase Science Vocabulary in Five Easy Steps

Academic journal article Science and Children

Interactive Word Walls: Create a Tool to Increase Science Vocabulary in Five Easy Steps

Article excerpt

It is common to see word walls displaying the vocabulary that students have learned in class. Word walls serve as visual scaffolds and are a classroom strategy used to reinforce reading and language arts instruction. Research shows a strong relationship between student word knowledge and academic achievement (Stahl and Fairbanks 1986). As a result, building academic content vocabulary is an important part of science instruction. To support vocabulary development in science, we use interactive science word walls that resemble graphic organizers, strategically target academic vocabulary, and are student generated.

When students were asked to describe how interactive word walls supported their learning, the overwhelming majority of students not only said that they were better than traditional word walls, but many identified ways in which the word walls helped them. For example, one student stated that the word wall "helped me because whenever I forget I could just look back, and it gave me good information." Additionally, students stated that it "helps remind us of what we have learned" and "since it is always up there I always remember." This article describes five steps that show how to plan and construct interactive word walls and shares the experiences of fifth-grade teachers at 10 inner-city elementary schools who use interactive word walls to support science instruction.

Traditional word walls (Figure 1) are teacher-generated, unorganized lists of words that are posted on classroom walls. Many are posted at the beginning of the school year and then left alone. As a result, they are not current with instruction and not used or valued by students. Interactive word walls are an effective instructional strategy because they present current academic vocabulary while providing visual representations that help students develop "an understanding of, and fluency in, key unit vocabulary" (Douglas et al. 2006, p. 328). Additionally, word walls that include visuals differentiate instruction for English language learners (Carr, Sexton, and Lagunoff 2007). English language learners often struggle with the academic vocabulary included in technical readings or expository texts they are exposed to in science classes. Figure 2 (p. 44) contains an example of this type of word wall. The key learning concepts are clearly labeled and organized to support learning. The words light, refract, and reflect are easily viewed from across the room. The folded headings organize the wall and contain definitions. Notice the mix of real items and pictures of everyday objects that reflect and refract light. If the actual items (realia) were available, they were added to the wall. Color pictures were substituted when realia was not available or too big, too valuable, or too heavy to display. Interactive word walls are planned by teachers but created by students during the school day. Participating teachers report that their students "enjoy drawing, writing, and bringing items from home to contribute" to the wall.

Student participation in creating and maintaining interactive word walls is crucial. We ask students to supply the items (realia) and assign finding objects or examples for the wall as homework. Students can prepare labels, write definitions, create illustrations, and suggest relevant connections and patterns. The connections that they make are insightful and often surprising. "Ooh! That would be a great thing to add to the wall!" and "Can I make the card?" are typical student responses.

Because we construct these walls during class discussions, we frequently include items and tools from our inquiry science activities. This supports deeper understanding of disciplinary core ideas by providing multiple opportunities for students to contribute and interact with the objects displayed on the word wall while connecting core science concepts, inquiry experiences, scientific tools, and academic vocabulary.

The lesson described in this article applies to the Next Generation Science Standard disciplinary core idea Matter and its interactions (5-PS1-3): "Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties" (Achieve Inc. …

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