Academic journal article Science and Children

Put Your Walls to Work: Planning and Using Interactive Word Walls to Support Science and Reading Instruction

Academic journal article Science and Children

Put Your Walls to Work: Planning and Using Interactive Word Walls to Support Science and Reading Instruction

Article excerpt

Many classrooms have word walls displaying vocabulary that students have learned in class. Word walls serve as visual scaffolds to support instruction. To support vocabulary development in science, we replaced traditional word walls, which are generally lists of words or word banks, with interactive word walls. Interactive word walls may resemble graphic organizers or data tables. They highlight connections between concepts and artifacts (realia) from inquiry-based science activities while connecting scientific concepts and academic vocabulary. They strategically target vocabulary and include visual aids that illustrate word meanings to deepen understanding. Interactive word walls usually include a visual representation of specific vocabulary words and labels. Definitions are optional (Jackson and Narvaez 2013). In this article, we describe how we select vocabulary for interactive word walls and our efforts to use interactive word walls as scaffolds that help students effectively communicate scientific ideas and structure writing.

Vocabulary and Reading

Vocabulary development is one of the five essential components of reading (National Reading Panel 2000). When science teachers explicitly address vocabulary development, they support reading instruction. Research has found that student achievement improves when academic vocabulary, student-generated materials, and visual supports are arranged to organize learning (Jackson 2014; Jackson and Ash 2012). Interactive word walls support the Common Core Language Arts standards because they help students form relationships with and learn vocabulary through interactive visual literacy. Teachers plan the structure of interactive word walls and organize the sequence in which they are built. Students complete interactive word walls during the "Explain" section of a 5E lesson, when academic vocabulary is typically reinforced or explicitly taught (Bybee 2014).


Student participation is critical. A first-grade teacher shared that "sitting down to think through these word walls helped me so much in planning instruction. Already my students are using more vocabulary correctly and frequently as we build the word walls and use them daily in our class. Their understanding seems more solid and concrete than I've seen in years' past."

Selecting Vocabulary

Selecting vocabulary to teach is a challenging and at least partially subjective task (Graves, August, and Mancilla-Martinez 2013). To ensure that the vocabulary selection is focused and systematic, we use a Vocabulary Planning Document (see Figure 1) that reflects the four components of a comprehensive vocabulary program: teach a few well-selected words, teach word-learning strategies, foster word consciousness, and provide rich and varied language experiences (Graves 2006). The Vocabulary Planning Document is completed during team planning, and the vocabulary included on this document underpins the selection of all instructional materials.

We often refer to a completed Vocabulary Planning Document as a "shopping list." If lesson materials do not contain vocabulary included on the list, we add the vocabulary words to the lessons and locate or create materials to support teaching the concept they represent. If available lesson materials contain vocabulary not on the list, we discuss the merits of including the additional terms in our lessons. Grade-level teams decide if the additional vocabulary is fully aligned with the content articulated in the standard. If it is aligned with the grade-level standard with exactness, the word is added to the Vocabulary Planning Document and it will be included in lessons. If it is not aligned, it will not be used and lesson materials that support it will be discarded.

This vocabulary-driven process focuses team meetings and ensures that all lesson materials are aligned to standards with fidelity and it supports a robust and informed review of instructional materials. …

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