Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

How Primary Teachers Are Using Word Walls to Teach Literacy Strategies

Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

How Primary Teachers Are Using Word Walls to Teach Literacy Strategies

Article excerpt

Word walls have become a popular tool to teach literacy strategies in today's classrooms (Brabham & Villaume, 2001). Teachers display selected words on a wall or bulletin board and use them as the basis of word identification study. They become a kind of visual scaffolding that provides students with a reference for words they will need for literacy activities and helps them to make the transition to more independent reading and writing. Brabham and Villaume (2001) point out that not only do word walls empower students to be more self sufficient readers, but also help teachers provide a visual record of their systematic word study. Pinnell & Fountas (1998) encourage teachers to think of them as "interactive word walls" (p. 43) since they are meant to be used actively by both teachers and students. They suggest that in order for word walls to be effective, the teacher must call attention to each word placed on the wall and help the students learn it, and the teacher must continue to remind students about the words and encourage them to use them in their reading and writing.

The purpose of this article is to provide background information about what is currently known about word walls and to share the practices of 18 primary grade teachers who were observed using word walls in their instruction. It is hoped that teachers will be encouraged to try this instructional strategy in their own classrooms.

Types of Word VValls

* Name Word Wall

Using children's names is a very effective way to help emergent readers make letter and sound associations (Pinnell & Fountas, 1998). The first names of children in a classroom can be grouped on a word wall according to the first letter and used to help students acquire information about how names beginning with the same letter usually make the same sound. The names can also be used for activities that strengthen phonemic awareness and beginning writing skills.

* High Frequency Word Wall

These kinds of word walls are used to introduce the most commonly occurring words that a beginning reader is likely to encounter. There are commercially produced words that can be used for the word wall or teachers can make their own using a list of high frequency words such as the Dolch or Fry lists or use words from a basal reading series. Cunningham (2000) suggests introducing about five new words per week.

* Chunking Word Wall

A chunking word wall is used to introduce students to common spelling patterns. A key word is chosen that represents a common rime (the vowel and the ending part of a syllable), often referred to as an ending "chunk". For example, the word "make" might be selected as a key word for the "_ake" rime. Students are taught to use the spelling of the key word wall words to help them to spell new words. The key word "make" could assist in the reading and spelling of words such as "take," "lake," and "mistake".

* Help Wall

A help wall is used to teach language conventions such as punctuation reminders, capitalization and to highlight certain kinds of words such as compounds, contractions, homophones etc. This wall acts as a guide to young writers and encourages them to independently edit their work (Wagstaff, 2000).

* Content Area and Theme Word Walls

These kinds of walls are very useful when beginning a new unit in a content area. They provide immediate access to important vocabulary words that the teacher can explain to the students and the students can then use in their own work. Students should be encouraged to add new words that they encounter to the word wall.

Ways to Use Word Wall

It is not enough to simply have a word wall in a classroom. Cunningham (2000) reminds us that "doing the word wall is not the same as having a word wall" (p. 58). Teachers need to directly teach activities with the word wall that actively engage students making it more likely that they will internalize the spelling of the words. …

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