Winning Ways with Word Walls

By Kieff, Judith | Childhood Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Winning Ways with Word Walls


Kieff, Judith, Childhood Education


Word Walls are organized collections of frequently used words, written in large bold letters and displayed in the classroom. Teachers and students use them as reference points for teaching, studying, and completing assignments. Originally, Word Walls were used exclusively to teach word recognition skills through a focus on word families. However, classroom observations and interviews with teachers reveal many innovations in the ways this teaching tool is being used. This column presents ideas for using Word Walls to promote learning among students from primary through middle school. In general, teachers create and use Word Walls in their classrooms to foster the development of reading, writing, and spelling skills. Word Walls can help students recognize and spell frequently used words correctly, and see patterns and relationships between words and categories of words. Word walls promote independent work habits by providing a readily available reference as students complete their reading and writing activities.

Creating Word Walls

Several commercial kits with pre-printed words are available from school supply companies. However, many teachers prefer to customize their walls by selecting words that are frequently used or of particular interest to their students. These words are typically printed individually on card stock, using black ink and a large font. Some teachers use a word processor, while others print them by hand. The word cards can be displayed any place that is easily accessible to students. Many teachers use Velcro or magnetic tape to affix the words to the display area. This enables them to move the words around when conducting word-study lessons. Students also can remove a word, copy it, and return it easily.

Using Word Walls

Each teacher can adapt the world wall to fit his or her own purpose and style. Often, the use of the wall evolves over the course of the school year, and students can take an active part in its development and maintenance. The teachers I spoke with shared certain guidelines for creating and using Word Walls:

* Display the words in alphabetical order or in word families--whichever is most appropriate to your students' needs

* Add only about five words each week

* As you add new words, eliminate old ones by moving them into a word basket or word bank

* Use the Word Wall daily as a part of lessons, as a reference, and as a focus of word games

* Expect students to correctly spell the displayed words

* Observe when students use the word wall independently, and reinforce their actions

* Over the course of several days, select activities that provide multi-sensory experiences.

Specific Ideas for Utilizing Word Walls

Begin the year by creating a Word Wall that shows all of the students' names. Create the word cards by using both the written name and a picture of the student. Add word cards with the names and pictures of school personnel, classroom pets, guests, and volunteers. Students will learn to call everyone in their community by their proper names, while learning how to use the Word Wall as a reference. Play age- and skill-appropriate games to reinforce both the use of the Word Wall and word-related skills. With kindergartners, for example, reinforce their understanding of beginning sounds and alphabetical order by playing guessing games with the words on the wall.

Build the wall collaboratively with students. Have students nominate words that they think should be a part of the wall. Also, give students the responsibility for creating and illustrating the word cards.

Make the Word Wall a teaching-learning tool, not just a display, by using it throughout the day to teach, re-teach, or review concepts about words and word families. Otherwise, it just adds to the clutter of the room.

Demonstrate to students how to use the tool as a reference for their reading and writing activities. …

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