What is a word wall? What words will be on the wall? Why? The most common are high frequency word walls.High frequency words are words that occur more times than other words in the spoken or written language (Cooper & Kiger, 2003). Knowing your purpose for using the word wall to teach children is important.
“A word wall is a place on which important words are posted as references for reading and writing.Regie Routman, “Conversations: Strategies for Teaching Learning, and Evaluating”, 2000“A word wall is a systematically organized collection of words displayed in large letters on a wall or other large display place in the classroom. It is a tool to use, not just display. Word walls are designed to promote group learning and be shared by a classroom of children.”McCarrier, Pinnell & Fontas (2000): Interactive Writing: How Language & Literacy Come Together, K-2. (p. 46).
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.
- Provide a visual that helps students remember connections between words.
- Serve as an important tool for helping students learn to read and spell new words.
- Foster students’ independence.
- Promote reading and writing.
- Hold students accountable for spelling specific words correctly at all times.
- Trisha Callella, “Making Word Walls More Interactive”, 2001
Trisha Callella's Book
What does the word wall look like in Kindergarten?
The 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 (along with their pictures) 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.
Environmental print word walls are great in kindergarten!
Check out this blog post for great ideas!
Word walls should be at eye-level in grades K-2. In the pictures at the top of this post, the teacher used velcro strips to mount the words. Magnets work well on metal surfaces like white boards. Kids should be able to remove the words and take them to their desks when writing, Notice that the words are linear. This helps with directionality.
White boards are great places for interactive word walls when students are tall enough to reach the words.
What about word walls in grade 3-5?
This is a great word wall for older students. It isn't as interactive, but very visible.
Here are some tips for using word walls in the lower grades:
(Follow link to read entire article!)
by Shari Frost
The purpose of the word wall is to provide maximum exposure to those heavy duty basic sight vocabulary words. These are the words that children need to know automatically, without any decoding or problem solving. The more experiences children have with these words, the more likely the words will be internalized.
Add three to five high frequency words to the word wall each week. Introduce the words with fanfare and pageantry; make a really big fuss. Engage the children in reading, chanting, singing, spelling and writing these words. Have a whole-group word wall activity each day. You might need to follow up with small-group work for some children. Keep word wall activities brief and highly engaging.
With word wall words containing a high frequency phonogram (word family) such as -an, -all, -it, or -ot, capitalize on the opportunity to point out other words with the same phonogram. For example, if “can” appears on the word wall, it is instructionally effective to bring words such as man, pan, ran, tan, and fan into the discussion and emphasize the pattern. Once children have learned words with phonograms, it opens the door to many other words. Some teachers distinguish these words on the wall by marking them with a star or a key. Children learn that these words can help them read and write other words.
Once most of the children in the class have learned a word, take it down. There is no reason to have “the” on a first grade word wall in January. Make retiring a word from the word wall a celebration.
Special education classrooms should have word walls too! They may even have several in the room or individual word walls to meet specific needs. I love the drip pans found at Wal Mart for about $12.00. It allows you to have several word walls without taking up too much space. You will need magnets and a place to mount the drip pan. We have glued them to the backs of bookcases for stability. Plain sheet metal works if you make the edges safe for kids.
Suggestions for Professional Development
Print Shari Frost's article from Choice Literacy and discuss word walls with your colleagues. Develop common beliefs about word walls and the words used. Analyze how effective your word walls are by looking at student writing. Share tips and ideas for teaching using the word wall.
The word wall in your room is about your kids and what they need. Do you have a plan to meet the needs of your students? Do they need high frequency words from a previous grade or the grade ahead? Are there too many words on your wall?
I would love to hear about your discussions!
Check back soon for more on word walls in content areas and for other ideas!