Using Word Walls

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By B. Leal

Like many teachers in my district, I use word walls.  Every year, at the beginning of the year, the required word wall goes up. It usually contains the words required by the school, plus the vocabulary for the lesson to be taught, and perhaps some concepts we are to cover for the six weeks.  They sit in a corner of the room looking pretty and colorful, and students are supposed to look at them and somehow use them in their learning.  The problem with my word walls up to this point is that no one had ever told me how to use them.   I was told I needed to have words up on the wall, so words went up on the wall and sat there all year as just another decoration.

From Phonics to Fluency has made me think about and question my beliefs about word walls and their usefulness.  I used to see them as something static and teacher made to fulfill requirements.  Now, I am beginning to see them as something dynamic created with students’ help as a tool for learning.  Although a great deal of the activities in the book are geared towards elementary children, they served as a springboard for new ideas on how I want to implement word walls at the middle school level in the coming years.

Word walls should be something that students can utilize.  Perhaps it should continue to include the mandated words of the week from the school curriculum, but used as a way for students to learn new vocabulary.  Students will not learn the words by staring at them pasted on the wall.  Instead, they can play games with the words on the wall as they learn them.  They can use the words of the week to create a story or ask a question.  They can design categories for the walls and move them around as more words are added.  I would definitely not put up all one hundred words at the beginning of the year, but introduce them a little at a time to ensure students acquire them as new vocabulary.

Another great idea I picked up from From Phonics to Fluency is the creation of writing walls as an addition to word walls.  Students can pick sentences from their writing, or sentences they read in other’s writing, and post them on the writing wall.   This way, authentic writing they can use and imitate as they write surrounds students.  It validates their work, and perhaps helps them look carefully at what they write leading them to become better writers.

Word walls should not be up in a classroom, forgotten because no one knows what to do with them, but there because administration says they need to be there. We need to end word wall decorations and start using them as tools to help students learn new vocabulary, understand concepts, and help in their writing.

The Process of Creative Writing

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Jacquelyn Zambrano

Students in my fourth grade class were always reluctant in writing sentences; much less writing a story. In my first year of teaching writing and incorporating the writing process, students would zone out and not much meaningful learning was going on in my classroom. I quickly learned that the best way for students to grasp the writing process was to model it. I have found that my students enjoyed and were engaged in giving me ideas to create my story. Teaching the different types of writing was an exciting process for me. I particularly enjoyed teaching creative writing and would see the benefits it would give my students.

Since creative writing could be fictional, fantasy or pretend, my students enjoyed the pre-writing step. As a class, we would decide the setting of the story. I would usually begin with a fantasy story. They would get so excited to pick the premise of the character, place, and problem. Starting the rough draft step was always a teachable moment, from reminding them to indent to it’s ok to make mistakes and erase and/or draw a line through the deleted words. Students would have a hard time understanding that page was not their final draft. Getting their ideas to flow and make connections to form the story was sometimes a challenge. They would get ahead of the story and would not build up to the good points. I would have to slow them down and guide them in elaborating their ideas. At times, we would revise our work as we wrote by cutting ideas or adding extra information. Editing would occur if the students caught the grammatical error along the way or at the end of the story. Creating our final draft was always ceremonial. I would type it up and place in a sheet protector with a nice border. Other students would read it, and my students would have a sense of pride. In my school, I would team teach with another teacher. I had two classes that I would write a different story with. You would find them comparing their stories and deciding which one was better.

1237098546824050827StudioFibonacci_Cartoon_zebra svg medI would do this several times before they attempted to create their own story. One prompt I completely enjoyed using was “How did a zebra get its stripes?” Every year, it would amaze me the ideas my students would come up with. One student wrote that the zebras earn their stripes by being responsible. The main character was irresponsible and struggled with earning its stripes. Another student wrote that zebras were once all white. At school, the milk that was being served caused them to get stripes. Once the other zebras saw how beautiful they looked, they wanted some too. My students were very inventive with their ideas in creating a story. Even though it was fictional, they were problem solving within their story.

Creative writing has a special place in the exposure of what students learn in the classroom. Sadly enough, many teachers don’t have the luxury of teaching this to their students because of their other obligations to the standardized test. Narrative and expository writing are very important types of writing, but creative writing allows the student to explore their imagination. It is endless the stories they can write. I only wish that students are given the opportunity to write more in the classroom.

Vocabulary in High School

This semester in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study, students were asked to contribute a post to our blog.

By Ann V.

Since becoming a high school English teacher close to twenty years ago, I have participated in many conversations centered around how to teach vocabulary in a way so that students will be able to use the words correctly in speaking, writing and reading throughout their lives. Unfortunately, this is a difficulty that doesn’t seem to go away. Despite many different attempts, quality vocabulary instruction is still something that is lacking in many high school classrooms.

Since becoming the English Instructional Coach for my school, I have been put in charge of helping teachers implement several different strategies in their classrooms. One of these instructional strategies that I know I will have to focus on for this coming year is vocabulary instruction and the use of word walls.  We are already expected to use word walls, but there is not a teacher I know that uses it effectively. With the help of the book From Phonics to Fluency, the internet, and adjusting ideas that I have seen done in different classrooms, I have come to understand several important factors involved with teaching vocabulary and also, how word walls can help teachers and students with that vocabulary.

First, with so many words that students must know, how do teachers chose the vocabulary to focus on?  From my understanding, vocabulary must be useful to the students, usable by the students and frequently used in the particular subject area. Also, teachers don’t want to have so many new words that it is overwhelming for the students. Many teachers have the students chose the words that are going to be studied, so they can pick the words that they need help with the most. After deciding what words to focus one, making sure that the students have the opportunity to use these words in meaningful ways is the next step in effective vocabulary instruction.

Word walls can be a very easy, yet meaningful strategy that any subject area teacher can implement into their curriculum. Among many other things, words walls can improve vocabulary which will improve reading, comprehension and writing skills. They also reinforce understanding of vocabulary found in specific subject areas so that the students can internalize these key concepts. Awareness of spelling patterns and therefore, spelling improvement is also a benefit that word walls provide the students. One of the biggest advantages that word walls can contribute to the classroom is students becoming more independent when reading and writing, which is what every teacher strives for.

To make the word walls meaningful is what is important. There are many ways that teachers can make these walls helpful to students. The use of word walls for vocabulary instruction can be used for whole group, small group, or individual activities. In order for the students to use the wall as much as necessary, it is a good idea for the vocabulary on the wall to be in large font so that it is visible from anywhere in the classroom. Also, many teacher organize their words in alphabetical order and color code them so that students can find whatever word they are looking for as quickly as possible. Lastly, making the wall interactive so they students can move the words around makes the students take ownership of the vocabulary.

There are many ways that secondary teachers can teach vocabulary, and using word walls is just one of many ideas that can be used in the classroom in order for students to not only know, but also understand and correctly use new vocabulary.