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.


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