A word wall is a bulletin board or wall section covered with words. Words typically are on word cards, such as the one being savaged in the photo above. Word walls are there for your visual students to gaze at, they can be a tactile experience for your kinesthetic learners, and you can use them with choral reading and chanting for your auditory learners — adding up to a multisensory experience for all.
Typically, for primary level classrooms, you have markers for all the letters going across your wall, and then you have words for each of the letters that you put underneath, as you can see in this Word Wall “Plus” for Second Grade from Carson-Dellosa. If you like to make your own words, but want a cute alphabet to sort them with, consider removable wall decals like Animal Alphabet Peel and Stick Wall Decals, alphabet sets like Eboo’s Happy Parade Alphabet Cutout Letters, or bulletin board letters.
There are variations on this theme.
Here you can see a word families word wall from Teacher’s Friend, with words sorted according to their word families, rather than by letter. In both these examples, the word cards emphasize the shape of the word to encourage sight recognition.
Here are some useful books on word walls:
- Teaching Reading and Writing with Word Walls (Grades K-3)
- Making Word Walls Work: A Complete, Systematic Guide With Routines, Grade-Perfect Word Lists, and Reproducible Word Cards to Help All Children Master High-Frequency Words is a Scholastic book. It’s a great starting point if word walls are new to you, and a good way to get a cohesive plan for a whole school.
- Word Walls Activities is directed toward younger kids.
- Scholastic Big Book of Word Walls: 100 Fresh & Fun Word Walls, Easy Games, Activities, and Teaching Tips to Help Kids Build Key Reading, Writing, Spelling Skills and More Could they have given this book a longer title?! Still, it has lots of specific word wall collections and ideas.
- Making Your Word Wall More Interactive: my personal favorite, for the way it helps you get the most out of the time you invest in your word wall.
What words should you use? The most popular choice locally is probably the word list from the Four Blocks books, such as The Teacher’s Guide To The Four Blocks.
Those words come ready-made, for whatever grade or situation you’re working in, including upper grades, Spanish-English bilingual classes, or struggling readers.
Some schools have their own lists. Some teachers like to use “popcorn” words — the words that pop up in the classroom, often beginning with kindergarteners’ names. Some like to go with the Dolch lists — I’m linking you to Jan Brett’s Dolch list page, because it is the prettiest, but you can easily find these lists online or in books. Some choose words from the basal reader, or from the glossary of a content-area textbook.
Math teacher Janice Jones uses a word wall of math terminology. For her middle school students, she doesn’t sort by the alphabet. She writes all the words on Cut-Outs and sorts them by a mathematical scheme. This is good for science, too. Josepha, being a music teacher, will want to use music words and symbols. Subject area word walls can be in different sections of the room is you share rooms or have a multi-subject classroom, or you can make them portable: use a Pocket Chart, Copernicus rack, or even on file folders. Individual “word walls” can be great for older students.
Let’s take a quick detour to the possibility of printing word cards out. We’ve looked at lots of free word card sites, and the fact is that by the time you’ve paid for the ink to print them, the card stock to print them on, and your time to cut them out and maybe also to type the words in, you don’t save any money by printing them out yourself.
When do you want to grab a package of pre-cut word strips and make your own by hand? That’s easy: when the pre-made ones don’t meet your needs. We know a school where they want their second graders to know the word “ochre,” and I can tell you right now that no pre-made second grade word wall is going to include “ochre.” If you have special words on your word wall, or you like to use popcorn words for your word walls, then you’ll have to make some yourself.
Special topics are another case. Our state frameworks are very heavy on economics, so we might want “push-pull factor” and “opportunity cost” in there. State history, science topics, and music are other areas for which it can be hard to find premade word cards.
You also may prefer to make them if you want to provide a handwritten example for your class, to match the style of handwriting you teach. The Post-it type of blank word strip sticks well to your walls, and they can be a handy way to add a popcorn word on the fly.
Blank Flash Cards are another option when you want to make your own. With 1000 cards for $7.95, they’re a very economical choice. Cutouts are cuter. Pick designs with big open spaces if you go this route.
This approach allows you to use seasonal designs, or to match a design to a theme or concept. However, if you prefer to use the same design for all your words, you’d be wise to buy several packages at once. The cut outs are very fashion-driven, and designs are discontinued frequently.
Once you’ve got your word wall up, you’ll want to use it. An interactive word wall is a good use of your precious space.
- Here is a collection of ideas for using word walls with secondary-level students. One of my favorite ideas from this site is having students use words from the word wall with web graphic organizers. I think that would be a great pre-writing activity.
- Here is a gallery of word walls from different classrooms, for inspiration. There are plenty of clever out of the box ideas for fitting word walls in when space is tight — the magnetic word ceiling caught my eye right off.
- Here is an alphabet of printable personal-size word walls, with a suggestion for a game to play. This is a PDF file from PBS Kids. Personal word walls are a great tool. Carson-Dellosa makes erasable ones, and I like to have students make them in booklet form from construction paper with a notepad sheet for a cover. In fact, I like personal word walls for older students, even those of the simplest type: a list of words they can add to. Put that on a bookmark or a decorated note to keep it from getting thrown out with scrap paper.
- Here is a blog post about using online wiki word walls. This idea lets you knock off some technology requirements along with the other uses of word walls.
You can limit the number of word cards you have up and keep the rest for other times. Don’t feel like you’re wasting your other word cards — you can do lots of things with them!
Here’s a list of some of our favorite ideas for using word cards when they’re not on your wall:
- Put them all into one box and as the whole class adds a word to its active vocabulary, move it to a second box. Celebrate each word, and have a big celebration when the first box is empty.
- Put them in a shoebox center and let students sort them into nouns and verbs, words with single and multiple syllables, words beginning with a vowel or a consonant, etc.
- You can also have student alphabetize them, or put in two sets and match them.
- Use the words as daily journal prompts.
- Play games with them. Challenge students each day to think of a song that includes the daily word, or put a sequence of words on your chalk tray, and then turn the words down and have students write them from memory.
Max will stick with eating his word card.