Word Walls? Word Up!

I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin

How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”?  In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment:  classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!

In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.  The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.”  However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!  

Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):

  • To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
  • To allow Students to have multiple exposures to new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
  • To foster connections between words
  • To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom

The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:

“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall!  Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly.  Student created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!

Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem!  You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:

One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!

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Photo taken by me many years ago; can’t remember what amazing teacher did this!
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Used with permission from Marsha Anema, Music – Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
Yellow Kid Print
All words are written by students! Photo by me
Laminated Word Chart
Laminated word wall for easily changing out new unit words. Photo by me
Felt Word Wall
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms! – Photo by me
Copy of IMG_2564-1
More student written words – Photo by me
I love how eye-catching and colorful this wall is! – Used with permission from Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
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I love this student-created science word wall with illustrations! Source: Middle Web Blog by Valentina Gonzalez
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I love how this Sped Classroom is so print-rich and has a writing word wall! Used with permission from Melissa Finch of  Autism Adventures Blog and TpT Store!

Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!

Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities:  This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:Big Book of Word Walls

  • Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
  • Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
  • Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
  • Double Trouble:  Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
  • And not from the book…but check out this FREEBIE of word wall center activities from Mr. Giso’s Born to Read blog!
  • And here’s another FREEBIE from The Colorful Apple on TpT!

Favorite Intermediate/Secondary Word Wall Activities:

  • Word Sneak – this is a game based on Jimmy Fallon’s Word Sneak game on his show! I can’t wait to play this with one of my tutoring students!
  • So many GREAT ideas in THIS resource too…my faves are “Unfolding Five Words in a Story”, and also the drama and musical groups activities!
  • “Guess My Word”.  I found the “Guess My Word!” idea on Pinterest, but the website it links to has been discontinued, so I created my own version using Wheel Decide!

Check out my Pinterest board on a Literacy-Rich Environment for more information on types of word walls and activities!

So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!

“Word up everybody says
When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway
Word up it’s the code word
No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”

Songwriters: Larry Blackmon / Tomi Jenkins
Word Up! lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Author: Jan Anttila

I recently retired after 25 years of teaching (yay!) I started my own tutoring and consulting business and am now anxious to share my passion for teaching and many lessons, projects and activities I did with my students over the years, as well my current practices for tutoring.

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