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
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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
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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

A Classroom Literacy Rich Environment

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.  Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

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This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.  Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:  Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?  However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.  Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!  

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

“A printrich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!  I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.  Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

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I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!  There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!  More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

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A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:  Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!  What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?  This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.  You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”  So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?  Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

Literacy Resource Update: Ideas for Classroom Teachers and Tutors!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

JUST FOR YOU…TWO  FREEBIES COMING UP…a graphic organizer to use after reading Newsela articles (or other types of articles) and a Vocabulary/Spelling City Progress Log!

Here are my updates for my previous post on literacy resources!

Update on NewselaI “waxed poetic” on how much I love this website in that previous post, and now it’s gotten even better!  I’m not sure how long they have offered the units feature, but I just happened to discover them recently! (The link to the units only offers info on history units, but they have added much more! The units feature several articles (grouped in a Text Set) and teaching ideas to go with them.  I chose to use the unit on Technology with my 8th-grade tutoring student, but they also have units on U.S. History,  government, civil rights and ancient civilizations.  The units come complete with guiding questions, student activities, and even a culminating project!

j5hrxg9svcyslok5dqeaa.jpgIn addition to the units, each article on Newsela offers a writing prompt for practice in constructed writing responses, and some articles have Power Words, defined as: “Power Words are research-based, high frequency, high utility vocabulary words used across a range of texts.”  Students can click on the words to discover the definition.  Check out more information HERE.

fullsizeoutput_5ca4I also revised Newsela’s summer reading graphic organizer (left) for my students to use after reading Newsela articles, with areas to put their scores on the quiz, a summary, and a reflection. (That’s one of the FREEBIES FOR YOU…KEEP READING TO SEE HOW TO GET IT!) For the summary, I am using the $2 Summary technique I learned from a 6th-grade teacher/colleague. The basic premise of this type of summary is that you write what the article is about (or the main idea) with just enough detail that the reader clearly understands what it was about. Each word in the summary (excluding the title) will “cost” the student 10¢ and they need their finished summary to cost as close to $2.00 as possible! Check out my 4th-grade student’s summaries in the photos above.  I also think the reflection piece is important…the articles I have students read are about important or interesting topics, and I want them to reflect on the content they read.

Spelling/Vocabulary City – I can’t believe I did not include this website in my first literacy resources blog, but I think it’s because I wasn’t using it as often as I am now…I think I am now addicted to this website…not only is it FUN for the students and they learn so much about new vocabulary, but it’s so easy for teachers to manage and use. (Disclaimer: I went ahead and paid the $34.95 for the Premium Membership because while you can do a great deal with the free log-in, you can do so much more for your students with the premium!) Click HERE to learn more about the Premium features. Here’s how I use this website with my 1st – 5th students:

  • fullsizeoutput_5ca3Self-Chosen Vocabulary: As students are reading books and articles, I have them either use small colored tabs to highlight unfamiliar words, online highlighting or list on their reading logs. This will personalize vocabulary instruction and lets students learn the word using the context in which it was written.  I help students discern between words they are likely to encounter again in text or the world and words that they will not, such as words that are scientific, outdated or obscure.  I then add their words into a list for them on Spelling/Vocabulary City. I give them choices on what activities (my personal favorite is the game show, Word-o-Rama) they want to use, but I always have them start with the Flashcards so they can learn the words. The students and I keep track of their progress with the activities and tests, and to help with this I created a log (CLICK ON THE FREEBIE AT END OF POST!) for them to track their progress and scores; this helps them take ownership of learning and success.
  • Academic Vocabulary: For students who are two or more years behind in reading and vocabulary skills, I will assign them Academic Vocabulary lists on this website. It’s so important that students learn the words they will see over and over in academic settings!
  •  Spelling/Handwriting:  Many of the activities and games are printable! For one of my students, I printed out a list of the words he misspelled on his benchmark writing assessment. This is written on writing paper with lines, so he was able to practice not only the spelling but handwriting skills as well!

That’s it for my Literacy Resources update! Comment below if you use these resources or have other ideas! Below are the images you can click on to get either the Newsela Log or Vocabulary/Spelling City Log…or both! Both will shortly go on sale on TpT, but you can get yours NOW! See you next week!

Click HERE for the Newsela Log!

Click HERE for the Vocabulary City Log!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher Resource Round-Up #1

Here we go…Blog #2!  First, a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you checked out my first blog and subscribed; I appreciate you more than you can know!

You will be finding out in later posts that I am a HUGE groupie of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder!  I first discovered her in third grade in the Hartman Elementary School library in Omaha, Nebraska…I think it was Little House on the Prairie, but I quickly devoured that and went on to read the rest of her books.  At that young age, I must have already had a love of history and journeys.  I still have that original copy of LHP (below – bought in 1968) and now have all of the books she’s ever written, as well as books about her, about her family, and the Little House series stuff in general.

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My original copy of a beloved book! Notice my name printed with those label makers popular in the 60s and 70s! Photo by Jan

In the book, These Happy Golden Years, Laura became a teacher at the age of 15, in a one-room schoolhouse on the South Dakota prairie. All she had for her resources were her own school books, a blackboard, chalk and the primers for the students; check it out:

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Photo by Jason Klobassa on Flickr. Used with permission.

Today’s teacher needs far more tools! I’m happy to introduce the first of many blog posts about the latest and greatest teacher resources I have found and have been using with my tutoring students, or with the students when I worked in a school.  This week focuses on literacy (many more literacy resources to come in the future)…I hope these are helpful!

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  1. Reading a-z:  I’m sure you’ve heard of it…the website with all the leveled books…but do you know how much MORE they have?  Yes, I have used this site to make leveled books in the past for my RtI students, and in the present for my tutoring students (leveled text is SO important for struggling readers!), but I have used this website’s resources for fluency practice (they have leveled fluency practice and assessment passages), benchmark assessments, and phonics practice and assessments. The phonics assessments are particularly helpful when first working with a young and/or struggling reader as it can help you understand where this child is at in his or her phonics abilities. There are also oodles of graphic organizers for reading, as well as for vocabulary!  There are so many resources on this site…I keep finding new ones!  I just discovered their close reading passages…short pieces of leveled text to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. Reading a-z is not free; a school can either buy a license for or some classrooms or a teacher can buy an individual license for their own classroom.  The cost is $109.95 for a year’s license – and worth every penny; I bought a license to use with all my tutoring students.Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 5.57.28 PM

Words with Friends EDU
I JUST started using this with my tutoring students and I am SO wishing I could go back in time and use this with the gifted students I worked with for four years before retiring!  I have to admit that I am a Words with Friends junkie (have you tried the solo challenges? So fun and so hard!), so when I learned they had an education version for teachers, I was very excited.  Once you set up a log-in and create a class, you and your students can play games with each other…or just have your students play.  They offer vocabulary and phonics lesson plans on their website so you can integrate the game into your literacy instruction. I am having my tutoring students choose five words from each game that they have either never heard of or are not sure of the meaning, and then adding them to a new list in Vocabulary/Spelling City to practice and master!  On the website, they have a research report that states:

Students who play Words With Friends EDU can experience statistically significant gains in use of academic words within the first 6 gameplay sessions. Information gathered on the game’s effectiveness supports its use as a high-quality formative assessment that can aid teachers’ understanding of what the students know and can do.

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3. Newsela
Oh, how I adore this site!  I have used it for four years now, both with my gifted/highly able students and with my tutoring students, many of whom are struggling readers.  Thousands upon thousands of leveled articles for students grades 2 through high school.  Every topic you can think of is here…current events, world issues, history, science, politics, kid stuff, biographies, primary sources, famous speeches and more!  You can choose the level of the article, assign to your students and have them read and then take the quiz or do a reading response.  The articles can be printed out and used for guided reading, especially in the intermediate grades where it’s harder to find leveled text for groups. Newsela can be used as homework, independent reading or in literacy stations. I just use the free version, but that’s all I need for my students.  Purchasing Newsela PRO can provide classroom teachers with more options; check with your school administration to see if they can fund this.  For comparison of the free vs. PRO version, click HERE.

A few of my favorite literacy apps!

Fry Words – I used the app on my iPad as my RtI students played “Around the World”.  All I had to do was hold up the iPad and they would say the word. No small flashcards!  This app is appropriate for all elementary grades and struggling older readers.

iSort Words – Students have to sort words based on their beginning and endings.  The app will keep track of how many they get right and their time.   Check out a preview video HERE.  Grades: 1st and 2nd grade, as well as struggling intermediate students.

Reading Comprehension: Fable Edition
Perfect for a literacy center of independent reading, this app provides elementary age students with a variety of stories to choose from and offers practice with vocabulary words and a comprehension quiz.  You could easily use this for comprehension progress monitoring data.  Grades: 1st – 5th

Story Cubes
I can’t remember how/where I first discovered this app (based on the actual Story Cubes that come in a box), but it was many years ago when I was an elementary school literacy specialist.  Being one of the few certified teachers who did not have a classroom, I was often called on to cover a classroom when a sub didn’t show up or a teacher had to leave early.  I’ve always had this deep-rooted fear of being in a classroom and having nothing to do, so I quickly created a toolbox, both literal and digital, of activities I could do with any age of students.  Story Cubes was always a big hit!  I would put my iPad under the document camera, shake the iPad and the cubes would roll around.  Once they “landed”, the students and I would discuss what the images were on the cubes.  Many were open to interpretation…see my screenshot from below!  Once we all decided on what the images were (I listed our decisions on the board), the students were off and writing.  After a specified amount of time, I would have students partner up to share what they had so far and offer suggestions.  After another amount of time, I would use a choice wheel or other fair way of choosing which students could come up and be in the Author’s Chair and share.  You would not believe the variety of stories you will get, even if you have already decided on the images!  Students then can have the option of taking the draft to completion or not.  I developed a graphic organizer for students to use; they sketch the cube on the left and then write their description of what the cube depicts on the right.  Then they plan their story. You can access this resource for FREE by clicking HERE!
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A variation is to roll the cubes under the doc cam and then let EACH student decide on their own what the images are, then create their story.  I did this with several third gifted students, and while I let them each decide on the images, but one of them was a pyramid, so I got several Egypt stories! This app, or the actual box of cubes (which you can purchase on Amazon, at Walmart or Target and other places), would make a fantastic literacy center as well!

 


Last but not least…a few literacy hands-on games!
Word Monkeys
I love this game…and loved using it with my RtI reading groups and still use with my tutoring students! Now if I could just get my friends to come over and play it with me… This game has students trying to create words with the various cards in their hand.  The more letters they can play, the more points they earn.  I help my struggling readers out by telling them how many words they can make with the cards in their hands.  If they immediately plan a two letter word, I ask them if they’re sure they can’t play a larger word for more points.  This really gets them to think about how to put together digraphs, blends, vowels, and consonants to make words!

 

 

Word Shark
Another fun word building game!  Students are given board with either blank side or a side with words missing the first letter. For the blank side, students take turns choosing both a vowel and a consonant and try to make words with each turn. For the missing first letter side, students choose consonants and try to make words.  The first one to fill up their board wins!
IMG_7481.JPG That’s it for now!  If you have also used any of these resources, please comment below and let me know what you think of them.  If you try any for the first time, also comment!  Stay tuned for more virtual mentoring, and in the meantime, hang in there, teachers!  You are all my heroes!