Today at my school, some of us specialists were invited to participate in a "learning walk" of our school. A learning walk is where we wander through classrooms (unobtrusively) and look at non-negotiables like classroom libraries, reading/writing folders, objectives, word walls, and then observe instruction for a short time. This is a chance for us to not only do a sort of peer feedback for our colleagues, but a chance for us to see what our school needs to work on, and for us to get to see some "what works, what doesn't work" examples.
I noticed a lot of great teaching and some great classroom organization. One thing that I noticed though, was that while almost every teacher had a word wall (our principal requires them) they weren't being used effectively. Some word walls were there, but had no words on them, some word walls looked as if a few words had been added in September, and then they hadn't been touched since. Other word walls were hard to find because they were covered up with other stuff. A few classrooms had no word wall at all.
That got me to thinking- maybe some teachers aren't sure how to effectively use a word wall to benefit their students. Maybe you do know how to use your word wall, but you just want some new suggestions. Either way- you've come to the right place to find out about word walls according to Mrs. J.
Word walls should be relevant and up-to-date.
Word walls should only include words that your students are currently learning, or words that they have to know throughout the year. When you take words off of the word wall, you can place them in another area of the classroom labeled "words we've learned" so that they are still available for a time for students to refer to. I used to use my door as a word wall graveyard. You must take off the old words to add new ones so that your word wall doesn't get too cluttered. Also, I think it goes without saying, but- you should NOT end the year with the same words on the word wall that you started with.
Word walls should be interactive.
Word walls are particularly beneficial for students (especially ELLs), but ONLY if the students USE them! For students to use them, they should be interactive. You can achieve this in several ways. Add a picture to the word if possible. Even better, instead of just putting the word on the word wall, you can fold over a sheet of paper, write the word on the outside, and the definition on the inside, then place it on your word wall. That way when the student forgets the meaning of the word, he or she can go to the word wall and find it. Another strategy for using your word wall is to put a sentence with the word to show how it the word is used in context.
During certain times, you may want to allow students to add words, pictures, or definitions to your word wall. They will love seeing their own work on your word wall, and it can be a GREAT vocabulary practice activity. Remind students frequently to make use of the word wall for spelling, writing and reading activities. This way it will become a habit!
Word walls should be highly visible.
Word walls don't help anyone if the students can't see them. Many of the classrooms that I was in today had word walls that were covered up with posters or other things. Ideally, a word wall should be on a bulletin board or wall a the front of the classroom, next to your whiteboard, smartboard, or wherever students most frequently focus their attention.
I hope this tips will help you to take a fresh look at your word wall! Is it time for a renovation?