Word walls can be used no matter what grade you teach. Between anchor charts and students’ products, I know classroom real estate is valuable! So let’s talk about word walls and how to make them worth the room they take up.
What is a Word Wall?
Word walls in the primary classroom are the centerpiece! It’s a collection of important words for students to know how to read and write that is built over time. If you don’t have a bulletin board space, you can also use cabinets, white boards, three-paneled boards, or a large wall space. Get creative! You want the words to be big and bold so all students can see them from across the room. Word walls display the alphabet with upper and lowercase letters and the words, which can be student names, high frequency words, and any other words students might need to know. Think of it as an important tool, not just a decoration, that will most likely be your students’ first resource they’ll use independently.
Why Have One?
The word wall helps enable students to become more independent readers and writers. Immersing these young kids in a print-rich classroom encourages the development of their literacy skills. As the teacher and students collaborate to create it, the word wall provides opportunities to build a foundation of phonemic awareness, alphabet sequencing, language conventions, and spelling patterns. It provides support and a point of reference for students to use during Writer’s Workshop and literacy stations. The students will start to remember patterns and build connections between the words.
Why Make it Interactive?
When students are engaged in activities with the word wall, it becomes more meaningful to them when it’s time for independent work. Making a word wall interactive keeps it from getting too full and staying stagnant all year. As the students master high frequency words, you can take them down to make room for new words. If the word wall is a going to be a tool, then we as teachers have to use it ourselves and teach students how to use it. The kids start taking more ownership of their writing when they can go pick a word from the word wall, copy it down, and return it. It adds a fun factor for them! With lots of modeling and practice, it becomes instinctive for the kids to use the word wall!
How to Get Started
- Start with an empty word wall. On the first day of school, add students’ names (I include a picture for each student).
- As you introduce high frequency words, add them to the word wall. I like to show the new word, spell it out loud together, clap the syllables, and discuss where to put it on the word wall. Do a think-aloud to teach connections between the new word and other words on it.
- Review the words under the same letter and any new words from that week.
- Frequently model using the word wall for reading and writing and let the kids practice. During writer’s workshop, you can even have a whole mini-lesson about how you use the word wall to help you write a word when you are stuck!
- As the year goes on, you can take down words that become too easy for students (like a, I, the, etc) to make room for new, more useful words.
- If you make your words removable (put them on velcro dots, sticky tack, or use magnetic tape like I did!), you can model taking the word down, bringing it to the table to write it, and then putting it back on the word wall. The words aren’t just for teacher hands!
- If your word wall isn’t as accessible as it needs to be, you can also put a copy of the words under each letter on a binder ring and place the rings of words somewhere the kids can reach it near the word wall. You can also place copies of the words in library card pouches for each letter under the word wall.
- Have the students use the word wall during literacy centers for Read the Room, Write the Room, Word Work, and games.
- If you position it to where students can see it during guided reading, then you can use it to preview words in the books, play word work games, and show connections to new words with words they already know.
- If you have a few minutes to spare at the end of the day, you can play whole group games that have students interact with the word wall. You can even snag some games FREE HERE for my email subscribers!
Some teachers like to include math, science, chunks/digraphs, or themed words here, and others like to make a separate word wall for these types of words. I always had a math and science word wall that was in an anchor chart! It was great for vocabulary and for us to refer back to on a weekly basis! There isn’t a wrong way to get it going, and it may evolve over time as you figure out what works best for your classroom. The most important things are that your word wall is meaningful, on-going, and interactive.
If your kids are using the word wall to make their reading and writing better, then you’re on the right track!
I’ve got some alphabet headers with pictures for your word wall to help you get started or jazz yours up! Click HERE to check them out.
Do you have an interactive word wall? What are some of your favorite activities you do with it? I’d love to hear more!