Do you have a word wall in your classroom? I know word walls are common in most lower elementary classrooms, but I usually don’t see them in too many upper elementary rooms and I wish I did.
Have you ever stopped to think about all of the content-specific vocabulary terms your students need to know in order to achieve mastery – there are sooooo many of them. If you think about it, every subject you teach has tons of content-specific terms that are absolutely essential for students to know in order to master the content.
The best way to make all of those terms accessible to your students – Word Walls.
Word walls help expand students’ vocabulary and they make it easy for students to access the content vocabulary words we expect them to use in their discussions and in their writing.
If you have never had a word wall up in your classroom you might want to consider adding one and here is why
Benefits of using a word wall in upper elementary
Word walls encourage students to use new terms in their writing and class discussions – Having a word wall displayed in your classroom encourages students to use content specific vocabulary terms in their writing and classroom discussions. Students are more likely to use terms when they see them displayed and can double check to make sure they know the meaning of the word before they use it. Post words that you want students to use more frequently either in their writing or in their discussion.
Word walls expand student’s vocabulary – As a teacher, you are constantly introducing and using new vocabulary terms during instruction. You might even write a vocabulary term on the board or have your students write them in their notebook, but as soon as you erase the board or students put their notebooks away, those words you introduced will be quickly forgotten. Having a word wall displayed keeps new words at the forefront of student’s minds. If you really want to expand students’ vocabularies then you need to make sure that they are constantly seeing and using the new terms you are introducing and a word wall is a great way to do both.
Word walls are an effective instructional tool for ALL students – A word wall, especially when the word cards have a visual cue, are an excellent tool to meet the needs of your ELL or special education students. Displaying a word wall could be just the tool in helping all of your students access new vocabulary terms and really understand their meaning.
How to make an effective word wall display
Post words, definitions, and pictures. This helps all students be able to access and remember the meaning of words and they will be more likely to use those words in their writing and discussion if they feel confident they know the meaning.
Post the word wall in a part of the classroom that makes the words clearly visible to students so they can easily access them from almost anywhere in the room.
Organize the words in a way that makes sense. Most lower elementary word walls are organized alphabetically. In upper elementary classrooms, I like to see word walls organized by topic or content. If you want students to use the words more in their writing and discussions they need to be able to easily access all the science related terms at one time. Make sure your students know the system for how the words are organized.
Make sure that students know what the word wall is, where it is located, and what the purpose of it is. It’s a good idea to do a mini-lesson towards the beginning of the year to introduce the word wall to your students. I never did this my first few years of teaching and guess what – my students never used the word wall. They had no idea what it was there for. If the word wall is meant to be a tool for your students, then they need to be taught how to use that tool.
Don’t add all the word wall cards at the beginning of the year. The goal is that as your students’ knowledge and understanding of a topic grows, so will the word wall. I like to have my word wall cards printed and ready to go at the beginning of the year and then as I teach lessons on particular topics, I can use the actual word wall cards to introduce those terms to my students. After our lesson, the word wall cards get placed on the word wall and remain a forever reference material for the rest of the year.
How to get students to actually use the word wall
When students are doing content writing, challenge them to use a certain number of words from the word wall. Give them freedom which words they can use, but make it part of the assignment.
Regularly model how to use the word wall. When you are writing or discussing a particular topic, point out words on the word wall and then model using them in your own writing or responses.
Play games with the word wall. This is great if you have just a few minutes left over at the end of a lesson or during a transition. You can play tons of games with word wall cards. My favorite is “I’m thinking of a word…” You can give clues or even get your students to give clues about a particular word and see which student can guess it first.
Regularly add new words to the word wall. If you aren’t actually adding words to your word wall, your students will probably forget it is there. Make sure your word wall becomes a part of your routine.
Let students come up with words to add to the word wall. Your student will use the words a lot more if they have some ownership over the word wall. Let them find important words and you could even let them design the card that will get posted on the word wall. The more ownership they have the more likely they are to use the words on the word wall.
Word walls in upper elementary are such an effective tool to improve students content vocabulary and academic language. If you don’t have a word wall right now, I hope that you are starting to dream about how you could incorporate one into your classroom. If you need some help getting started and want to fast track your way to getting a word wall up this week, check out all of the various word wall cards I have for sale in my TPT store. The hard work had been done for you. You just have to start using them in your classroom!
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