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Word Walls: A Tool, Not A Display

A mentor once told me that my classroom walls could act as a second teacher if I put them to good use. At the time I, like many other teachers, threw a border up on my bulletin board along with a few motivational posters and checked it off my to-do-list.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized the potential role these walls could play and I invited them to act as my co-teachers. Down came the poster which had screamed at my students for years, "EDUCATION IS THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON WHICH YOU CAN USE TO CHANGE THE WORLD." Now, I'm not saying these posters don't have their place in the classroom, I'm only saying I found two better teaching weapons: anchor charts and word walls.

The first step in erecting effective word walls is realize they are a tool, not a display.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when creating a word wall:

  • What categories of words will you use? (content, high-frequency, interesting words, standardized test words)
  • How many words will you start with?
  • How many words will you add and how often?
  • How will students interact with the words?

The last question is the most important. If you simply add words to a board, but students aren't interacting with them, your word wall is only a display. By attaching the word wall to engaging tools, the word wall will be a second teacher.

See some activity ideas below.

Word Wall Activities

  1. Be a Mind Reader: Instruct students to number 1-5 on a piece of paper. Give students a clue about a word on the word wall, and tell students to "read your mind" and write a guess by number 1. Continue with a second clue and a second guess by number 2. Continue with this process all the way to number 5. Try to make the first clue challenging and get progressively easier.
  2. Word Sorts: In pairs or small groups, tell students to organize the words on the word wall into groups and explain the reasoning behind their grouping. To challenge them, you might set the number of groups they must form.
  3. Guess the Covered Word: Write a sentence which contains one of the word wall words, but cover the vocabulary word with a sticky note. Ask students to use context clues to figure out which vocabulary word is hidden.
  4. Bingo: Give students empty bingo cards and tell them to fill each square using a different word from the word wall. Read definitions and have students cover the word on their card that matches the definition.
Intro To Persuasive Text using TV commercials
This video is a collection of 4 commercials used to help students understand elements of persuasive text. Parallel commercials for persuasive text examples include: Emotional Appeal (Horse/Dog), Exaggeration (Doritos), Bandwagon (Chuck E Cheese), and Loaded Words (Frosted Flakes).