Word Walls: Planning a Year of Word Wall

When we work with transitional and conventional literacy learners, we need to ensure that the Working with Words block occurs as part of their daily literacy teaching. The working with words block consists of work in two areas: phonics instruction and sight words.  This blog post will focus on sight words – and the use of the Word Wall to teach them.

A few years ago I did a blog post called “Word Walls: Getting the resources ready” where I talked about setting up a word wall.  This blog post is still very useful as it talks through the colour system and other factors in planning word wall work.  And, as part of this, I provided a year of planning for students who were just starting to learn sight words.  Since then, I have had a lot of queries about “now we've finished that first year - where to next?” – so here’s a new blog post talking that through!

A Year of Word Wall

Before I start, I thought it would help to give an overview of what a year of word wall looks like.

Term1 Term 2
Weeks 1 to 7 – Introduce 5 words per week Weeks 8 to 10 – Consolidate Weeks 1 to 7 – Introduce 5 words per week Weeks 8 to 10 – Consolidate
Term 3 Term 4
Weeks 1 to 7 – Introduce 5 words per week Weeks 8 to 10 – Consolidate Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate!  

For more information on introducing the words across the week and the sorts of activities you can do, check out Word Walls: Using the word wall.

Planning for a year of Word Wall

Step 1: Assess your student(s) word knowledge

The first thing you need to do is use your high frequency word list to determine which words your students know – and which words they are still learning.  They need to be able to READ and WRITE the high frequency words easily and correctly for us to consider them consolidated.

The Oxford Word List is the high frequency word list that the majority of schools I work with use.  It is a list of 500 words that is “based on research conducted by Oxford University Press into the words used most frequently by students in their writing in the first three years of school. The Oxford Word List therefore represents the words students want and need to know how manipulate grammatically most often in order to write with them.” (Retrieved from https://www.oxfordowl.com.au/oxford-wordlist 3 July 2021)

I have used the Oxford Word List to create a resource for teachers to assess their student’s word knowledge at the beginning of the school year – this includes their ability to read AND write the words.  Since it’s important that students read the words very quickly to read with fluency, there is a time limit on the reading part.  I’ll share this below as an example – you can use this one or make one up for your own word list of choice.

Step 2: Compile a List

Once you know which words a student can read and write automatically, then you know which words you still need to teach.

Here are the results of an assessment I did recently.  This student has been participating in word wall activities for about 18 months.  Due to absences, he has only covered most of the first 100 words in that time – so I focused the assessment on those words.  I did move on a little bit further (just to see what his word knowledge was beyond the words he has been explicitly taught) but I quickly made a decision to stop as he was unable to read or spell most of them.


With the words that have been covered in class previously, the ones that were introduced first, and which he has therefore had the most practice with, are the ones that he is most likely to be able to both read and write.  As we progress through the list, he has difficulty spelling some words that he can read easily.  I highlight these to add to his list for further teaching.   And then further on, he begins to struggle both reading and spelling some words – and once again I highlight these words.  This happens more frequently as we get to the end of the list of words he has been taught, and this makes sense as these are the words he has had the least practice with.

Once completed, these results become the foundation for planning for the next year of word wall instruction.

Our guidelines for selecting words for the year are:

  1. We need 5 words a week for the first 7 weeks of term 1.  These should consist of:
    1. 3 words per week that the student needs to learn or consolidate
    2. 2 word family words per week
  2. Term 2 is the same as above. 
  3. Term 3 is the same as term 1, but once you have covered all 37 word families then you just focus on high frequency words.

So to work out the year long plan for this student I follow this process:

  1. I create a table with 7 weeks for the first three terms and gaps for 5 words.
  2. I put down all the words he has already covered but which he needs to consolidate.  I spread these out three per week.
  3. Then I add further words until I have three words per week for the three terms.
  4. Now I look at which word families have already been covered by this plan.  I put a star next to these words.
  5. Then I add a word for each word family that is missing – making sure I cover all 37 word families.
  6. And finally, I fill the gaps with further high frequency words from the OWL.

And that gives me the plan for the year for this student:

Term 1 Week 1 Term 2 Week 1 Term 3 Week 1
it put baby
is bed other
with made about
tail* mice* shop*
pain* pick* got*
Term 1 Week 2 Term 2 Week 2 Term 3 Week 2
one no also
said your if
because eat* two
sale* into luck*
man* wide* bug*
Term 1 Week 3 Term 2 Week 3 Term 3 Week 3
weekend too Sunday
once night* food
after really much
mine* people dump*
cap* hill* junk*
Term 1 Week 4 Term 2 Week 4 Term 3 Week 4
little make* didn’t
friends brother would
them happy Saturday
cash* birthday game*
hat* win* bell*
Term 1 Week 5 Term 2 Week 5 Term 3 Week 5
called him playing
family lived I’m
upon first could
gate* sing* princess
paw* sink* don’t
Term 1 Week 6 Term 2 Week 6 Term 3 Week 6
favourite down girl
next as ran
friend this our
play* chip* over
sore* sit* just
Term 1 Week 7 Term 2 Week 7 Term 4 Week 7
sister how three
back* water by
best* park ball
lots sock* now
good joke* car
Step 3: Making the Word Wall and Resources

If you have done this planning for a group of students at a similar level, then you are probably going to use a full-size word wall, like the one below:

                                                                              Photo of a Word Wall from a classroom at Rosella Park School, Gladstone

The word wall should be in an area where all students can see the words easily. If this isn’t possible, then I will make portable word walls for any students who need them – this might be because the word wall isn’t clear from their desk or it might be because they have a vision impairment and can’t see the wall.  Or, if I have students who are at very different sight word levels in my classroom, I might also make portable word walls for each student rather than having a large classroom one.  This lets me target each student’s individual needs.

If you need to make portable word walls, a blog and the template for portable word walls are here

                                                                             Using a portable word wall at The Grove Education Centre

And then, of course, you need to make up the words to go on the Word Wall.  You can make these by printing and cutting them up, or making them up in Boardmaker or another graphically inclined piece of software!  Please look at  Word Walls: Getting the resources ready for rules about colours etc.  I’ve also provided some Boardmaker files in that post for download.  If using those, please print them at full size for a large word wall, and at 20% of full size for a portable word wall.

Step 4: Implementing the Word Wall planning

Don’t forget to implement the word wall – doing daily activities to gradually increase the student(s) word knowledge.  You can get lots of suggestions at https://www.janefarrall.com/word-walls-using-the-word-wall/.  And remember – we are aiming for students to read and write the words by the end of the year!

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