Word Walls: Using the Word Wall

Last month I wrote about getting your word wall ready for use.  Now they are ready - we need to use them.  There is no point having a word wall that you don't use!

Word Walls are an important resource for conventional readers and writers.  Our job, as educators, is to teach them how helpful a word wall can be.  We spend time actively working with the word wall in the working with words block, when we introduce and work with high frequency words and word family words.  Students then have access to the word wall throughout the day - and can use it whenever they are writing.

You can learn about word walls in The Teacher's Guild to the Four Blocks: a multimethod, multilevel framework for Grades 1 - 3.  In this book, Cunningham, Hall and Sigmon tell us to introduce 5 words a week.  At the 2014 AGOSCI Literacy Intensive, Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver suggested that a plan where we introduce 5 words a week for the first 7 weeks of terms 1, 2 and 3 might allow us to do more consolidation.  This allows us 3 weeks in terms 1, 2 and 3 plus all of term 4 to practice using the words.  Since the aim of the word wall is for words to become automatically recognised sight words through repeated use this makes sense - and I have been using this plan with schools since 2014. The word list and printable word wall words I provided in the last post work with this plan.  This list uses the Oxford Word list as its basis, along with one word from each of the 37 word families.

Weekly Plan (Weeks 1 - 7 of Terms 1, 2 and 3)

Monday

Introduce the words of the week.  Hold up each word one at a time and tell the students what the word is.  Put it in a sentence so that the students associate it with its meaning.  Have the students clap once for each letter, calling attention to the word length.  For students who find clapping difficult, they may be able to bang a drum or hit a switch.  Students should also chant the letters of the word.  They can do this out loud or using their inner voice.  (You'll also find lots of interesting chants if you Google "word wall chants".)

Students should then make or "write" the words.  For many of the students I work with, handwriting might be difficult. For these students, look at an alternative pencil that they can use to write the words.  There is a great example of this happening with letter cards in the video below.  For the students in this class, handwriting can be difficult in varying degrees.  If their teacher made them handwrite the words then they would put a lot of their energy into the handwriting - and less focus onto the words themselves.  By using easily manipulated letter cards, the students are able to focus on the task of making and learning the words.  Students could also type the letters on an iPad using a writing app or any other pencil where they have access to whole alphabet - and where common letters are available to them more than once.

Once each word has been introduced, clapped, chanted and "written" then it is time to add it to the word wall.  Each word is added to the word wall under the letter it begins with.

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Tuesday

The video below is a great example of a word wall Tuesday.

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In this video the teacher, Josh, is reviewing the words of the week.  Since it is Tuesday, the focus is on reviewing the new words.  Josh asks students to find them on his carpet board.  He gives students different challenges depending on their word knowledge - one student might have to find a word of the week from a choice of 2, another student might find a word from a choice of 5.  Notice how Josh often puts the words into sentences to reinforce their meaning as he talks about them. After they have found the words, the students make them using the letters on their letter board.

Wednesday to Friday

These days involve more general word wall activities.  The words of the week continue to be included in these activities and should be reviewed but these days can involve other words as well.

Again on Wednesday to Friday five words are the focus.  But this time, the five words can be the current words of the week or any words from previous weeks that students are struggling with.  In week 1 they have to be the five words of the week, but from week 2 onwards the teacher can decide to add back in a word that needs more attention.

As you begin working with the word wall, write the 5 words up at the front of the room so that it is clear to the students which 5 words are the focus for each day.  Then select one of the activities below to do each day.

Activities

Mind Reader

This is usually a favourite word wall activity in the classes I work with.  You can do this as a whole group or with each student at a time.

Using the five focus words for the day (previously selected and written at the front of the room), give the students a series of clues to help them figure out which word you are thinking of.  For example, my five words might be "brother, when, fun, you, big".

My clues might be:

  1. It's on the word wall
  2. It's a three letter word
  3. It's something we like
  4. It has the letter u in it
  5. It can finish this sentence - "My birthday party was _____"

If you are doing it with a group, I generally ask the students put their hand up or indicate when they know the word.  I stop when everyone has said they know which word it is and then I ask one student to point to it on the word wall while the others make it with their letter cards or write it on their iPads (no word prediction is using in this block).

However, I love doing this individually and so do the students!  Each student takes a turn to stand in front of the word wall.  They know what the focus words are, they listen to the clues and when they figure out which word it is, they find it on the word wall.  One of the reasons I like doing this individually is because I can make the clues harder and easier for different students.  The other is because each student gets to work through the clues and then find the word on the wall.  The more practice each student has finding the words on the word wall and discriminating them from other words, the faster these words become sight words.  Students need to actively engage with the words and the word wall - they need lots of opportunities to find words and write or make them for them to become sight words as quickly as possible.

Word Families

You can use the word family words on the word wall in lots of different ways.  As I said last time, we generally have a star on these words and we call them the "magic words" or the "star words" and we use them to teach students that they can use a familiar word to spell other words.

Once again, I write five words on the board at the front of the room, but this time they are all magic or star words.

For example, I might write "can, map, nice, sing, tail".  Then I ask the students to use one of these words to help them write a new word.

"There is a man on the moon.  Which word can I use to help me write "man".  Use that word and make the word man using your letter cards".

"I like to sail on the ocean. Use one of the words to help you make the word "sail" using your letter cards.

"I have a diamond ring. Which word will help you write "ring" on your iPads."

Fill the Gap

Once again you write five words at the front of the room.  Today they might be "brother, birthday, home, them, my".

Then I say a sentence, leaving one word out.  The students need to pick which word makes sense in the sentence and then make it using their letter cards.

"I had a fight with my ______"

"Tonight I will go ______"

"I am having a ________ party"

"I love _____ dog"

"These are my favourite books.  I love _____"

Cross Checking

This is very similar to the activity above, but this time all 5 words start with the same letter.

So my five words might be "were, when, was, went, with".  And once again I ask the students to pick which word makes sense in the sentence and then make the word using their letter cards.

"I _____ working in the garden until noon."

"I ______ to the movies on Saturday."

"I am going to the movies ______ my friend."

"We _____ having fun in the pool".

"______ can we go to the park?"

Endings

This is a word wall activity that I usually leave for a few weeks until students are more familiar with the words and the wall.  Then I introduce it because it is really important for students to have this skill when writing and to teach them to use the word wall more flexibly.

In this activity, I write up 5 words at the front of the room which might need an ending in a particular sentence.  For example, my words might be "name, jump, train, sing, hat".

I then say sentences with these words in them, but with an ending attached to each word.  I ask the student to make the word AND the ending using their letter cards.

"We are training for the marathon"

"She is a great singer"

"When we go out to play we must wear our hats"

"They named the baby Sarah"

"I jumped on the trampoline"

The activities above are all suitable as Wednesday to Friday word wall activities.  If you Google word wall activities you will come up with a whole bunch more.  Just be aware that to be a good Wednesday to Friday activity, there needs to be 5 focus words and the students need to be actively involved.  They either need to be pointing to the word on the word wall or they need to make or write the words or, preferably, both.

Weeks 8 to 10 and Term 4

The last two or three weeks of each term, plus the whole of term 4, are spent doing word wall consolidation activities.  Our aim, as I have said before, is not for the students to learn the words each week - but for them to have enough practice throughout the year that all of the words on the word wall become automatic words for them to read and write by the end of the year.  These consolidation periods have been very helpful in getting this to happen.

Most of the activities above can also be done in this period - but the big difference is that there are no longer five focus words.  Instead, we use the whole of the word wall.

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In the video above Josh is doing what looks like a mind reader activity but now he is using the whole word wall. He uses cues to help students figure out which word he is thinking of.  He can use different cues for different students depending on what level of scaffolding they need.  Each student works at their own pace.

We could do most of the activities above in these consolidation weeks, just using the whole word wall instead of having five focus words.

There are also additional activities that you can do during these consolidation weeks.  Again, using Google will come up with a lot of ideas.  Just make sure that during these activities the students are actively finding words on the word wall and/or making them up using their letters (or writing them).

A couple of my favourite extra tasks are:

Open Word Wall Spelling Test - this is exactly what the name implies.  You call out a word and the students need to make the word using their letter cards.  They can look at the word wall for help if they need it.

Writing a word wall sentence -this is a favourite task of mine because I often get to make up really silly sentences!  In this task I make up a sentence using only word wall words - and the students need to write or type or make the sentence.  Again, they can use the word wall for support if they need it.  This lets me construct classic sentences such as "I bought a big brother on Saturday" or "I sing for cash in a bank".  You can even make sensible sentences!

Word Wall Bingo - need I say more?

Using the word wall in writing

The word wall activities we do in the working with words block are aimed at converting high frequency words and word family words into sight words - and teaching students skills to work with these words.  However, we are also teaching them how they can use the word wall to support themselves in the writing block.

During any writing task, if a student wants to know how to spell a word, I NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER write or spell it for them.  Students need to learn to use the resources available to them to support their writing - they can use the word wall and they can use their developing phonics skills to write down every sound they can hear in a word.  So - if a student asks me how to spell "what" I quickly look at their word wall, check it is there, and then I say "it's on your word wall.  Can you find it?".  If they are struggling to find it I will use cues like beginning letter, word length or the colour of the background card to help them find it.  I don't go over and point it out to them - because I want them to become independent in their word wall use.  And also because everytime they locate a word and discriminate it from the other words on the word wall and then write it, it helps it to become a sight word.

If a student wants to write the word "man", once again I don't spell it for them.  I check their word wall and if there is a word up from the word family -an then I tell them "there's a magic word under the letter c that can help you spell man.  Can you see it?".

If a student wants to write the word "elephant" and it isn't on the word wall I encourage them to write down every sound they can hear.  This will help them to develop their phonics skills.  My spelling the word for them only teaches them to come to me for help - which isn't a very transferable skill as I am not with them all the time!

When using the word wall in writing (or at any other time) we never remove the words from the wall.  There is a very obvious reason for this - I was in a classroom last year where a student had removed the word "the" so that he could copy it into his book and another student was then very annoyed because they also needed to use the word "the".

Despite this obvious reason for not removing words from the word wall, I find staff and students often want to do so.  The biggest reason I am given is because it is "easier".  Sometimes it is easier because a student is struggling to see the words on the word wall because of their position in the classroom or their vision.  In this situation the student should have a portable word wall instead.  The other reason it is easier, is because it is far easier for a student to put the word on the table in front of them and then copy it.  I absolutely agree that this might be easier, but that by allowing a student to do this you have lost some valuable learning opportunities.  As an example, a student wants to write "birthday".  They find it on the word wall and then type the first two letters.  They then have to look up at the word wall again, find it again and then type the next two letters and repeat the process.  While this might seem laborious, it is important to remember that every time a student finds a word on the wall, discriminates it from other words and then writes it, it moves closer to becoming an automatic sight word for them.  So if a student needs to find birthday four times while writing it, they have had four opportunities to learn about the word - its length, its shape, the letters in it, how it differs from other words starting with b, etc.  Each of those four opportunities is a great learning moment - and after they have written it several times that way they start to be able to write the word with less and less support.

I hope you've found this post useful. It's been partly written in draft form for a couple of weeks - and I apologise for the delay in publishing it.  I was inspired to finish it because today I visited Currumbin Community Special School and saw lots of classrooms with word walls up and beginning to be used.  A few of the staff commented that they were waiting for this second post - and so here it is!  I love visiting schools and seeing these examples of good literacy instruction in place - and I look forward to visiting Currumbin again later this year and seeing how everything is progressing!

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Comments (12)

  1. Brenad Del Monte

    Reply

    I desperately want to print material for this but the link leads a blank page. I tried google search engine as well leading me to a blank page. Is there another way to get to these printable lists?

    • jane

      Reply

      Hi Brenda - did you try right clicking and choosing download or save as? That should work hopefully! But just in case I've emailed you the resources to the email address you used for your comment. Cheers Jane

      • hannah walker

        Reply

        Could I also get the printable resource emailed to me?

        I am not able to print the letter tiles.

        • jane

          Reply

          HI Hannah, I have sent these to you and I've also updated the file in the blog post. Jane

  2. Pingback: Teaching to the Next Level: Using the Developmental Writing Scale to guide instruction | Jane Farrall Consulting

  3. Karen Charles

    Reply

    Hi Jane
    Thank you for your wonderful supportive teaching resources. I was wondering, in the video the students are holding boards with easily movable letters, how are the boards created?

    • jane

      Reply

      HI Karen - glad it's helpful! The boards are just made out of coreflute with velcro compatible carpet stuck to the coreflute board with a heavy duty glue. Then the letters are laminated with velcro dots on the back so they can move and stick. I've also seen teachers use car floor mats - they are usually quite sturdy and often have velcro compatible carpet on them. Cheers Jane

  4. Tim

    Reply

    Hi Jane,
    When adding news words to the word wall. How do you choose which colour to make the background? Sorry if you have mentioned this in a post before.

    • jane

      Reply

      Hi Tim, you just want to make sure it is a different colour to any other words that start with the same first letter and have the same number of letters. So, if you were making up "made" and "make" then you would make sure they were on different colour backgrounds. Cheers. Jane

  5. Pingback: Making a Portable Word Wall | Jane Farrall Consulting

  6. Mackenzie Brill

    Reply

    Hi Jane - Just stumbled across your blog in my eager search for resources around CLI. Do you still have the Printable Word Wall Words? The link in this post is broken. Thanks so much!

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