Word Wall 101

When I taught third grade, I put up a word wall because it was part of a checklist of items that my principal wanted to see.  I was a new teacher and although I had a vague sense of why word walls were important – to help reinforce high frequency words in reading and writing – I really didn’t know what to do with them once I put it up.

So I found a list of Dolch words for third grade and starting writing them down on index cards.  Did I add them gradually (3 – 5 per week) as I now know to be effective practice?  I honestly can’t remember. But I do know that whatever I did, it wasn’t systematic.  I stuck some up there and encouraged the students to use them during writing.  That was about it.

Does this sound familiar or are you looking for a refresher on this topic? If so, read on to find out more about the “what,” “why” and “how” of word walls, including interactive tips for your classroom.

What are word walls and why are word walls important?

Word walls are a place where teachers can place high frequency words that students have learned. These are words that occur most commonly in printed texts.  For example, the, want, went, because, etc.  Some of these words can be sounded out phonetically, however, many do not follow the basic rules of phonics. It is therefore of critical importance that we teach students the words in a systematic way. Knowing 100 high frequency words will give students access to over 50% of all printed material. 

A word wall is a place where teachers can display these words, so students can access them during reading and writing.  Regular repetition and reference to the word wall will allow students to become more familiar and independent with the words, allowing them to spell them correctly in their writing and recognize them in their reading.  Being able to read high frequency words allows students to focus their “reading muscles” on the process of decoding harder words and actually comprehending their reading.  In short, it allows them to be more independent as readers and writers, which is a win win for you and for them!

How can I use them in my own classroom in a purposeful and meaningful way?

Here are a few tips to integrate word walls into your own classroom.  The key is for the word wall to be purposeful and meaningful, as opposed to wallpaper that just blends into the background.

  1. Choose 3 – 5 words per week to introduce. You can find words in various places, such as The Dolch List or Fry lists, plus words that you notice students struggle with during reading and writing.  Just remember that only high frequency words go up on this wall, not vocabulary or content words.  Click here for a list of Dolch words:

http://www.dolchword.net/printables/All220DolchWordsByGradeFreq.pdf

Example of a high frequency word – because, went, want, there

*Non-example – farewell, evaporation, decimal, graceful

*Note: These words can (and should) still be displayed in your room, in separate spaces designated for those specific purposes (i.e. Wow! Words (vocabulary), Science Words, Math Words, etc.)

  1. Make a routine of how to introduce and reinforce the words with your students:
    1. Say the words.
    2. Chant the spelling of the words. (Get creative here! For example, let the students: bounce each letter like a basketball, then make a layup as they say the entire word, strum each letter like they are playing a guitar, swing each letter like a baseball bat
    3. Write the words in notebook, on a white board or even in the air “with their magic pencil.”
    4. Use in a sentence.
  1. Interact with the words daily through chants, games, etc.
  2. Reinforce during centers and other independent work (i.e. search big books and poems for word wall words, make words with magnetic letters, rainbow write word wall words, play Word Wall Bingo, etc.).
  3. Use the words in writing workshop, morning messages and other writing that you model for students. Be intentional about the writing that you’re modeling and make your thinking explicit.

Ready to get started?  All you need is a black marker, a few index cards (preferably colored) and a space to display the wall.  So grab your materials, introduce some words and watch your students grow as readers and writers!

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