Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Building Vocabulary with a Word Wall

I think most teachers are familiar with word walls.  I've seen elementary teachers organize them alphabetically.  For my math students in middle school, I organize the walls by unit theme.  Each unit we study is assigned a color so students can look for related words in the group.  We make use of our word walls in countless ways, but here are just a few:

1. I place all of the words for a new unit on the wall.  As we work our way through a unit and learn a new concept, students try to guess which word could have that meaning. 

2. Students refer to the wall for spelling and to help them recall words that have slipped their minds.

3. Because I am lucky to have metal walls, my words are most often individual strips with magnets on the back.  We take them down and use them for games.  One favorite game is the fly-swatter game.  Give a representative from each team a fly-swatter (clean, of course), scatter the vocabulary words on the board, and give a definition, example, non-example, drawing, etc that the students have to match to the correct word.  It's fast-paced and they get to smack the board, so they love it!

4. Review/Study.  I give a final exam so I encourage my students to use the word wall to identify their weaknesses.  They can read through the words and decide what to study based on what vocabulary is most difficult for them.  I also find my students using the word wall when they help each other.  They are frequently overheard asking each other about the words and the responses typically include the related words.  I love hearing my kids use their vocabulary! 

I have experienced a few set-backs with my word walls in the past.  First, the words get a glare once laminated so they can be hard to read.   Sometimes I end up with students who have trouble reading at a distance even with really large font sizes.  So, readability is a big problem in my classroom.  Second, the students can't take the wall home so they don't have that resource when they are completing assignments outside of my room.  In response to those issues, I decided to do a little more with vocabulary this year. 

New to my class this year will be personal word walls.  Hooray!  I designed a template to look like a brick wall complete with a graffiti title.  Kids will be responsible for adding words to their wall when we first learn them in class.  Each unit will be written in a different color and the kids will be able to place the words how they want to on the sheet though I'll encourage them to group like words in some way instead of randomly scattering them.  I'm going to have the kids lightly shade or outline the boxes with colored pencil when they feel they have mastered the term.  To me, that means they can describe/define it clearly, draw it accurately, and spell it correctly.  I think we'll need two or more copies to fit all of our words depending on the course as each size holds about 75 words.  When I taught Geometry in the past, we had nearly 300 words, so we would have needed 4 of these.  I'm going to make this double sided and copy it on cardstock.  They'll keep it in a sheet protector so they can use it to quiz themselves by marking things off with a dry erase marker. 
If you would like to use this with your class, leave me a comment with your e-mail address and I'll send you the file.  

For my regular readers who are here for cards, fear not!  The cards will return soon and these pesky school posts are going to find a new home on my new blog, i is a number where I will discuss all things middle school math.  I took the plunge and decided to set up yet another blog!  Come on over and follow if you like.  I know several cardmakers who are also teachers or homeschoolers.  :)
Cards shipped to OWH in 2012: 928 blank and 215 AnyHero (as of 6/26)
Cards shipped to OWH in 2011: 1695

Check out OWH at www.operationwritehome.org to learn more about its mission and how to get involved.


  1. I will like to know how you can adapt to learn another language for high school students its very hard to teach them because they don't have an expectation to learn they think another language is just a requirement class but they really don't care. I wish you can give me a little advice. I'm very exited your wall word is different thank you.

  2. Hi Georgina. Thanks for your comment. Do you teach a foreign language? I teach math for most of the day but I've also started teaching one period of French this year. I find that my students are excited to learn new vocabulary; they find it fun to communicate in a "secret" way that not everyone around them can understand. I guess my advice would be to offer games and challenges that stretch them. Expose them to those words you want them to learn and praise them when they do so correctly. Good luck!


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