4 Word Walls that Work!

So as I began my first year in first grade, I felt like every day I was walking into another teachers’ classroom thinking: “Oops, I forgot to do that!” or “I think I should hang that up too.” One of those things was  a word wall, so I promptly headed to the store, bought a cute monkey set of cards to write the alphabet on… and VOILA I had a word wall. I added the students’ names and the sight words we had reviewed and guess what? Even with reminders, no one looked at it. No one used it… ever. It was too static.  So here are a few suggestions for “Word Wall” ideas that I have found worked really well.

The Interactive Word Wall

When I taught third grade this is the kind of word wall I used and my students loved it! By this time, most of them had a good handle on spelling those common “sight” or “high frequency words”, so what I decided to do was to create a wall. To begin I just hung up the different subject areas. I wrote some of the upcoming vocabulary terms from each area on cut up sentence strips  The students then sorted which terms they thought belonged in each category.

The result: Students were on the lookout for these important vocabulary words. Their ears perked up when I said “Commutative Property” and they all looked to the board to see if they had put the word in the correct spot. Periodically I made a refresh batch of words to sort, and once the students knew all about a word, I stapled a manila folder to the bottom corner of the board which said “Words We Own” and I slid the pieces in there.  Students looked for the vocabulary words, they used them in discussion and in writing.  I wish I had a better picture, but I really made a very basic board. Here’s what it looked like before the words were on it.


Now that I am blogging I sure wish I had taken some better pictures! :-)

The Individualized Word Wall

If you are familiar with the “Quick Word” books, then you probably know that they aren’t really a wall at all. But they do serve a similar purpose. Students in my third grade class loved their quick words. They would monitor their own spelling of those high frequency/ tricky words. I would add to them, they would often add the vocabulary from our word wall, and they would even add when they found an interesting word while reading.  These were certainly used!

 In first grade, I opted for a different approach. I took a manila folders and stuck each alphabet letter to the inside.  I have also made them by taping two folders together to become “writing offices” (I may actually invest in some more heavy duty dividers because they do tip over). I then used one of the small sticky notes to add words that each student commonly misspells in his/her writing. Students can take these out when they are completing writing tasks or are wondering “How do I spell…” You can even use a similar approach to the interactive word wall. Once they have “mastered” spelling a word,  add the sticky note to a “Words I Know” envelope on the back of the folder.


Language Experience Charts

This is especially useful in kindergarten and first grade, especially in the beginning of the year. (Here is a link to read a little more about this approach)

Students generate responses to reading, or a story based on an experience, such as our trip to the apple orchard. Certain words, or parts of words are highlighted for students, and the story is hung up around the room. Students read the stories again and again, which builds fluency, but they also become so familiar with these stories, poems, or responses, so they know just where they can find the word “can” or “will” or “use” in the classroom because they know it has been in one of our writing activities.

The Student Created Word Wall

I saved the best for last! This year, a colleague and I were discussing the ineffectiveness of our traditional word wall, and she came back with an idea for a student created one focusing on relevant vocabulary.

At first, we sifted through books(non fiction) on our current topic of study and reading (fire safety for example) and provided students each with a card that had an important content related word. The students then listened to the story, raised their card when they heard their word, and then had the task of creating a visual to match the word. We then sorted the words. At first I created the categories “Can, Have, Are” and we sorted the words into those three categories on our word wall.

When students went to write their informational piece about the topic, they would take their webs right over to the wall, and the visuals helped them to remember the meaning.

After some practice, students quickly started asking to add new words that they had found onto the word wall, which means that young first graders are able to identify and “define” important words in an informational text!

This has been my favorite approach to a word wall in first grade. Students are engaged in the reading task, This approach also taught them a great deal about diagrams and text features. They look to find the word in the text, often using labels or captions, and then have to share the idea in their own illustration, often using an arrow to indicate exactly what their word means.  Better readers, better writers, better thinkers!


I Believe in Fairy Tales

I have to admit- I believe in fairy tales… and so do my students.

My latest mission has been to really focus in on ways to create classroom materials that are:

1. Useful for my students

2.Help me make connections between the different lessons I am teaching

3. Useful for readers like YOU!

Most recently, I have decided to go into the world of creating some materials inspired by common children’s books and fairy tales. There are so many different versions of these tales that lend themselves to connections between texts, themes, and even characters. These kinds of tales are also often commonly known, so in many ways, a closer read for vocabulary or point of view is more accessible because the students generally have a basic idea of the plot. These stories also lend themselves to the “written retell/summary”, which is something that my first graders are focusing on right now. If they know the story well, and have relevant materials to practice, I think that these tales are really useful to use in the development of a new/complex skill.

This has also been the beginning of a new addiction… clip art purchasing!

I got these super cute clip art images from a gal on TPT- Teaching in the Tongass. It’s SO CUTE! I have now filled my wishlist with clip art that I want to buy. I have to contain myself and purchase as I go.

So here is my very first “Fairy Tale” packet- The Three Little Pigs & The Big Bad Wolf inspired! Enjoy!

3 Little Pigs Literacy and Math! blog.printableprompts.com/i-believe-in-fairy-talesThree little pigs stories! blog.printableprompts.com/i-believe-in-fairy-tales

Because sad things happen… books to explore death, dying & grief

I originally wanted to keep this a place where I shared about all my teaching experiences and journeys. But at a time like this, I feel like this is also a good place to relate- teacher to teacher, person to person- about things that happen.

This week, my younger cousin went missing. After a three day search, he was found, but was taken from us too soon. My heart is broken.

I tried to keep a smile on my face, but those 16 beautiful first graders could sense that something was “up”. I didn’t share with them what happened, it wasn’t appropriate, but they met me each day this week with hugs, smiles, and kind notes, like “Mrs.B, You are the best teacher in the world. I love you.” So although this tragedy had nothing to do with my job, those students and the community we have built together, are a  huge part of my life. They were the sunshine on a rainy day, when I was just trying to go on, press on, through my heartache.

Once I overcame the initial shock, I turned to picture books to try to understand and comfort myself. I understand the power of children’s books. Maybe that’s why I became a teacher in the first place.

Over the past week, as arrangements are made, and we wait to say our final goodbyes, I have been reading and seeking out children’s books.  Sometimes the simplicity of the words- the optimistic spirit- is just so calming to the soul.

I think this list is worth sharing… because sad things happen.  They happen to us and our families. They happen to friends, and they will sometimes happen to our students. It is our job to comfort our students and their families in times of grief and sorrow. So here it is- a list of a few books which I found to bring me a little comfort in this absolutely tragic time.


Love you always Jake!


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3 Ways TPT Makes Me a Better Teacher

Travel back in time with me about 6 weeks.

I decided late November to begin posting some of my “byproducts” as my husband calls them, to teacherspayteachers.

I have to admit, I have become a little bit addicted to creating products… and I feel like it’s making me a better teacher. Here’s what I have noticed in this short time period.

1. I think out my lessons in more detail. As I create materials for myself, I usually create the lesson, anticipate student difficulty and make a plan. When I create my products knowing that I plan to post them, I put even more thought into the best way to differentiate the product. I create what is needed for the differentiated lesson. Overall, I am more prepared!

2. I am reflective. When I teach my lessons I have always reflected upon the lesson… like “Wow that went well!” or the too often, “Well it seemed like a good idea!” Now that I am posting my products, I go home and immediately revise the materials I create after I use them in my classroom. I update my “teaching suggestions” and have a better, more solid lesson for myself to use in years to come. This kind of motivation to create the changes NOW, not just some scribbled sticky note in my plan book that I won’t be able to decipher in 365 days. I also sometimes have those (what I call) “mid teaching lesson makeover moment” where I originally thought my lesson idea would be good, but then a better idea comes to me as I am sitting there before my students, so of course I go with it. Then I go home,  and usually add an alternative lesson/ idea to my product before I post it.

3. I am networking and learning from a wonderful community of inspirational, motivated, ambitious, and enthusiastic teachers. I have exchanged e-mails, shared pinterest boards, shared “feedback” and received feedback from other teachers who love what they do. I really believe that is one of the best ways to keep that “fire” for teaching alive, surround yourself with people who have the same passion you do.

So, less than 2 months later, I am continuing to post on my TeachersPayTeachers shop, I started a TeachersNotebook shop (they have PINNING PARTIES! there!), and I love my job more than ever.

As I start this New Year I know I am blessed to have a wonderful family, two beautiful boys (3 and 7), and the best job in the world!

In the words of one of my favorite people, Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Happy New Year!