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!