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.  This often guides us through a discussion of prefixes, suffixes, and roots as students break down the words and try to make meaning from them.

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

3. Because I am lucky to have two 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!  My rules are that they may only smack the board and they must alternate turns smacking words (otherwise it looks like whack-a-mole gone bad and the kids don't pay attention to the words).

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.  This is true for unit tests and quizzes as well.  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. 

Here's the file.  You'll need the font "a dripping marker" for the title (or just choose a font that you already have).


Now, as we keep the personal word walls, we'll also keep up with the one in the classroom.  I want the students to take more ownership this year, so I'm toying with the idea of letting them write the word strips.  The problem is that they wouldn't all be pretty and uniform and I don't know if I could handle it!   I made a matching title for the word wall in the graffiti font I used on the worksheet.  I'll report back and let you know who is making the word strips, me or the kids. 

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.  

How do you organize vocabulary with your students?  What makes it meaningful to them?  I'd love to hear more strategies that work with math.

Miss B


  1. Hi! I would love to use the individual word wall in my class. I'm thinking this would be great for my students who are doing their first year of Common Core. Great idea! oh and my email is emeriyelverton@yahoo.com

    1. This one's updated now, so you should be able to download it! Thanks for pointing out that the file wasn't there. :)

  2. Spraying posters with clear matte spray paint reduces the glare