Monday, August 29, 2016

Help Your Students Climb to Success with Word Walls

I used to think that word walls were just for little kids to learn the alphabet and how to spell basic sight words.  I thought they were just a prop that students could look at when they needed a little extra support with their writing.  Now I know better!
Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
A good way to teach vocabulary; source: The ESL Nexus

When standardized testing became prevalent and the test results were of overarching importance in my former school, I suddenly saw loads of word walls in middle school classrooms.  Math, science, and social studies classes sprouted word walls, along with ELA classes.  I didn’t know how those teachers used their word walls but I realized having one was a good idea.

The first word wall I had, although I didn’t call it that because it didn’t conform to my idea of what a word wall should look like, was a bulletin board display of commonly-used words on standardized tests.  My principal had given us teachers a list of the words during a grade-level meeting.  I knew that many of the words were new to my ELLs and that they needed to know what they meant.  There were over 30 words in all and they encompassed all four core academic subjects.  I just printed out the words on regular 8.5” x 11” blank white paper and stapled them to the bulletin board in the back of my room.  Then, whenever one of the words came up during a lesson, I pointed it out on the board and spent a couple minutes discussing it with the students.

A few years later, I decided to create a different kind of word wall.  At this point, Massachusetts had adopted the WIDA standards for English Language Learners and they distinguish (that, by the way, was one of those test-taking words) between content-specific vocabulary and general vocabulary.  I thought it would be useful to have a word wall of academic words in the core content subjects, according to grade level.  These words could be the foundation upon which my ELLs could learn those content subjects.  I sent a short email to all the content teachers in Grades 5 – 8, compiled the results, and then created the word wall.  I didn't directly teach these words but did refer to them as they came up during lessons.

These words are now available as a resource in my TpT store.  While I displayed the words on posters in my classroom, Word Walls for ELLs: Essential Content-Area Vocabulary for Grades 5 - 8 also includes the words in task card size so they can be photocopied and distributed to students.  In addition, I just updated the product and the words now also come two per page, so you can pick and choose which words you want to focus on. The words in this format can easily be displayed on a bulletin board for student reference.  The image below shows the three formats in which the words are presented in this product.

Descriptions of 3 types of word walls used in an ESL classroom | The ESL Connection
Click HERE for more info about this resource; source: The ESL Nexus
I also had temporary word walls for each social studies unit I taught.  These were lists of target vocab words written on large flip chart paper on an easel in my room.  When each class met, I just opened the flip chart to the correct word list.  These words were explicitly taught.

In hindsight, I didn’t utilize my word walls to their greatest potential.  I could have had my students do all kinds of activities with them: draw pictures to illustrate the words, write their own definitions of the words, use the words in pieces of writing, create games with the words, and make dictionaries with the words.  Please share how you use word walls with your students in the Comments below.

September's linky party (starting a little early, I know) is devoted to word walls, a method of instruction that seems especially appropriate for the start of a new school year.

Find resources for all kinds of word walls in this month's link up | The ESL Connection