(Past tense because I am not in the classroom this year.)

No classroom should be without an interactive word wall! The power of an interactive word wall in the classroom is amazing. The key to a successful word wall is the word, "interactive." Students need to actively interact with the word wall. Interaction includes cheers and chants for the new words of the week, activities that expand the students' understanding of how words work and the use of the word wall during writing as a primary resource for spelling.

A classroom may have one main word wall and/or 2 or 3 smaller word walls, each with a different focus. In my classroom I had one main word wall and special smaller ones. The smaller word walls (usually chart paper size) were used for seasonal words, special vocabulary for a theme or unit, and special word study (verbs, adjectives, contractions, compound words, spelling rules....)

The Main Word Wall

The main word wall is large---8 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The words build on the wall by 5 new words each week throughout the school year. Words on the wall are written about 2 inches tall with a black marker on colored construction paper. They are cut out around the shape of the letters. The wall needs to be reachable for the students. They should be able to walk right up to the word wall, and they should be able to touch each word with a pointer.

You can find many resources for words to include on your word wall. Some suggested lists are included in the links section on this page, and there are many commercial books that provide lists by grade level. The best resources for word wall lists are free. They are your students and your language arts curriculum.

I started the school year by including the students' names on the word wall. Each day we added one student's name until all of the names were on the wall. We spent a lot of time with the "name of the day," trying to learn as much as we could about sounds and letter chunks. We compared the new names to the names already on the wall. For example, when Chelsey's name was added to the word wall, we were able to spend time on the "ch" sound. We then had a "live" (Chelsey) sample of a sound that we needed to learn in first grade. From this day on, every child trying to write a word with the "ch" sound had an instant reference to identify the letters needed to spell the sound. We compared the y at the end of Chelsey's name with the y at the end of Sammy. We looked at the y at the end of my name, Gursky. In such a painless way, the students had their first lesson about the y making the "e" sound at the end of a word. When Justin's name was added to the wall, we found two little words inside his name: just and in. Oh boy, maybe finding little words or little chunks of letters inside of words could help us learn to read and spell! Of course, we had to take time to do some rhyming with "just" and "in."

Starting your word wall with the names of your students helps build interest and motivation for using the word wall. The names actually provide a good base to begin word study and the children have the opportunity to get to know one another a little better, while the focus is on one student.

Once all of the students' names are on the word wall, 5 words are added each week. I introduced all 5 new words on Monday. I usually placed all 5 words in a pocket chart before the students arrived in class. The children always "checked out" the new words in the pocket chart as they came into the classroom. Most often, the children had already figured out all of the new words before word wall time in the class. This really helped add to discussion and learning. My question to them was, "How did you figure it out?" The sharing of the "how" helps all students build strategies to decode words.

Where did I get the weekly words? I used three main resources to determine which words would be added to the word wall each week. They were: the new vocabulary and spelling from our "core" story of the week, basic sight words and the students' writing. My main criteria was that each word added would help the students learn to read and would be a valuable resource for writing. That is why the students' writing was such a key resource for me in selecting words for the word wall. I found what they needed to learn in the day to day writing that they were doing in class.

I had the children sit in rows on the floor in front of the word wall. Rows facilitated the children being able to get up and move to the word wall or pocket chart for some of the activities. Children brought their Word Wall notebook and a pencil to the rug. We wrote words in the notebook almost every day.

Here's a simple weekly schedule:

Monday: Introduce the new words for the week. Chant and cheer for each new word. (See links below). Teach the teachable lessons from the new words. Look for chunks. Compare new words to other words. Talk about sound patterns in the word. Address words that break the rules...

Guide the children through the writing of each new word into their Word Wall notebooks. The teacher reads one word. The children write it. Then the teacher spells the word aloud, one letter at a time, while the children check their spelling by putting a small dot under each letter as the teacher spells aloud. Continue through the rest of the words.

The last activity is to have a leader point to each word on the word wall, with a pointer, as the class "reads" the entire wall aloud.

Tuesday- Friday: Chant and cheer for the new words and/or review words.

Read the whole wall. Have students turn their notebooks to the next blank page.

Do one of the word study activities. (see links)

Special Word Walls You can create special word walls for a particular focus. If you are teaching children how to add interest to their writing by using adjectives, a special word wall can contain just interesting adjectives. As the class is reading various books, adjectives can be added to the special word wall. Ask the students to listen for great describing words as you read a book to the class. Add only the great ones to the special word wall.

Possible special Word Walls:

Amazing Adjectives
Adding ing to words (any rules)
Math Vocabulary
Vivid Verbs
Holiday Vocabulary
Character names
Homonyms
Science Vocabulary
Setting locations
Contractions
History Vocabulary
Rhyming Word Chunks

Word Wall work is fun and the benefit to students is high. Please give it a try in your class. You will soon be convinced!

Kathy Gursky
The School Bell

Word Wall Links

Interactive Word Wall: A word wall is a systematically organized collection of words displayed in large letters on a wall or other large display place in the classroom. It is a tool to use, not just display.

Word Wall Lists k-3: These lists are ready to print for your word wall. They are organized by grade level and instructions are given for printing on different colors of paper to assist students in finding just the right word on the word wall. This is a great source to get you started with word walls. Scroll down on the page to find the lists.

Chant and Cheer: Here you'll find tons of ideas to chant and cheer for the new word wall words. Students really enjoy the silly, active word cheers. Scroll down on this page.

Word Wall Activities Our word wall is a list of sight words that First Graders frequently use in their writing. These words are introduced at the rate of 5 per week. Word wall words often don't fit into "traditional" spelling patterns. Many of them cannot be sounded out phonetically. In our class, we call them

Working With Words ~ Links to other sites

Commerical Resources:

Phonics they use: Words for reading and writing: Cunningham, P. M. (1995). (Second Edition). HarperCollins Publishers
Cunningham, Patricia M & Hall, Dorothy P.

(Carson-Dellosa):
Month-by-Month Reading and Writing for Kindergarten;
Month-by-Month Phonics for First Grade;
Month-by-Month Phonics for Second Grade;
Month-by-Month Phonics for Third Grade;
Month-by-Month Phonics for Upper Grades


Kathy Gursky
The School Bell ©1999-2003

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