Thursday, April 13, 2017

How to Make Your Word Wall More Effective

Word Walls can be used to improve literacy in 
all curriculum areas by helping students build vocabulary, improve spelling in written work, and explain ideas through oral communication.

When I first began teaching, I made the assumption that more is better when it came to my Word Wall. I put up EVERY word I could think of, but the students never used it.  

Then I tried the opposite approach (well, I didn't really try - I just kept forgetting to put words up).  Again, not surprisingly, the students didn't use it!  

I knew there had to be a better way! I started digging into research about vocabulary and here were some key things I learned:  

1. A vocabulary gap exists among students in different socioeconomic groups.

2. Vocabulary knowledge affects long-term student achievement.

3. Vocabulary growth accumulates over time.

I also learned that current research (Akhavan 2007) suggests that we shift our thinking towards:

1. Connected word learning where the focus is on content units.

2. Students brainstorming words they know that are connected to a theme of content area.

3. Example lessons that unveil how to think about words and how to remember word meanings.

4. Explicit vocabulary lessons that teach new words concepts and meanings.

5. Children learning new words from lots and lots of reading.

6. Children discovering words and sharing them with the class.

7. Having students become word sleuths, finding words they want to learn, or discussing new word meanings and use.

I will be devoting some future blog posts about various strategies for vocabulary instruction, but for now, here are my tips for making your word wall more effective:

Limit the words on your wall. 

Keep the number of words on your wall manageable.  I try to have between 5 and 10 words up at any given time.  

Using  a smaller number of words offers several benefits.  For one, it's easier for students to find a certain word when there is a smaller number of them. 

The second benefit, is that students are more likely to remember the words if they get several interactions with a small number of words rather than limited interactions with a greater amount of words. 

The third benefit - you save space!  I don't know about you, but wall space is a premium for me.  You could even devote a small corner of your white board for this.

Generate words from the books and content you are studying. 

Students learn words the more they interact with them.  By choosing words from the books you read and the content you study, you increase the number of times students interact with these words.

I chose the words in these pictures from our read aloud How to Steal a Dog, but one of my students found one of our words in her Mercy Watson book as well!

Interact with the words frequently

The biggest mistake I made in using my word wall was not interacting with the words frequently enough.  Just because the words are posted, doesn't mean students use them. Students need several chances to hear, see, and use new words in order to adopt them into their own vocabulary.  

I will be writing a post soon with different ways to interact with vocabulary.

Include Pictures

Another mistake I made was just putting up words on the wall.  Until my students really know the words and their meanings, they didn't have any context to use them.  Adding pictures really helped give the students a reminder of what the word meant and really increased the students ability to use the word wall.

Mix-It Up

As students become comfortable with words on the wall, change them out occasionally for new words. Little by little students will add words to their vocabulary and your word wall will change throughout the year.  I try to only change 2 to 3 words at a time to go along with working memory

If you want to learn more about vocabulary instruction you might want to check out this book:

You can also check out this previous blog post I wrote about my prefix, suffix, and root word word wall as well.

This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase using one of my links, which helps to support the blog.  All opinions are my own and I only promote brands and products that I have used myself and truly love.  



  1. I am a HUGE fan of word walls and have actually been working on a similar concept with my instruction. I found the same things as you did-I put the words up, mentioned it maybe once and never looked at it again. This year, I've been letting my students create both the words and the organization and it has been a game changer. I love what you've done here and I definitely plan on sharing this with the teachers I work with.

  2. I love the idea of making a word wall! I think it's wonderful to include pictures to allow for differentiated teaching. Have you considered listing the word in Spanish, as well, or do you not have ELL students? It's a great idea to pull words from their daily school work, which could be a way to integrate the subjects. How many times a day do you think the students are directed to the word wall?

    1. I do have ELL students, but most are fairly advanced - close to testing out. I will definitely consider this in the future though - it might be fun for my native English speakers to learn a little Spanish as well! I direct the students to the wall at least 4 or 5 times a day, and they often direct each other - like if I say one of the words in our lesson or they find it in their reading assignments.

  3. I love this idea. Improving vocabulary is one of my goals for next year, and this word wall with pictures is a great idea that I want to implement. Thank you for sharing.


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