10 Great Word Wall Strategies for Classrooms

Word walls have become a mainstay in elementary classrooms. They are not only a great tool for the early grades, but can be used all the way through high school. Word walls are an excellent way for any teacher or parent to help the young people they are working with develop and reinforce their vocabularies. They provide subtle reminders of new and important words. As a new word is learned it is written in large print on a sentence strip or piece of paper and hung up on the wall in a location where the child is likely to see it often. Not only will his repetitive viewing of the word reinforce it in the child’s memory, it is also easily accessible for the parent or teacher to refer to when talking with the child about it.

Here are 10 of the best strategies for creating your word walls in your classroom:

  1. Sight Word Wall: Primary grade texts are comprised primarily of sight words. If a child can master the sight words for her grade level she can easily tackle 50-75% of the words in the texts she will read. Teachers and parents can help foster this development by writing each new sight word the child learns on a sentence strip or 8 1/2”x 11” piece of paper and posting on the wall it along with other sight words the child has mastered. Over time the wall will grow to include all of the sight words necessary to read grade level texts.
  2. Literature Based Word Wall: Word walls can also be created to help students during a literature study. The teacher should select keywords, new vocabulary words or even characters’ names from the piece of literature the class will be reading. As these words are encountered in the text or are introduced during vocabulary instruction they should be written on sentence strips or computer paper and posted together in a central location in the classroom. The wall will aid students in learning these new vocabulary words as well as easily accessing important information when discussing the book in class.
  3. Seasonal Word Wall: Elementary grade classrooms often organize units around the seasons of the year. Important keywords focusing on a particular season can be used to create a seasonal word wall. As each word is introduced it should be written on a sentence strip or computer paper and posted in the classroom. Over time a collection of words related to the season will develop. At the end of the season the words can be moved to another part of the classroom. As the seasons progress students will be able to look back at the collections of words associated with each to see the commonalities and differences between each.
  4. Writing Word Wall: Word walls aren’t just tools to help support children’s reading development. They can also be valuable aids during writing instruction.Writers, especially those in the younger grades, often have difficulty retrieving a wide variety of words to use in their writing. Teachers can help spark their memories by posting lists of words on the wall. The list can be general or specific. If your class is studying a particular mode of writing you can post words that are often used in that type of writing. For example, when the class is working on compare-contrast writing words such as “similar”, “different”, “same” and “opposite”could be posted on the word wall to remind students to use these in their writing.
  5. Spelling Word Wall: Spelling word walls are excellent tools to aid students throughout the year. A spelling word wall should be organized alphabetically to help students locate the words as they need to spell them. The wall should be comprised of words the class encounters and wants to learn to spell. Common spelling errors in writing, key words from literature, weekly spelling lists and even students’ names can be added to the word wall. The wall should also be a “work in progress”. Words should be added as the teacher and students decide they need to learn to spell them. Many teachers keep the words up on the wall even during tests, but cover them with blank paper to prevent students from using the wall while being tested.
  6. Parts of Speech Word Wall: Sometimes students struggle to understand which part of speech a word fits into. They may not remember if “pretty” is a verb because someone can “be” pretty, a noun because “pretty” usually refers to a person, place or thing or an adjective because it is a descriptive word. To help students categorize their vocabularies and understand basic concepts of grammar, teachers can create a word wall organized by part of speech (ie. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). As students learn or study new words they can add each to the correct part of speech.
  7. Phonics/Phonemic Word Wall: Phonics (the connection between sounds and print letters) and phonemic awareness (the understanding that words are comprised of sound units) are critical to reading. Parents and teachers can help children develop phonemic awareness and phonics skills through word walls. Words that children are familiar with (such as sight words) can be categorized on the word wall by sound. For example, a word wall could have a short “i” sound category where words such as “it”, “in” and “sit” would be located. Organizing words in this way helps children make connections between sounds and print.
  8. Content Area Word Wall: Word walls are not just for English/Language Arts classrooms. They can be incorporated in any content area classroom also. In fact, because many students struggle with content area vocabulary, they can be extremely valuable aids in helping them acquire the terms necessary to understand content area concepts and texts. Content area teachers should write important vocabulary and key words students need to learn on sentence strips or computer paper. As each word is introduced it should be added to the wall. The wall will provide a visual cue for students as they discuss and write about content area topics. The wall should continue to be a “work in progress” growing throughout the school year as new terms are learned.
  9. Unit/Chapter Word Wall: Content area word walls do not have to be used for an entire school year. They can simply be an aid for a particular unit or chapter of study. The teacher should select key terms from the unit and chapter and write them on sentence strips or computer paper. As each word is introduced it should be added to the wall. At the end of the unit or chapter the word wall can come down. This is an excellent way to incorporate a word wall into your classroom if you have limited space available.
  10. Standardized Test Preparation Word Wall: One of the often overlooked aspects of standardized test preparation is the vocabulary used in question and answer choices. Generally each standardized test has its own question stems, organization and methods for presenting answer choices. There is, in effect, a “vocabulary” for each test. Teachers can help students become more effective test takers by familiarizing them with the key words used in a particular standardized test. One of the ways of doing this is by creating a test preparation word wall. All of the key terms used in questions and answers should be written on sentence strips or computer paper and posted together on a wall. Students should be encouraged to understand and use these terms throughout the year so that they will be comfortable with them come test time.