Friday, August 5, 2011

Word Walls that Work

            As a public school teacher, I loved the idea of a Word Wall.  Add a few words to the wall every week, the students use the wall, and ZOOM!!  Their reading scores shoot way up, right?  Well, not for me.  As a school teacher, I never, not in all of my 12 years of teaching, found a way to make a word wall work (and believe me, I tried multiple ways each year, and listened to more teachers than I could count on methods to use).  This year, though, I think I finally have it – a way to make word walls work.

            My first problem with word walls was figuring out what words to use.  For a while, I tried using “challenge” spelling words.  Then I went to vocabulary words from reading, then science, then social studies.  Then I tried having kids locate difficult words.  None of these seemed quite right.  The theory was that the kids would learn to use the words through a variety of activities.  The problem was if I allowed the students to choose words, they frequently chose words that they already knew well and ignored the words they did not know.  Then, the number of words just kept piling up so that there were so many words, it was useless to me and just looked too busy.  Also, it took so much time on my part – having to first locate the words and then write them and cut them out to put on the wall.  My new method should solve all these problems with the words.

            My second problem with Word Walls was that of organization of the words.  Most Word Walls that I have seen use the alphabet to organize the words.  However, all of my students in 4th grade knew alphabetical order.  I would break it down and have them alphabetize all of the words under certain letters, but that wasn’t really a skill which I wanted to spend a lot of time on, and the wall took up too much space to justify that being the only skill which I used it for.  I couldn’t figure out how to organize the Word Wall in a way to be useful.  So, we ended up (every year) starting out strongly and then just stopping.

            My third and final problem with Word Walls was figuring out what activities to do with the words.  I would do alphabetizing activities, have them choose their own words to define, have them look for the words on our wall in other books, and classroom activities where the students were to find the missing word  none of these really helped the students in their reading abilities, and they all took a great deal of time which could have been spent more productively. 

            My new method is to use the Word Wall to actually teach phonics in our reading program. To help “Babygirl” improve her reading, she needs to learn “chunks” of words.  Examples of word “chunks” would be –ing, -am, -at, -unk, and so on – parts of words that you can change the beginning letters and make different words. 

            So, instead of using the alphabet to organize the words on my wall, I found a list of word “chunks” that I wanted to use.  My list had way too many to use at once, so I divided it up into four groups, about 12 – 13 in each group, to be used each quarter. 

            To get “Babygirl” involved, I let her help with preparing the wall. I did take the time to write out each of the word chunks for the first quarter, and I had her help glue them onto squares of red construction paper.  She then carried the words, one by one, from the kitchen table to the room where we do most of her school work.  I taped them to the wall (next time, I will probably make it look like a bulletin board, but I needed to know how large to make it).

            After preparing the word chunks, I then picked one chunk and had her look through a book to find a word that fit that spelling pattern.  She used a book that we are using for our Reading Text for this week, and she found four.  I typed those up on the computer and printed them on card stock.  To help learn the words, I cut them out close to the letters, so she can also learn the shape of these words.  I have to say, I really love how it looks!              

 Finally, my last problem is solved because the activities we use are what we would normally do with our reading lessons.  The Word Wall is actually a regular part of the lesson, so it is not just wasted space.

            So far, I love our new creation, and “Babygirl” is very proud of it, too.  It looks like this may be the year of success with a Word Wall!


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