Interactive Word Walls

A Word Wall is a systematically organized collection of displayed words. Both students and teachers can suggest additions to Word Walls. Students are asked to interact with words on the Word Wall on an ongoing basis. In this way, the words become an integral part of students’ reading, writing, and speaking vocabulary.

Use before, during, and after reading to:
· Build vocabulary related to a particular instructional focus
· Help students develop analytical skills like classification and deduction
· Support students in their writing and other composing activities
· Build sight word reading fluency
· Provide a visual reference tool to help students remember important words related to a specific topic or focus

1. Create a list for a word wall that will help students deepen their vocabulary and enhance reading comprehension.
Examples of word wall lists:
· Words connected to an upcoming unit of study
· Words connected to specific instructional areas (e.g., math order of operations, historical terms, literary devices)
· Difficult words found in textbook chapter
· Words connected to a theme, book, or author
· Related root words with different prefixes and affixes

2. Refer to the word wall throughout the unit of study about the content concept it relates to, being sure that students are actively interacting with the words on the wall.

Examples of interactive activities:
  • Sort the words into categories and label them (list-group-label or word sort)
  • Use 3–5 words on the wall to write a summary sentence about a main concept
  • Create an analytical graphic organizer that relates the words to one another
  • Write a narrative piece—short story, poem, description—that links several words on the word wall together in a meaningful way
  • Create a word game using the words on the wall—a crossword puzzle, word search, paired compare/contrast

· Have students keep a triple-entry journal with terms on the word wall.
· Have students create slide shows or visual presentations about the words on the wall.

Interactive Word Wall Planning Guide

Think about the key ideas and concepts that will be covered in the textbook, other readings, or class instruction or discussion. Think of a way you could use an interactive word wall to deepen students’ understanding of vocabulary and course concepts. Define the learning purposes, some sample words, and three activities you could do to have students interact with the words.

Word Wall Concept:

Learning Purpose:

Example words:
_ _

_ _

_ _

_ _

Interactive activity idea #1:

Interactive activity idea #2:

Interactive activity idea #3:

Activity: Planning an Interactive Word Wall for Critical Thinking

Directions: Using your own knowledge and the ideas provided on the following two pages, develop ways for students to interact with and learn the six kinds of critical thinking skills.

Grade level: _

Word Wall Concept: Bloom’s Critical Thinking Skills

Learning Purpose: To introduce and actively engage students in understanding the six levels of critical thinking and their importance in learning.

Example words:

Remember Analyze
Understand Evaluate
Apply Create

Interactive activity idea #1:

Interactive activity idea #2:

Interactive activity idea #3:

Interactive activity idea #4:

Ideas for Increasing Student Interaction with Word Walls
Now that you’ve identified the important content area vocabulary words for your upcoming unit and you’ve decided how you’ll display them in the room, what’s next? How can you get your students to engage with the words on the Word Wall in ways that 1) don’t take up all of your class time, 2) provide students with multiple exposures to the vocabulary, and 3) include approaches based on effective vocabulary instruction? The goal is to build a culture of using technical terms correctly (for the context), descriptively (to communicate), analytically (to diagnose and problem solve), and functionally (when they complete tasks).The following are some ideas to get you started—you can probably think of many more!

When students are reading textbooks, manuals, articles, etc.
  • Provide points for finding/noticing Word Wall words in written material.
  • Have students note where specific Word Wall words are found in print materials and add this information to the Word Wall. Students can compete in teams.
  • Have students create definitions of Word Wall words as they read and then play matching games in the beginning of class for review or vote on the best definitions.
  • Provide points if students suggest additional words for the Word Wall and can make a case for why the words are important to the unit of study.
  • Have students mark present and past Word Wall words (as well as unfamiliar terms they encounter) when reading by underlining, using post-it notes, highlighting, etc.

When students are writing work summaries, logs, descriptions of how to complete certain processes, or quick writes/checks for understanding.
  • Require the use of Word Wall words (2–3) in work reports, summaries, etc.
  • Require all Word Wall terms be spelled correctly (since they are on the wall).
  • Have students use Word Wall words in Quick Writes (for example, write down your two favorite words from the Word Wall and say why you like them; select two words from the Word Wall and describe how they are connected; write down everything you know about _; compare and contrast two terms).

When students are talking/presenting about a topic or demonstrating how to do something in the lab/shop.
  • Expect that Word Wall words be used in the lab/shop. Require presentations use a certain number correctly.
  • Have students “catch” other students using correct terminology.
  • Post Word Walls in the lab/shop.
  • Give points when students use Word Wall terms correctly when presenting/ demonstrating.
  • Make connections between Word Wall words and the topic at hand.
  • Ask students to give synonyms, antonyms, examples, and non-examples when they use a word from the Word Wall.

Simple games students can play to learn the technical terms on the Word Wall.
  • Play games with the Word Wall words such as “slap” (provide a definition and the first one to slap the definition with a flyswatter wins).
  • Play Jeopardy (What is…?), “I’m thinking of,” or Charades with Word Wall words.

When students are discussing a topic in class/first learning about a topic/reviewing the unit for a test.
  • Have students complete a Knowledge Rating Guide with the wordsask the students to list the words under the appropriate heading: words they know and can explain, words they have heard of but are unsure what they mean, and words they have never heard of. Then discuss the words as a class.
  • Ask students to list words from the Word Wall in a Triple-Entry Vocabulary Journal (word in context = 1st column, definition in own words = 2nd column, picture or way to remember the meaning of the word = 3rd column).
  • Develop quadrant cards or Frayer Models for key concepts where students write the word in the center and give the definition, an example, a non-example, and a picture of the word.
  • Have students do Word Sorts in pairs where students work together to put Word Wall words into categories.
  • Have students complete a Concept Map or Semantic Feature Analysis using the Word Wall words as they complete the unit.

Warning! Warning!
For most students…
Writing the word and the definition is NOT AN EFFECTIVE WAY to learn vocabulary. Students tend to write down the first or shortest definition and to do this as a “compliance assignment,” not as a way to learn technical vocabulary. To learn technical terms, you need multiple repetitions in multiple contexts, and actively process the words (using a Knowledge Rating Guide, writing how two terms are connected, drawing a picture, giving examples and non-examples, playing games, etc.).

For many students…
Flashcards can be effective for review but not as a way to “learn” words. Have students interact with the Word Wall words many ways before using flashcards.

For all students…
A glossary list or definitions sheet is NOT a Word Wall. Word Walls are public displays of words designed to support all students’ reading, writing, and learning about a topic. Students can (and should!) make their own personal vocabulary lists, flashcard stacks, or Triple-Entry Vocabulary Journal, but that should be in ADDITION to the Word Wall.