Quick Tip Tuesday: Word walls

January 5th, 2010

“As most teachers know, crafting writing sometimes has a different meaning at the primary level,” writes Liz Hale in her book, Crafting Writers, K-6. “Students not only are crafting meaning but also are crafting letters, words, and sentences.” In this week’s Quick Tip Liz shares some of her successful strategies for using word walls in the primary writing classroom.

Word Walls
One of the balancing acts in teaching primary writing is supporting students’ use of inventive spelling while also creating a sense of accountability for learning the correct spelling of grade-level words. Many teachers use a word wall to assist students with correct spelling by publicly displaying high-frequency words or words that have been taught in lessons. As most primary teachers know, the more students interact with word walls, the more they will actually use them independently. As a result, teachers sometimes do activities such as bingo or word searches with word wall words in addition to using the word wall as an instructional tool during shared reading or interactive writing.

Although frequent exposure to these words in any way is beneficial, it is helpful to have activities that isolate as much as possible the skill you actually want students to use during independent writing time. We certainly don’t want students to look up at the word wall every single time they write a word. We want students to be immersed in remembering their stories so they can draw and write about their stories to the best of their ability. The ideal word wall scenario would look something like this: Kalil is writing about the birthday party he had last month, with all that blank space ahead of him. After writing “I saw my . . . ,” he is about to write the word friend when something in his mind reminds him that the word friend is on the word wall. He glances up from his seat, where he can easily read the words on the word wall, writes f-r-i-e-n-d, and then continues on with his sentence.

Perhaps some teachers might notice there is one skill in that scenario that is the least likely to occur on its own. Most students write sentences, and most students can look at a board and copy words. The skill that is not as much of a given is when Kalil, without being reminded about using the word wall and without having it in his immediate line of vision, realizes that the word he is about to write is on the word wall. Kalil is so familiar with which words are on the word wall that the words themselves act as a trigger to look up and use this spelling resource. One way to support the use of the word wall during independent writing time is not through direct instruction but through consistent practice of this very small skill in almost a game-like way.

Word-Wall Game
This quick game begins with giving a pointer to a student and asking him or her to find a certain word on the word wall:

Where is the word . . . when?

After that student points to the word when, he or she chooses the next person to get the pointer for the next word-find challenge. After modeling the game a few times, students can take over the role of telling the other student which word to find. The game can then be run independently, with the teacher as
facilitator. Other students can be involved by either whispering to each other if they know where the given word is or by giving a thumbs-up when the correct word is found.

Word-Wall Quiz
Another way to reinforce students’ memory of the word wall is simply to quiz students:
Teacher: Is friend on the word wall?
Students: Yes!
Teacher: Is . . . cousin on the word wall?
Students: No!
At first some students scan the board to come to an answer. Some students may just pick up on what other students are saying. But that’s okay, because it’s the repetition and reinforcement of what is there and what isn’t there that is important.

Both activities may seem quite simple—and they are—but their simplicity is due to the fact that attention is given to such an isolated skill. The best part about these kinds of activities is that they can be done in a matter of minutes whenever there is a small amount of time—after a morning meeting, before lunch, or during those last few minutes before buses are called. They can also be done as a transition, especially before writing workshop, when students ideally are putting this skill to use the most.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Constance Sajdak  |  November 3rd, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    I just found your website and I am enjoying it. It is a great resource. Thank you for developing it and then sharing it.

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