What type of words should go on the wall?
Any type of words can go on the word wall. They can be lexical sets selected from coursebook units, vocabulary from stories or other written texts, key words from CLIL classes or high frequency words which appear often in English but can be tricky to spell. You could also include spontaneous words that pupils would like to see on the wall. In short, the words can be any words you want your pupils to notice or be exposed to by having them displayed around them.
How many words should I put on the wall at any one time?
The number of new words which are displayed on the wall depends on the age range and cognitive level of the pupils in your class but, as a rough guide, you can present approximately the age of the pupils + or – 1 or 2 words. So if pupils are 9 years old, you could present between 7 and 11 new words at any one time.
How often should I change the words on the wall?
Once pupils begin to spell the words on the word wall correctly, word cards can be withdrawn to make room for new cards. However, ‘withdrawn’ words should be regularly recycled and reviewed by including them in routine activities. It’s a good idea to store them in a plastic wallet near the word wall so you and your pupils can ‘revisit’ them easily.
What do they look like and how are they organised?
Word walls are as diverse as classrooms. A quick search on the Web will confirm this! https://goo.gl/NkUF3o
The words on the wall can be organised in alphabetical order to make a search for a word easier or they can be colour-coded according to the type of word – noun, verb or adjective. Word walls come in many shapes and sizes. One of my favourites is a huge tree with each leaf featuring a word on the display.
Whatever format you choose to use, its principal purpose is to expose pupils to a print-rich environment and engage them with the word wall through routine activity!
Building a word wall
Use a word processor or word card tool (such as www.schoolexpress.com) to type out selected words and make word cards all the same size. Laminate them for re-use. Try to find picture cards to match (using clipart). Many coursebooks have word cards and matching flashcards which can also be used for this purpose but for high frequency or tricky words you may need to make your own. Use coloured card for words which are easily confused such as where, were or wear.
As words are presented during lessons, place the word cards in a location where they can be easily seen to build a word wall. Practise saying the words and review them regularly so pupils become more and more familiar with them.
Here are some ideas for presenting and exploiting word walls in your Primary classrooms:
See, say, chant
Select the key words you want to focus on. Show the word cards to your pupils one by one. As you do so, say the word, show the word card and encourage your pupils to repeat. Spell the word letter by letter and encourage your pupils to echo in a chant. Then ask them to say the whole word again. Looking at the whole word, breaking it down into parts and looking at the whole word again aids recall. Don’t forget to use visuals to support meaning and guide pupils by modelling!
Ask pupils to take a piece of paper and fold it vertically into three columns. In the first column pupils should copy 5 words of their choice from the word wall. In pairs, they read and chant or say the words to their partners one by one and then fold over the first column. In the second column they write the words as they remember them, then quickly look back and check and fold the paper back over again. Finally, in the third column they write the words and check once again.
When the columns are complete, pupils could transfer the words into their notebooks, or personal dictionaries, or create a fourth column to illustrate the word.
Take two words from the word wall (eg. water and teacher). Highlight these words, elicit their spellings and write them on the board in a vertical direction (one word on each side of the board).
Ask pupils to work in groups or pairs to generate a list of as many words as they know that begin with the initial letters from the word wall words. Challenge your pupils to do this in a given time limit.
Discuss the concept of rhyme using some simple examples. Ask the pupils for some of their own. Then tell pupils that you are going to say a number of words that sound like (rhyme with) some of the words on the word wall. When they think they have found the correct word, they should write them down. E.g. It sounds like ‘be’. Pupils then find the word ‘she’ on the word wall and write it down.
This activity could be used in a variety of ways to focus on the same initial or final sound, similar or different spelling patterns for the same sounds or words related to keywords and pronunciation patterns – e.g. matching vowel sounds.
Turn off some of the lights in the classroom. Then clap out and say the chant while encouraging pupils to join in.
Flashlight, flashlight, oh so bright,
Shine on a word with your light.
Then shine a flashlight (or a laser pointer) on individual words on the wall for the class to read and chant. Isolate these word cards so they are easier for the class to see. Then ask pupils to pick out these words from a given story or text and note down the sentences or story frames in which they appear.
Ask pupils if they know the game ‘Blockbusters’ (based on the TV programme). Briefly explain the rules: Two teams take turns to answer questions in order to move from one side of the board to the other, tile by tile. The letters on the tiles represent the first letter of each answer word from the word wall and pupils should use them as clues.
In order to ‘capture’ a tile they must answer the question and spell the word from the word wall correctly! The team that reaches the opposite side first are the winners. Blockbuster templates can be found at www.tes.co.uk
Using digital tools
Make a word cloud using www.tagxedo.com with a selection of word wall words that you want to focus on. Then ask your pupils to stand in two lines (teams) in front of the word wall. Explain that you are going to flash up some words on a Tagxedo. After they have seen the words and on your signal, the first pupil in each line should walk to the word wall and remove the matching word card and take it back to their group.
The second pupil in line continues when the next word is flashed up. The group with the most matching cards win. (When you go to the site, you will be prompted to download Silverlight. Make sure you have it installed on your classroom computer so the words in the word cloud pop up in animation!)
Give out a Tagxedo word cloud (www.tegxedo.com) which has been printed onto paper and allocate specific words to each group of pupils by dictating them while they listen and circle their words on their word clouds.
In class or for homework pupils should try to locate as many of their words as they can in texts from old magazines, newspapers or printed Internet pages. They can cut and paste them into their notebooks and design their own paper Tagxedo word cloud for fun.
Make a digital notice board using www.linoit.com and convert it into a word wall by posting digital post-it notes with a word on each. Remember to show pupils the digital notice board in every lesson. The whole point of the word wall is to expose pupils to a print-rich environment! If pupils have tablets and Internet connection, they can collaborate and make their own group word wall to consult during lessons or at home for homework!