Not the Place for Wallpaper

During my Words Matter session on Friday, we discussed the importance of building a word wall with students throughout the year. To avoid the word wall becoming wallpaper–a constant, unchanging, ignored feature in the room–we can add words in related groups of three or four each week. Before the week’s words go up, we ask students what they notice about the similarities or patterns in the words. With these intentional additions to the word wall each week, and the built-in opportunity to teach spelling conventions, students are much more likely to remember which words are on the word wall and use it as a reference. If we orthographically map one of the words being added to the word wall, students are even more likely to lock the word into memory. And, if we map a word that is directly connected to others, the impact is even higher.

A teacher in my session asked, “What about those words students are supposed to know coming into our grade level–can those words be up on the word wall at the beginning of the year?” Great question. My answer in the moment was that it is still preferable to put them up with students and discuss spelling patterns and conventions as we do. For this review, we might potentially post words in groups larger than three or four but it is still more effective with students. In fact, this could be a fantastic way to begin building the word wall during the first few weeks of school. The review of words from the previous year will be necessary for some but effective for all.

Something else to consider which I didn’t mention during the session: Why not give the list of words (from the previous year) to each student? Perhaps split the list into two or three smaller, more manageable lists over a few days or weeks. Ask students to highlight the words on each list that they feel confident spelling. (Remind them that being able to read a word, doesn’t automatically mean being able to spell that word correctly. For adults too.) Engagement with these lists would be an interesting way to have students reflect on their own spelling strengths and challenges. Will they be entirely accurate with their self-assessments? Likely not. But the words they do not feel confident spelling become our first word wall words.

So yes, build word walls with students: our classrooms are not the place for wallpaper!

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