Monday, May 18, 2015

How and Why to Use Word Walls with Older Students

I've been using a Word Wall with my high school students for 9 years now, and the results have been incredible. 


I have 90-minute classes, so I'm able to give my students 8-10 minutes of free reading time each day. I put this time at the BEGINNING of the class for several reasons.

1. I express that free-choice reading is SO important in helping students with many aspects of their personal and student life that it deserves to be first in my class.
2. If you save it for last, students will be more likely to talk and not read.
3. It settles a class down and sets the vibe for the remaining portion of the class.

During these 5-10 minutes of reading time, students are to find ONE word that they don't know, find challenging, or like the sound of while reading. They write this word and sentence down immediately then continue reading. Then, I give them around 3 minutes to fill out their Frayer boxes on the word they found. Since I'm in a 1:1 classroom, they do this digitally in their Classroom OneNote Notebooks. Here is what it looks like:
 If you would like this strategy, plus more vocabulary strategies for classroom OneNote, follow my OneNote Pinterest Board and download my free vocabulary notebook found in my collection!

My daily schedule goes like this:
1. Free Reading
2. Vocabulary
3. Daily Grammar Practice (See how I incorporate music into my grammar program here: link)
4. Main Lesson

Monday Vocabulary Time: 
By finding a new word each day, they will end up with 5 new words each Monday. It is on this day that I walk around the room and pick out the best of the best words. As I'm walking and checking work, I keep students busy by practicing roots words or reviewing their former words (more on this in a minute). I will ask the students with the best words to go up to my computer and type in their word, part of speech, sentence, and definition. I repeat this for all 3 classes (I'm on a block schedule) and end up with around 15-20 great words and sentences from YA books. I personally narrow these down to the top 10 that I see most often in literature and in life. I often teach a variety of grades (10th-12th), but have never had an issue with using the same list for all classes. It has always worked out well for me. I try to get the same amount of words from each class to be fair.

Tuesday Vocabulary Time: 
After I have the vocabulary list all nice and neat (remember the students did the work), I project the vocabulary list of the week up on my board, and students copy the information. Since they aren't hand-writing these, I want them to do something with them, so I make them color-code the context clues in the sentences. I label each week's words a different color. For example, Red words 1 (I also color-code my Onenote notebook for an easy way to organize) More on why I color-code in a minute. This is what my student's notebook looks like after they have highlighted the context clues.

Wednesday Vocabulary Time: 
Students review words with partners or play a game such as Kahoot, Quizlet, or ball toss (toss the ball and the catcher must call out the correct definition or they are out). I especially love using Quizlet because I simply copy and paste the words by using the "import" function (i.e. less work for me).

UPDATE! I've recently started incorporating a new game, and it might just be my FAVORITE! It's called Word Sneak, and I got this idea from my students. They were playing around and trying to make up funny sentences with the words, and I told them that we should use that as a game. They informed me that game has already been invented and is on The Tonight Show. Since I'm normally asleep by 8:30 each night, this explains why I've never seen it. ;) #partylikeanEnglishteacher

So, anyway, watch this clip to get an idea of the game then download my FREE game template here to play!

Here is a picture from my Instagram with this game in action:
I share all of my ideas first on Instagram, so be sure and follow me there! @Bsbooklove 

Thursday Vocabulary Time: 
Vocabulary Bingo: Students draw 9 boxes (3 across and 3 down) and put the new set of words in the boxes. When you build your wall up, you can use more colored sets. For example, I say, "9 boxes with any blue or red word." Once they have their boxes made, I make up sentences and have students put an X on the word that fits with the sentence until someone gets a bingo. I have a little box full of candy and toys for the winners.
I'm always surprised how much big kids like toys like these! 

Friday Vocabulary Time:
We play a different review game each Friday. Here are the ones in rotation:

* The fly swat game. I have two fly swats and make a bracket with 8 teams (I just have my students number off to 8). The teams go up against each other until the bracket gets to a winner. The first person to swat the correct word on the wall gets to move up the bracket. I do single elimination so this game doesn't take too long.

*Quizlet Live. This is my students' new favorite game!!! 

From my Instagram page: @Bsbooklove 

*Others mentioned above such as ball toss, word sneak, Kahoot or bingo. 

I also give a quiz each Friday over the new set of words PLUS last week's words OR ....and here's where it gets complicated to explain... the same colored set of words. For example, my quizzes will go like this:

Week 1- Red words
Week 2- Red words plus new Blue words
Week 3- Blue words plus new Yellow words
Week 4- Yellow words plus new Green words
Week 5- Green words plus new Orange words
Week 6- Red words 1 plus new Red words 2
Week 7 Blue words 1 plus new Blue words 2

I use sentences with context clues for my quizzes. Since we practice highlighting context clues on Tuesday, this really helps them to search for these on the quiz. I differentiate by highlighting the context clues for certain students.


*As you can see, having a color-coded visual of words makes it extremely easy for teachers and students to constantly review new words.

*If you are trying to add more Greek and Latin words into your curriculum as I am, you can focus on a root a week and have students try to find these roots in their reading. You can also add quiz questions regarding these roots.
Check out my Root Word Sneak game here!

*Word Walls set the atmosphere for easy, no-prep games to add fun to your classroom.
My students getting way too into the fly swat game :) 
*Students love being able to look at this wall and add words to their writing (I always put a huge smiley face when I see a word wall word used in student writing).

*Students take ownership of their vocabulary instruction.

*It helps set a routine for your class which is very beneficial for behavior problems.

*It promotes good reading skills

*It promotes free-choice reading. We do a book project every 9 weeks, and it's the best day of the year. I absolutely LOVE the creative projects my students come up with. Want to get a FREE download for my Fun Foodie Book Project Choices? Sign up for my newsletter to receive your free download!

*Word Walls give you an instant inspiration board when you want students to practice writing grammatically correct sentences. (For example: Tell them, "Use one blue word and one yellow word to form a compound sentence using a semicolon")

For a free vocabulary template, click here: 5 New Words a Week Template

Want to see my newly updated Word Wall letters to match my new Harry Potter-ish themed classroom? Click Here: Harry Potter Secondary Classroom

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  1. Thanks for this thorough explanation. I wish all links were as thorough.

    1. Thank you! I wanted to make sure that I got everything in :)

  2. I imagine your classroom is extremely organized, a great environment for learning, and fun! Thank you so much for sharing this!

    1. Can you say OCD? Ha ;) Yes, I'm a true lover of habits :)

  3. Wow, I am impressed! I love the thoughtful integration of everything in your classroom. I have tried some of these in my Spanish classroom, but I did them individually, and I can see that your planning and ideas flow much better. I read tons of blogs, and your posts stand out to me because they are so clear, concise, uncluttered☺ and most importantly practical. THANK YOU!!!

    1. Wow! What a tremendous compliment! Thank you so much!

  4. Thank you for this! I am great at teaching reading and writing, but I have struggled with ways to incorporate vocabulary in a meaningful way. I love this though! I downloaded the template...does it just cover 4 words or am I looking at it wrong?

    1. Thank you so much for you comment! It does only cover 4 words because I changed up my routine this year to include one root word. I can make two different templates though and put the 5 word one on here too. That's no problem at all. :) I should have it up by the end of the day if you want to come back and grab it! (2/2/2016)

  5. Great ideas. Can't wait to try Word Sneak in my social studies classroom.

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  8. Maybe I missed it, but how do you assess the kids on the words (or do you)? have you noticed if this helps the kids retain the meanings of words more, or do you see these words pop up in their writing more? Very interested in how you see the benefits to your students.

    1. Great question! I give a quiz each Friday. I talk about how I set the quizzes up at the end of this post. Constantly reviewing for SURE helps them to retain better. It always makes me smile when I hear them say "I never noticed this word but now I see it all the time in random places" :) I also challenge my students to use the words in their writing and I make sure to put a big smiley face or give extra credit when they do it without my promoting!

  9. I envy your 90 minutes of class time everyday! I only have about 55, which I am still grateful for. Since the students gather the words one week and you review and quiz the next week, you then have a new set of words every other week? Thanks!

  10. These are such great ideas! I can't get OneNote to cooperate and download the interactive vocabulary activites template. Is there a trick to this?


    1. Hello,
      Microsoft changed their sharing offering :(
      I'm sorry!!!

    2. I'd love to get a look at this too, if you have a chance! I'm new to OneNote and could really use a template to start with :)

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  12. wow !! Your sharing has helped me a lot in teaching, you always have great ideas, I love them!

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  14. Teaching big children is more easy then the prep school. Students can undersatnd and can improve vocabulary by using word wall and can create more ideas to enhance the knowledge.


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