Word walls have been used in many elementary school classrooms to help students build their vocabulary as they learn how to read.
One rural public middle school in the southeastern United States took the word wall one step further, says a recent article in The Clearing House. Eighth-grade teachers in the school collaborated on a word wall in the hallway that reinforced vocabulary students were learning in their classes.
Teachers worked with students on word walls in their individual classrooms and then collaborated on a hallway word wall. The hallway word wall covered vocabulary in multiple subject areas including math, science, social studies, language arts and even computer competencies. The words were aligned with the 8th-grade state curriculum and the annual state assessment.
The school says it can’t attribute double-digit increases in state assessments at the end of the school year exclusively to the word walls, but it believes the walls played a part in the 8th-grade results. The greatest gains were in science, followed closely by math.
The students helped choose the words for the walls. Beyond encouraging students to choose the words for the wall, teachers encouraged students to use the words during classes. Each day, teachers and students from the middle school discussed possible words for the word wall in the homeroom period and in content classes. In fact, the idea for the hallway word wall was proposed during such a discussion in the homeroom period.
One teacher per content area was responsible for collecting vocabulary related to the annual state assessment for the hallway every 6 weeks. A parent volunteer then posted the new words on the wall. Words were color-coded according to subject area (red for science, green for language arts, etc.) and different fonts were used to indicate common themes such as finance, business, health literacy, civic literacy, etc.
Any word related to the theme of global awareness, for example, could be printed in Berlin Sans font. “The visual cue would assist the student in recognizing the higher level of meaning beyond the core content area,” the authors write.
In middle school, the article says, interactive word walls should have the following features (Harmon, Wood, and Kiser, 2009):
- They should help students associate word features and meaning with familiar ideas, concepts, and experiences
- actively engage students in varied meaningful experiences with words
- emphasize student participation and choice of words
Teachers and students spent the 2008-2009 school year developing the word walls. Teachers reported that as the year progressed they observed students using word-wall words in their interactions (e.g.one student who was assigned to a “silent lunch” for misbehavior said to the supervising teacher, “You are an impediment to my fun.”)
Eighth-grade students began to take a more active part in nominating words for the word walls that they had learned in their content classes. Teachers report that students were intrigued by the word “omniscient” and began to look for examples of the use of the word in every day life; they found the word used at church, on the news and on a test.
“Because students walked by the hall word wall several times each day, the vocabulary became the subject of students’ conversations and the object of students’ attention,” the authors write.
Math word-problem vocabulary
In the math classroom, the word wall focused on vocabulary pertinent to interpreting and solving word problems. The wall included essential terms or cues that signal the order of operations needed to solve different types of word problems.
The authors offer some of the following suggestions for using word walls at the middle school level:
Discuss the word wall daily. This helps keep the wall alive and encourages the application of words, thus enhancing comprehension and retention.
- Build connections among the grade-level content areas. This further enriches the understanding and appreciation of words.
- Have students add new wall words to their notebooks. Students can identify the word’s part of speech and definition, helping to make a personal connection with the word.
- Offer incentives for using words from the wall. Give students extra points during class discussions if they use words from the word wall.
- Model the use of precise and engaging vocabulary when teaching writing style. Teach students to view the words on the wall as vital assets to their writing.
- Organize an English/language arts word wall by skill area. For example, organize the wall by tone, mood, theme, style and character traits to enhance student knowledge of the vocabulary.
“Out of the Room and into the Hall: Making Content Word Walls Work,” by Peggy Yates et al., The Clearing House, Volume 84, 2011, pps. 31-36.