Word Walls – They’re not just for beginners!

I love reading new research, especially when it confirms something I already knew. This happens to us teachers a lot, right? How many times have you wanted to shout out, “I’ve been doing that (in secret) all along!” when an educational trend formalizes and becomes something your administrators ask you to implement.

For example here’s a conclusion from a new study in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology:

Reading and listening to stories fosters vocabulary development.

or in practice

…allowing children to hear stories while they are reading along may be optimal for learning, and especially for the extraction of semantic information supporting teachers’ practice of reading aloud in the classroom. 

Bet you knew that already.

It is, however, very comforting to hear that it’s officially valid!

These statements come from the article Listening while reading promotes word learning from stories  which provides evidence that using two senses while learning new words in context (sight and sound) instead of one (just reading or just listening) improves the chances that the new words will be internalized.

So what does this have to do with Word Walls?

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Word Walls do work, at all grade levels. If yours seems more of a maintenance burden than a teaching tool you may need to make it more interactive.

“…scores on high-stakes tests increased across all student groups when teachers used interactive word walls…” Interactive Word Walls Transforming Content Vocabulary Instruction

To tie this in with the listening while reading research, start off with a listening-while-reading process.

Consider this:

Did the words on your Word Walls originate from both a visual and an oral/audio exposure within a context?

Your students’ preliminary exposure to an academic word worthy of posting on the classroom Word Wall should come from a reading experience where they both heard and read the word within it’s context. In other words, reading text books, or other informational text aloud with/to students optimizes learning.


Is graphic placement of the words on your classroom wall conducive to repeating and building those oral/audio and visual connections?

Students should be able to add visuals to the words on the wall and have the opportunity to explain the connection they’ve made, while repeating the word and its meaning.

Four other key components to keep in mind for an effective Word Wall: 

1.  Post academic or Tier III words from subject matter such at Social Studies,

Science, or Math to get the biggest bang for your efforts.

2.  Provide a definition both at the moment of exposure to the new word and on your
wall. Don’t leave your students dangling when it comes to Tier III or academic

3.   Include a sentence stem to support comprehension.

4.   Organize your words thematically using a graphic design that shows connections
and supports the concept of categories.

Here’s an example:

To summarize, here’s HOW TO BUILD YOUR WORD WALL, from start to finish:

1.  Select academic or Tier III words from relevant contexts.

2.  Introduce words by reading aloud the context as students read along.

3.  Introduce definitions as words come up.

4. Sketch a map or graphic organizer that will best display the topic and provide
connections (Venn Diagram, Bubble, TChart, Content Frame, WordWeb/Cloud, etc.)

5. Make room for the meaning, a sentence stem, and places to put visuals.

6. Teach students a routine for posting their ideas, that includes saying the word,
paraphrasing the definition, and explaining the connection of their addition to the
word on the wall.


For children ages 8 to 15, schools may focus too much on reading and not enough on increasing vocabulary…From
Reading between the lines in children’s vocabulary differences

I welcome your comments and ideas. Please go to my Google Community, Word Lab and join the conversation.

 Next posting:  Why Reading Comprehension is Misunderstood, with an invitation to 

join this year’s 90 MINUTE CHALLENGE

Free word-learning tool – Click here

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Until next time,

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