Monday, September 30, 2013

Interactive Word Wall - Refining and Differentiated Instruction



We have now been using our word wall in our Pre-Kindergarten / Kindergarten level homeschool for about six weeks. I wrote about planning and creating the word wall and my intentions for using it interactively several weeks ago. I have learned a few things and refined my technique since then.

Choosing and Introducing Word Wall Words

There are many ways to use a word wall. Some choose to use their word wall to highlight content area vocabulary or with themes. My children are very young so I am using the word wall to facilitate the reading and spelling of early sight words. I am pulling most of the words from the Dolch lists. I am introducing six new words each week. Here's the key though. I'm not just going through those lists in order. I make sure the six words I choose each week can be combined to make a sentence. This is absolutely key! I print the words on plain white paper and cut them out so that you can see the word shape. Then I tape them each to a differently colored background and laminate the cards. Finally I stick a magnet on the back of each word.

  1. Monday - I introduce the words on Monday during circle time. We clap and snap each word taking the time to discuss the word shape (small, tall, and fall letters - does the word look like a rectangle or squares - etc.) and how to decode the individual phonemes. Then we build a sentence from the words. We build one or two sentences that make sense and we build silly sentences that do not make sense. The children love it.
  2. Tuesday-Thursday - I display one word at a time and ask my preschooler to read the word. If she has difficulty, I help her decode the word. We then snap and clap the word and its spelling. Then I have my kindergartner spell the word (he can read all the words easily, so this is how I differentiate instruction).

    After reviewing all six words, we continue to build sentences with the words. I use a dry erase marker and show making the first letter of the sentence a capital and adding punctuation as appropriate. The clapping and snapping the word, discussion of word shape, and decoding the words using phonics are all important, but it is using the words to build sentences that really cements them in the minds of the children. Ava gets practice reading the words in a sentence context. Michael gets to read with inflection and discuss capitalization and punctuation. We get to work collaboratively and take turns composing and reading the sentences. And we all get to laugh together at some of the nonsense sentences we create. In five minutes or less the children have practiced reading the six words at least a dozen times each and they don't even realize it.



  3. Friday - On Friday we repeat the same routine. When we are finished, the children each take three of the words and put them in the appropriate spots on the word wall. Now these words are integrated in with the words from previous weeks and we are ready to introduce six new words during circle time on the next Monday.


Using and Practicing Word Wall Words - Daily

Each day, immediately after circle time, we do a word wall game. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. The children LOVE this time of day. They remind me if I forget. I made a printable list of 15 Word Wall Games, and you can find many more with a simple internet search. I rotate through the games so we're never doing the same one twice a week. The children particularly like Tall Towers, Word Wall Tic Tac Toe, and Word Wall Word Search. Whenever appropriate, I differentiate instruction by asking Michael to spell the word while Ava only needs to read the word. I also keep track informally of which words (from the wall) that they know well and which ones they still need practice on and try to rotate in the ones they need more practice with more often.

Does it work?

Let's think of having a word wall in a classroom as a three stage process.

  1. Part 1: Teacher creates a word wall space, chooses words, and gets those words onto the wall alphabetically.
  2. Part 2: Teacher chooses new words each week and devotes class time to introducing the words and reviewing them daily.
  3. Part 3: Teacher devotes additional daily classroom time to having children work with the word wall words interactively in a game format.


  4. Part one is something a teacher does when starting a word wall project. In theory, the wall could be set up and a full year's worth of words could be prepared. Then each week the teacher could throw up 4-6 new words and be done. I devoted the time to setting up the word wall and making a couple of months worth of words. If all I did was slap six new words on the wall, or have the children slap six new words on the wall, no one would learn them. Part 1 alone? - Not enough.

    The children and I typically enjoy the word wall work we do during circle time. We like the clap and snap and the building of the sentences. A lot of learning takes place during this interaction. One week, I simply forgot to do this two days in a row and noticed that my daughter struggled more with the words that week. Part 1 and Part 2? Adequate for familiarity and some automaticity, but not for true mastery.

    Then there was the week I was going through a bit of a homeschooling teacher slump and decided to skip the word wall games. I was a little bored with them and preferred to just skip straight to math. I noticed a huge change. Ava definitely lost ground with the old words. As soon as I brought back in the word wall games and devoted those 5-15 extra minutes a day I saw huge change. And the children LOVE this time. Call it a "break" and stick it in between two more intense activities, but this time is worth it. My four year old daughter can look at our word wall and read every word on it. She's proud and she thinks it is fun. All 3 Parts? This works!

    Word Wall=Sight Words - But what about phonics?

    I strongly support phonics instruction. Research shows that phonics instruction is a critical component of reading instruction. Our All About Reading program is doing an amazing job of comprehensively teaching phonics to my children (and fluency and sight words - the program is extraordinarily comprehensive). However, knowing some of the most common words encountered in reading the English language by sight is a huge boost to a beginning reader. It helps them read more quickly and easily. Also, many of the words on the Dolch lists are "rule breakers" that do not follow phonics rules and including them on a word wall gives a teacher the opportunity to talk about that. I do talk about the phonics of these words during instruction time and about how and why the reading of the words break phonics rules when that is the case.

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