word walls in the language classroom

February 27, 2014

Word walls in the classroom

A tool for all ages and all levels of language learning

Many educators may think that word walls are just for the elementary classroom – you know, for when kids are learning to read. But word walls are an effective tool when learning a new language in the classroom at any age and language level.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of word walls – its pretty much what it sounds like: words on a wall. In a traditional elementary setting, there are many kinds of word walls. When I taught bilingual first grade, I used a “sight word” word wall, which included high frequency words like “there” and “too”, and “of”. These were mostly words that you could not “sound out” – you just had to know how to spell them. When students were working on a writing project, this word wall was a quick reference to remember how to spell those words correctly. 

I also had a “word family” word wall. This included the most frequent word chunks or families, like the “ake” family or the “ain” family. It included two examples under each chunk, like “bake” and “train”, respectively.

There are other kinds of word walls –those with compound words, homonyms, or vocabulary specific to a topic, like spiders.

Anyone who has learned a second language knows the feeling of wanting to use a new word in speaking or writing, but just not quite being able to come up with it fast enough. Word walls are a tool that helps support the learning, increasing fluency and accuracy in language production. Imagine John in his college Spanish class trying desperately to say, “I walked to the park.” He stumbles initially on the first person past tense conjugation of the word, but then he glances over at the word wall that shows regular endings for verbs. He quickly states “Yo caminé al parque.” 

As teachers, we want our students to take in information. We can use our words and our books and materials to meet our objectives, but we can’t forget about the environment in which our students learn. There is a lot of power to be found up on those walls – we just need to harness it for language learning.

Until next time!