Word Walls

The two articles about building vocabulary both mention word walls (they also mention graphic organizers, but that is a topic for another post).  Other than writing words on the board and leaving them there for reference, how do I implement a word wall?  I’ve seen word walls in English classrooms.  Usually there is a central topic (“New Orleans”) surrounded by related words (Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras, Jazz, gumbo, above-ground cemeteries, etc).  I always wondered if the teacher just wrote these words, or, if in a KWL, she had the students volunteer words that the central topic brought to mind.  It seems to me that there should be a larger activity to get students engaged with the words rather then just writing them up on the board and referencing them occasionally.

I got out my copy of Developing Readers and Writers in Content Areas by David W. Moore et al. to see what they had to say on the subject.  Here are the ideas that seemed most relevant to implementation in a Math classroom.

To select the list of vocabulary words, consider the unit and select the key words, making sure to include words with multiple meanings.  Students can be expected to learn ten words a week, so for a three-week unit, there could be a maximum of thirty associated words.  These are the words that will be displayed on the word wall.  (The blog Math=Love has a great Vocabulary Knowledge Survey that uses these concepts)

Have students do their own pre-assessment of the words using the following scale:
0 = I have never heard of that word in my whole life.
1 = I have heard it, but I have no idea what it means.
2 = I couldn’t tell you what it means, but I might be able to pick the right meaning from four choices.
3 = I can tell you a little about that word.
4 = I could put that word in a good sentence that would show its meaning.
5 = I could use the word correctly in discussion and writing.

When introducing the words, put the students in direct contact with the thing the word represents whenever possible, either with pictures or models.  I’m not sure how this would work with math words, although geometry students could perhaps make cut outs of different shapes and label them. The students can also create analogies for each word. Again, I’m not quite sure how this would work in the math classroom.

Another strategy is organizing words.  Put the words on the word wall and have the students put the words in to categories.  The categories can be provided for the students, but it seems to me a better technique would be to have the students group them on their own, and then justify their reasoning.

Have students write sentences that use the words. Have them share their sentences, then revise them if needed and share again.

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