Chances are you have a word wall in your room. And if you are anything like the majority of teachers, you have a word wall because you were told to have a word wall, because you know it is good practice to have a word wall, and well, you have to put up those high frequency words/sight words somewhere. But are you making the most out of your word wall? If you are just throwing up three words a week (when you remember), and never looking up at it again save when one of the words falls down, you are probably not getting the most from your word wall.
Used effectively, word walls are meaningful ways for students to insert words they have been introduced to into their own writing. If used and directed to daily, either in centers or five minute brain break games, referencing a word wall becomes second nature to students and an important way to learn high frequency words. These are a few of the ways I have used my word wall in the past – please share your own ideas in the comments section below!
Guess the Word
This is a great game to play when you are waiting for the bell, lining up, or have five minutes to spare. You are going to want to have at least ten words of varying length to play this game. With younger students it is also helpful if the words are on colored paper to give them another option when guessing. Students have to guess the word you are thinking of after you give each clue. For instance, you might start with, “I am thinking of a word with two vowels”, and let someone guess. Continue after each wrong guess giving another clue, “I am thinking of a word with two tall letters”.
“I am thinking of a word that has five letters”.
“I am thinking of a red word”.
“I am thinking of a word that rhymes with ‘where'”.
The person who successfully guesses the word then takes over and chooses another secret word (more suitable for first grade onwards, in kindergarten I chose all the words until the end of the year!). Do this everyday when you are lining up for lunch, and you will have reviewed at least five word wall words a week!
We played this game as a ‘reward’ at the end of the school day – it’s amazing how much fun a dark room and a laser pointer (or flashlight) can be. I used laser pointers for cats that I got from the pet store – they had interchangeable lenses such as a bug, butterfly and paws. Before you go all crazy on me and start leaving comments about how dangerous lasers can be, I obviously gave my students strict rules about the lasers and closely monitored the activity. But a flashlight works as well if you are concerned.
All you have to do is turn the lights out and close the blinds. Let one student be the leader and point at random words on the word wall while everyone calls out the words. Easy. Let each child do three or four words and then switch leader. Everyone wants to be leader. It’s the simple things.
I always had my students do an activity that involved the word wall during literacy centers. Writing words in abc order, writing sentences for the words, sorting words by the number of letters, building words from magazine fonts, writing the words in rainbow colors, making the words in different media, thinking of rhyming words for each word, roll and writing the word with dice and rearranging scrambled letters to make the words are just some of the activities we did. The beauty of each activity is that it can be used over as you add more and more words to the word wall.
These activities can all be found in this first grade word wall activities resource.
Erase the Word
For this game you will need to split your class into teams. I recommend no more than 10 per team, and I prefer five per team with the rest of the class watching and switching out. Have two teams line up in front of the white board and write a column list of words in front of each team. You need to write at least as many words as you have team members, so if you have five in a team write five words, (or double to ten). Each team should have the same number of different words, similar in length and difficulty. On ‘Go!’ the person at the front of the team runs up to the board, reads the world aloud, and if they get the nod from you they erase and go to the back of their line, handing the eraser to the person in front. The only rule is that the other students cannot call out the word for their teammates (and this is hard – they know the words!). If a student gets stuck on the word, they go to the back of the line without erasing and let the next in line take a go. The first team to erase all their words wins.
Around the World
This is a game you have probably played in math with number families and multiplication but it can easily be adapted for sight words. You can do this sitting at desks but I always liked my little ones to be sitting on the carpet in a circle so we could track how far around the world we were getting! One person stands behind the person sitting next to them in the circle. The teachers points to a word wall word and whoever of the two (the one standing and the one s/he is standing behind) answers first moves to stand behind the next person. So if the person sitting on the floor answers first, he or she stands and moves behind the next person sitting in the circle, and the person who was standing sits in his or her space. The object is for the person standing to go all the way around the circle without giving up his or her spot. It rarely happens that someone gets ‘all around the world’, and that’s just what you want! It keeps your competitive kids motivated to do better next time, and it engages students who are not as familiar with some of the words watching and listening to others as they name words.
I hope you have found some ideas that you can use with your word wall in the future. Just a few minutes every day really adds up and enables your students to view the word wall as a helpful resource. Let me know your word wall tricks in the comments below!
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