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Interactive Word Wall: Expanding Students’ Vocabulary in Elementary Schools

Every classroom has a word wall. When I first started being a teacher, every day, I diligently made vocabulary cards to fill up the word wall. However, many of my students still asked me questions like how to spell a certain word or the meaning of a word, etc. Later, I realized that many of them couldn’t access the vocabulary. Therefore, I did some research and realized that an interactive word wall is a much better option.

What Is an Interactive Word Wall?

An interactive word wall is a wall of vocabulary cards created by the students and organized in a meaningful way with the teacher’s help. The interactive wall is not built at one time, it’s a working word wall that is always open to updates as students learn. 

How to Make this Wall?

First of all, students need to create vocabulary cards after learning new words. Each vocabulary card has three parts: the word, the definition, and a picture. Besides, they can also add parts of speech and an example sentence.

This process helps students to move from “passively receiving” the vocabulary instruction to “actively producing”. Students need to internalize the learning to be able to do it. After that, they consolidate their learning through spelling the new word, writing the definition using their own words, and drawing a picture to show the meaning of the word. 

Since students create these cards, they understand these words and they are more likely to use them in speaking and writing. Next, after students have put up some vocabulary cards, the teacher can start guiding students to make connections among the words and reorganize the cards.

Interactive word wall step 1
Vocabulary Cards for Our Interactive Word Wall

One Example of the Interactive Word Wall

For example, in our Water Around the World unit (3rd grade), students learned many words such as water, river, well, lake, stream, ocean, etc. by the mid of the unit. Then, I asked them some guiding questions such as:

  • What are these words all about?
  • What are the relationships among these words?
  • What’s the most important word?
  • Which words are nouns/adjectives that describe the nouns?
  • Which words are verbs/adverbs?

After they discussed these questions, we together rearranged the vocabulary cards (see below). In addition, we left space to keep this word wall “open”–we will keep adding water-related words as we move on in this unit.

Interactive word wall step 2
Arranging Our Vocabulary Cards to Make the Interactive Word Wall

Finally, we used some red yarn to connect related vocabulary cards to make the concept map or graphic organizer. 

Interactive word wall step 3
Our Interactive Word Wall

This interactive word wall helps my students see the connections among the vocabulary they learned from this unit and make it much easier for them to remember and use the new words. What’s more, students are encouraged to add any related vocabulary they learned in other readings, not necessarily within this unit.

As a result, I found some “Vocabulary Experts” in my class and was very surprised with their background knowledge. This is probably something I would never notice if I keep making the word wall myself.

How to Use the Interactive Word Wall?

The interactive word wall can support both speaking and writing.

For example, in the middle of our unit, I asked my students, “What have we learned so far?” Before, some of my ELLs could only say, “We learned about water.” However, with the interactive word wall, they are able to talk about different forms of water with related adjectives. 

When students talk about the ocean, I can simply point to the “ocean” vocabulary card and say, “Look! What words can we use to describe the ocean?” Students can see the words “blue” and “endless”.

After one unit is over, the teacher can take a picture of the interactive word wall and print it out for every student to keep in their notebooks. Then, they can utilize the space in the classroom for the next unit.

Conclusion 

Traditional Word Wall Interactive Word Wall
In the alphabetical order or other random ordersIn a meaningful way that helps students build connections among words, so it’s easy to retain and expand
Teacher-centered Student-centered 
One for each semester One for each unit 
Each vocabulary card only has the wordEach vocabulary card has at least the word, the definition, and a picture 
Students have to remember or use the words one by oneStudents can remember or use the words by groups
Loose connections among wordsThematic. Clear and strong connections among words
Traditional Word Wall vs. Interactive Word Wall

Now, do you want to give it a try? Connect with me on Instagram @eurekasheets to see and share more ideas.

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Happy teaching!

Ingrid

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