One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is lurking in, I mean learning from, my teacher Facebook Groups. A question that seems to come up frequently is whether or not to have a Word Wall. In this post I plan to answer some frequently asked questions, explain why I love my Word Wall, and share a few of my student's favorite Word Wall activities.
Why have a word wall?
Did you know the 100 most commonly used words in Spanish make up roughly 50% of Spoken Language? In fact, learning the first 1000 most frequently used words in the Spanish language will allow you to understand 76.0% of all non-fiction writing, 79.6% of all fiction writing, and an astounding 87.8% of all oral speech. You can read more about this study here. As a language teacher, my primary goal is to help my students communicate in the target language. That makes these words super stars, and words I want my students repeating frequently. That is why a word wall, with compelling pictures, is a great use of classroom space. I love watching my students wander over to the word wall when in search of a word or inspiration for a story. Sometimes an intriguing picture on one a card they weren't even looking for will take their story off in a new and unexpected direction.
Pictures, Spanish, and English?
I like to have pictures, Spanish, and English on each word on my wall. I include pictures for several reasons. First, I am an elementary teacher. Some of my students are pre-literate, and some of my students are slow readers. Having pictures as well as the Spanish and English words helps students that are not strong readers (yet). Pictures on the cards also makes it easier to spot the correct card when students are looking for a particular word. When I designed the Word Wall for my classroom I spent hours looking for interesting pictures. While it was a lot of time to spend creating a resource, another advantage of having pictures on my cards, is that when I introduce these words to students, I have many easy ways I can talk about each word. For example, in the below picture for 'escribe' (write). I can say, "Is a boy writing or a girl writing?" What does he write?" "What does he write with (a pencil or a hand)? Why does he write (for more advanced students)? You can go on, and on, mini stories about the words help them stick in student's memories.
Finally, the pictures are compelling and interesting to look at, my students love exploring the word wall and talking about the pictures they see there. That is what we want when we teach a language, compelling input!
When it is time for a test, I use a big piece of butcher paper to cover the Word Wall. I take it'd down, fold it up, and put it above my cupboard after testing. I've used the same sheets of paper for several years.
Why not just the Spanish word?
Past practice seem to suggest that students should not see the English at the same time as the Spanish so we can be 'immersed' in our new language. That immersion is not nearly as effective though when the input is not comprehensible. When we talk to a young baby, we do not speak in complex sentences and hope to achieve understanding. Instead we speak to them slowly, using simple words and gestures. This helps the baby understand the language more quickly. As teachers, we can be even more efficient as we can directly teach students what each word means (since we usually can communicate in English clearly with the student). Telling a student the meaning of a word until they can acquire it speeds up learning time because all the time the student would have spent guessing the meaning of the word, can now be spent with the meaning known in meaningful repetition. Plus, look at the picture below. If the student had just learned the word 'rápido/fast' and did not have the English as a guide, they might not be sure if the picture meant man, run, fast, jaguar, scared, or any number of variants. The picture that may seem obvious to us, could be very confusing to someone else. Especially as some cultures emphasize different words as important in speech. For an interesting read on that topic click here.
In addition, I have found that once students do not need the English words, they simply stop looking at them and use the Spanish. I made the English words smaller in my set on purpose, so that the Spanish word would be more eye catching. You can buy my set here, or you could make your own set (free) with this list by clicking here.
What can that Word Wall do for me other than take up space and look pretty?
There are a surprising number of activities you can do with the Word Wall. I made two copies of my original wall when I created it, cut the words, into strips, and laminated them. One set I put on my wall, and one I keep use in the classroom for activities or when I have a few extra minutes. . What useful activities you wonder? Quite a few actually...
I hope this has helped you in you decide whether or not a Word Wall is worth the space in your classroom, personally I find it to be an invaluable resource, and one that I will always welcome. Share below if you have ideas I missed and you want to add..
If interested you can buy my set here, or you could make your own word wall using this master list (free) by clicking here.
In response to a few questions I've received on this post I am adding these full sized pictures of what my walls look like, as well as my classroom doors.
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.