August 2022 –
To use or not to use word walls – that’s been the age old question. Closely followed by – to let them use or not use the word walls on an assessment.
Word Walls are one of the most important pieces of a World Language …and really any… classroom in my opinion. Word Walls are a “curb cut” to me. Word Walls benefit everyone… even though they are designed to fit the student(s) that need the most assistance.
Before I tell you what I believe so strongly about word walls, let me debunk some “myths” about word walls from my experience:
1 – Word Walls will keep students from learning anything, they will just look at the walls for everything. FALSE. Remember when you were a little kid and you had spelling lists. I guarantee you words like “important”, “special”, “please”, etc. were on there at some point… but I also guarantee you that you spell all of those words correctly nearly daily as an adult… and that you have not once looked at the spelling list. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably didn’t need to reference that list in middle school to spell those words right. Here’s the reality: Word Walls are a support that will help your students as they learn. Those that need more support may use them more often, or for a longer duration than others. But eventually, they won’t need them anymore.
2 – Word Walls shouldn’t be allowed during an assessment, they give students the answers. MOSTLY FALSE. The reason I’m giving this a “mostly” and not 100% is because this highly depends on your assessment. If you’re assessing students memorizing the emotions in Spanish and you have a word wall with all the emotions, then yes, it is giving them the answers. BUT I’d argue that isn’t a great assessment of skills. I’d argue that you should give a writing assignment that’s open ended with a focus on students using the emotions. Students may see “feliz” on your wall, but that won’t give them the ability to write “el chico está súper feliz porque…” Here’s the reality: Allowing word walls during a skills based assessment just may help you see exactly who is getting left behind. It will also help students with needs to do simple things like spell words correctly.
What do I believe makes a good word wall? Let me tell you – but first let me say that these beliefs are founded on my experience as a single classroom teacher. MAJOR PROPS to all my traveling teachers and shared classroom teachers. You are not granted the same fortunes as the rest of us and while there are still ways for you to use word walls, it will look different!
1 – Word Walls should be relevant. As much as I loved my “countries of the Spanish speaking world + their flags” poster my first year… it wasn’t relevant to the language students were learning. Word Walls / Posters should be relevant and useful. HOWEVER – I also believe strongly in having things in your room that bring you joy. I have a giant Stitch. I also have some paintings my friend painted for me hanging up 12×12. These things are in the back of the room instead of the front where students face, but they’re there because they bring me joy. Just like my word walls 😉 Some of my MOST relevant word walls are my Sweet 16 verbs, my transition / writing words, & my adjectives. I reference these daily!
2 – Word Walls should be seen / read. This is my challenge to you: Walk into the middle of where your students sit and have a seat. Look around at the word walls / posters you have in your room. Can you read them? Like really, read them? Not just guess what it says because you know what it says because it’s your poster. My guess would be that there are some you can’t read. If you can’t read them, neither can your students. How will your students use / benefit from the word wall if you can’t see them?
3 – Word Walls should be comprehensible / understandable. Just like it’s important for them to be words students will need / use, and that they’re big enough that students can read them… it’s equally important that when they see / read the useful / helpful word that they know what it means! This means that ALL of my word walls have the TL (Spanish) and the L1 (English for my students) and that MOST of them also have a picture representation. These extra steps help me know that when students look at the posters, they know what they mean and they can then use them!
4 – Word Walls should be used. Say you’ve done everything above… but then you never use the word walls. Yikes. If the words on your wall are relevant, you should be using them daily! I highly recommend a laser pointer mouse (I got mine on Amazon) or an old fashioned yardstick to use to point out the words as you reference them! I also highly recommend teaching your students how to use / reference the word walls. In my classroom we have a protocol for students to translate transition words for me every time we use them. I also will use other words and prompt my class to tell me what that word means to know they’re tracking the input / word wall!
If you are looking to add word walls to your classroom, you can check out my Spanish Classroom Decor Bundle on TPT for over 450 word wall cards / posters to use!