Adventures in Word Walls

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 February 2021 –

I will never forget my first week of “pre-planning” as a new teacher. And unless your experience was very different from mine, I don’t think you will either. My biggest, most clear memory was the striking realization that teaching was only one of about 783 things I was expected to do daily/weekly/by unit/monthly/yearly/etc. I remember learning that I would have to write and turn in lesson plans for every class… and update them every time I changed something… and post them by my door… and online. I also remember being told that a great SAT skill was teaching student more vocabulary – no matter what subject you taught – so we were all expected to have current, active word walls in our classroom. These word walls should reflect our current unit only and had to be updated every 2-3 weeks. Panic started to set in. I was hardly prepared to teach and far less prepared for the 782 new duties I was just given.

That night I went to the good ol’ Dollar Tree and bought every single sentence strip in the place. If my memory is correct, it was somewhere around 300 strips or 30ish packs. I had a plan. The next day during pre-planning I was going to write our every vocabulary word from the Chapters I was told I would be teaching on those strips. I was also going to write cute little categories for them to help students remember… like “Breakfast / Desayuno” or “Classes / Clases” – that was going to be successful, I had decided. To be honestly, it mostly served as a vocab word bank for my school mandated “vocab quizzes.” But, it was more helpful that a list of words. I remember when it came time for the food unit, I decided to get creative. I printed out pictures of all the food and use my sentence strip labels with the pictures. I started to see some lightbulbs. Kids could use this word wall now. It started to have some relational context for them. A unit shortly after was about family… so I printed off pictures of some TV family, made a family tree, and used my sentence strip labels… another small victory. But what about all the units that I couldn’t do pictures for? 

This two units taught me something very important about using word walls: they needed context, a key of sorts. I could throw words up on a wall all year long and satisfy my admin… but what that helping my students? No! And if I was going to do it, I needed to do it well. I fought and scrambled to make things as good as they could be with pictures and categories and diagrams for three years. Then I found myself at a school where I was told I could teach whatever, however I wanted. I immediately knew my forever word wall would be the Sweet 16 / Super 7 verbs (whatever I had space for in this new room). I started looking for posters online and didn’t love anything I found. It was all just Spanish – English with some frilly background. Yes – more helpful than just a list of Spanish words… but it wasn’t higher level thinking and it wasn’t going to help long term learning.

So off to Target (probably) I went. I bought 8 giant pieces of poster board and cut them in half. I got my letter cutter (13 out of 10 – best teacher self-present I’ve ever bought from Michaels) and started cutting out letters. I knew I wanted something big enough for students to read at a distance, so my letters about about 3×5″. I also knew I wanted something color coded – with a key! – so students would know how to use it. Finally, I knew I wanted the students to be able to SEE what the words meant in a picture. This is what I ended up with! My Sweet 16 word wall posters are visible, keyed, & comprehensible. But that wasn’t the end. I placed my word wall close to me so that I can reference it any and all of the time while I’m teaching. “Oh, clase… ‘dice’ *walks to word wall and points* ‘dice’ *points to mouth and picture of wall* ‘dice’ … clase, qué significa ‘dice’?” “SAYS” “SPEAKS” “TALKS” And my heart is happy. Because I teach with SOMOS, I use my word wall nearly daily. Because I have words listed in multiple tenses, I’m able to say things like “clase, recuerda ‘está’ … ‘estaba’ es muy similar, pero es en el pasado. ‘está’ es en este momento y ‘estaba’ es en el pasado” and connect words they know with words they are learning. This component has made teaching readings like the legend of “Popo e Itza” from SOMOS 1 Unit 5 so much easier on my kids. They can immediately connect ‘está’ and ‘estaba’ on the poster and I can take 2 minutes to show them how to make that connection. SO. WORTH. IT.

As you venture to make your own word walls, or download the free set at the end of this post!, I invite you to question and remember these few things:

  1. Are your word walls relevant? Do they contain things your students need to know and can use?
  2. Are your word walls visible? or are they sentence strips that students can only see from 3′ away…
  3. Are your word walls helpful? or are they just lists of words that students don’t know
  4. Are your word walls keyed or coded? Can students see/find meaning in them?
  5. Are your word walls teachable? Can you show your students how to use them? And often?
  6. Are your word walls applicable? We all don’t get to teach CI style, and that’s ok, but can application can you bring out for your students?

The download… These are 16 word wall posters for the Sweet 16 verbs (minus gustarle). They are 18 x 24, so they are pretty sizable! They are coded with arrows & a key (down arrow, present tense/now; back arrow, past tense; forward arrow, future; wishing start, subjunctive). They also have pictures to help provide meaning. While I would love to come to your house/school and have a craft day and cut out letters with you all – I can’t. So I hope these will help in the mean time.

Enjoy your posters!

More Word Wall posters available for purchase in my store!

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  1. Word walls are such great support for students! I’m constantly pointing to the words I have on the posters I’ve made. Students have commented what a help it is.