Vocabulary Word Wall

Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level A
Academic Vocabulary Units–Inside Level B

As discussed in pervious posts, I spend a lot of time on vocabulary instruction. Besides the CCSS academic vocabulary units I work through with my students, I also do a lot of content and reading specific vocabulary work. One of my favorite middle school curriculums to teach is National Geographic Cengage’s Inside curriculum. The students and I all find the reading selections interesting, and it pairs well with topics they cover in other classes, especially science and social studies. The only complaint I have is that it needs a lot of supplementation in the areas of grammar and vocabulary instruction. This entire blog is filled with the grammar activities I use to supplement various curricula with, but today I want to focus specifically on vocabulary supplementation.

Most teachers have some form of word wall in their classroom, and I am no exception. I was never happy with mine though, it seemed largely decorative and my students generally ignored it; until I started making it an integral part of our lessons, that is.  I started by expanding the word wall from a small bulletin board to the largest one I had (in one classroom I had entire wall made of bulletin board panels–that one was great for this!), and even using the wall around the board. I then divided it into sections, one for each of the major parts of speech, and put up labels that not only named the part of speech, but also defined them. Finally, I used lots of color so you couldn’t miss seeing my word wall if you tried.

My next step was to go through my curriculum and make a word wall card for every vocabulary word in every story. Each card had the word, a student-friendly definition, and a picture. You can download the pdf version of these cards for yourself using the buttons above. I will warn you though, I never actually taught all eight units of either book, so I never actually finished the final unit of level A, nor the last two of level B. I also realized too late that I would eventually need to sort these cards out again and it might be good to label the back of them with the level and unit number. Hopefully you can learn from my mistake and save yourself some time and work. 

Then came the fun part: the teaching. Before we’d read a selection in our books, my students and I would all gather around the word wall. We’d discuss the vocabulary for that selection one-by-one, talking about the word and its definition, discussing the part of speech, finding it in the text and reading the sentence, and then creating example sentences of our own. We’d then staple the word into the correct section of our word wall and move to the next. By the end of the year we had quite the collection of words, but now they were all words we had carefully considered and used, we’d actually learned the vocabulary. 

Besides the vocabulary from our readings, we also worked with academic vocabulary from two different sources. The first was the previously mentioned CCSS academic vocabulary units I did with all of my classes, and the ELA teachers at the schools used as well. The second was the academic vocabulary addressed by the Inside series. The text books themselves had virtually nothing addressing academic vocabulary, and what was in the workbook was weak and (in my opinion) boring. I ultimately made a list of the words practiced in each unit and created my own academic vocabulary instructional plan and activities. Besides the word wall cards, for each unit we also had a cart we completed (word, picture, definition, example sentence), sort cards, clip cards (center held the definition, the words were around the edges), match-it cards, worksheets, scrambled word sets, and an assessment. The entire package is available for both Inside level A and level B (click the pictures above), but can also be used with any curriculum as they don’t depend on the Inside texts at all.

It took time for the students to adjust, but the word wall became a valuable resource with students often perusing it to remember old words and discover new. Since we spent significant time discussing the words before adding them to the wall, the students felt a sense of ownership over it. When I tried to take some of the older words (from first semester) down to make room for new ones, they protested quite vehemently saying, “Don’t mess up our wall!” I was ultimately forced to expand the word wall to a second (and sometimes third) bulletin board, but I didn’t mind, my students were learning and using new vocabulary!

August 2022 update: Get labels to create CD spinners and play Word Wall Spinner Challenge in Connected Vocabulary.