Classic elementary word walls should never simply be limited to the primary grades. They are very effective for developing general reading and writing vocabulary, but it's a mistake to limit their use to just those activities.
Math or science word walls are fantastic ways to engage your students in deeper thinking about these subjects.
While you can take the standard approach of listing various math terms underneath letters of the alphabet, don’t feel that you have to be constrained to this approach.
Think of different ways to organize math terms, such as by the operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). When you organize math words in this manner, you’re really creating a great reference chart for students to solve story problems; when they see the word "more," they know they're dealing with an addition situation, for example.
You can also go with the free-form approach such as I’ve illustrated here. In this case, the word wall is more of a collection and gets the kids thinking about the huge variety of math terms that we use to precisely describe operations and outcomes.
It’s possibly more decoration than information, but only if you limit the words to those you select yourself. Include the children in coming up with these math terms throughout the year and have them add the words to the wall; this makes it interactive and engaging.
Word wall words are always more powerful if the group has a say in choosing the terms that go on them.
Science is another subject where word walls make sense. Instead of grouping words by operation as you may decide to do in math, you set up categories for parts of the scientific process, such as "prediction," "hypothesis" or "fair test."
Your children will come across words in story problems that are clues to which part of the scientific process should be used. These words are then added to your bulletin board.
Don’t hesitate to add some word wall art as well. If the best description for a scientific term is a picture of a pendulum or a small packet of dirt from the stream table, then staple it up on the bulletin board.
Social studies word walls are meant to be fairly narrow in topic. They should be related directly to what your class is studying right now...as opposed to a math word wall, which may end up being a bit more general since math terms can apply to many different units.
Almost any study of history is going to turn up terms that are old-fashioned or unfamiliar to children. These make them ideal candidates for your display after the students look up the definition.
It’s particularly fun when you’re studying a journal from explorers. These texts are filled with strange pronunciations and odd approximations to words that are vaguely familiar to the modern reader. Kids delight in finding these funny words and collecting them on a bulletin board.
Another great example from fourth grade curriculum is the study of civics. The words that describe the processes of the different parts of government are also quite unfamiliar 10-year olds. Putting them up in a display grouped underneath the proper branch of government helps bring them to life for young scholars.
Word walls have a definite place in nearly every elementary classroom. They have great flexibility, and they only require a bit of creativity to make them an ideal and attractive classroom decoration that supports instruction.
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