Monday, April 20, 2009

Interactive Word Wall(s)

For me, one of the difficult aspects of teaching vocabulary has been the issue of how to make it relevant and real to the unit I'm teaching. I am definitely not about giving lists and lists of words to students out of context from the novel or play or unit we're reading or thinking about. I know that this does not work for me in my own learning, so why would I use it with students? I do know that when I read or hear a word in context over and over again, I am able to make a place for it in my brain and recall it. I do have to read it and hear more than a dozen or so times for this to happen.

One of the benefits of using an interactive word wall is that you can point to it while you're teaching, while you're reading, and while students are engaged to USE it in a meaningful way. Gone are the frustrations of repeating the definition of simile over and over by myself. Once you have an interactive word wall up and running, those students who are able to connect visual and audio memory will help you to repeat the definition of simile (or whatever word or term you need). And, I've found that they take great pride in understanding and recalling these words and definitions.

Another plus of using this strategy is that it can lead instruction. After finishing the set of root words and affixes with this year's freshmen, I found that we had grown used to using the interactive word wall and I did not want to put that to an end. So, for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird and the play Romeo and Juliet, I would read ahead to find words in those works that used either a familiar root or affix or used a new root or affix that we had not yet studied. I chose probably two or three per chapter and would alert students to the words and roots that we'd cover in that particular chapter. This way, their knowledge of the roots and affixes would not slip away as we went on to other units.

In using the interactive word wall to teach units and reinforce concepts that I'd always taught, I found that the use of the word wall lent itself to additional activities and to a constant presence of those roots and affixes that I had deemed important enough to display in our room as we read. I think that it can be easy to have so much going on in a class that you simply forget the various threads you've got swirling around or that maybe it's hard to know how to connect all of the threads in a way that makes sense in terms of time and student interest. Using the word wall has kept me honest about what's important for students to understand and it shows students how knowledge can build and transfer from one unit to the next. I will definitely keep this going next year and do the extra work of seeking out the in-context vocabulary to display and use in our room as we read.

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