How effective is it to have a list of math words on the wall? Who decides what words to place on the wall and who puts them up on display? Students benefit from building vocabulary knowledge. Teachers often create word walls to support reinforcement of mathematical terms. Students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs), benefit from seeing words in print with a picture as a reminder of the meaning of the word. Traditional word walls have displayed lists of words that are frequently arranged in alphabetical order across a bulletin board. At the start of the school year, many teachers have spent numerous hours building a word wall to be ready for the first day of school.
Think about why you are putting up a word wall in the first place. Is it for the purpose of learning? Consider the idea of NOT making a word wall yourself. Have your students take control of designing the classroom math word wall throughout the course of the unit. Make your word wall part of instruction by having students apply what they have learned. Their sketches and explanations can then be displayed thereby deepening their understanding of the words and reinforcing it with their drawings and words that they will remember.
Best practices in using an interactive word wall include the following:
• Academic vocabulary is posted.
• Words are visible to all students from a distance.
• Vocabulary words are aligned to current instruction.
• Student-generated material is used to create the word wall.
• Visuals are used including photographs, sketches, or actual items called realia.
• Words/visuals are arranged to show relationships among concepts.
The terms “distributive property” and “expressions” often cause confusion for students. As you plan lessons around difficult concepts, plan how and when students will internalize vocabulary through rich experiences explaining, sketching or taking pictures of the concepts modeled with math manipulatives.
You can use anchor charts created with the students during math lessons to build your word walls, too.