{5 Steps Series} 5 Easy Steps to Rockin’ Word Walls

word wall new

Teaching vocabulary and extending word learning is one of the most important activities we do with our students. Word walls, an essential part of a literacy-rich classroom, provide a rich resource of Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 vocabulary for students.

Word walls can be a great teaching and learning tool. More than just a display of words, word walls should be integrated into instruction. Used effectively, they will support and extend word learning for students of all ages.


These five simple steps will show you how to create rockin’ word walls that support student learning, comprehension, and achievement.


Word Walls - Step 1




It’s tempting to have your classroom look perfect for back-to-school night. But, resist the temptation to carefully print, laminate, and display your fabulous word wall. Instead, tell parents that your room will be peppered with print as the year progresses.

Then, create all of your word walls (you can’t have just one!) with your students. As the year progresses, select your words from content units, high frequency words, “must-know” words, and more! Focus most of your word walls on Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words; however, if you have many English language learners in your school, you’ll want words walls that include everyday words (Tier 1) as well.

As you develop your words walls, print the words in a large, simple font with a wide-tip black marker. Resist the urge to laminate words. You want students to use and refer to the word walls from across the room; too often laminated vocabulary cards glare from fluorescent lights. Also, words need only be displayed in alphabetical order for primary students. For older students, simply group words in a way that makes sense for the content.

Have fun creating word walls with your students. The possibilities are endless.

Word Walls - Step 2




Classroom space is limited in many schools. If you’re short on wall space to display word walls, get creative. Just as there is no one right way to create a word wall, there is no one right way to display a word wall either.

Word walls come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s a few ideas.

  • Portable Word Walls:  Think about having separate areas or creating “portable” word walls for categorizes or groups of words.
  • Cupboard Doors: No wall space? Use cupboard doors to display words. They’re not as wide, but work quite well.
  • Ceiling Tiles: I’ve seen a few teachers use paper clips and hang words from ceiling tiles. It’s not only creative, but it works!
  • Poster Frames: Here’s a novel idea. Use a simple poster frame (sold at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s) and display words within the frame. Easy to change-up, too!
  • Pocket Chart: Use a pocket chart to create a simple and easily changeable word wall.
  • Tall Cabinet or File Cabinet: Both of these can be a great, useable space to display words of all types. Just stick a small magnet on the back of each words and, voila(!), you have a word wall.
  • Anchor Charts: Create portable word walls on anchor charts. You can easily create them for each unit or content theme. Then store them on three rings so that students can refer to them.


word walls


Word Walls - Step 3




It’s easy to create a word wall in September and, over time, forget about it until it’s time to dismantle the classroom in May. Words walls can easily become part of the scenery, so to speak, instead of a useful literacy tool.

So, change them up! Too often, we’re stuck thinking that all words walls are limited to displaying sight words in K-2 classrooms. As Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words advocates, word walls should be part of every K-12 classroom.

So, it may be time to rethink your word walls! I’ll help you out with a few simple ideas.

Types of Word Walls

  • Phonic Patterns

    Nonlinguistic Hallway Word Wall

    Nonlinguistic Hallway Word Wall

  • Spelling, Word Family, and Rhyming Patterns
  • Content/Topical/Thematic Word Walls
  • Words We Know
  • Prefixes, Suffixes, and Root Words
  • Words from Read Alouds
  • Spanish/English Word Walls
  • Graffiti Word Walls (Words that students find interesting found in reading or listening.)
  • Frequently Misspelled Words
  • “Trash” Words (Words that students agree not to use … e.g., walked, said, talked)
  • “Recycled” Words (Words to use instead of… e.g., garrulous instead of talkative)
  • Color-Coded Word Walls (e.g., color code verbs, nouns, and adjectives to help students find parts of speech easily)
  • Tier 2 Words
  • Hallway Word Walls (extend word learning into the school hallways – see example)


In addition to traditional word walls, digital word walls can support and enhance your word learning goals as well. Change it up by integrating digital word walls, too.

These 3 digital tools will get you started. Want more? Check out 21 Digital Tools to Support Vocabulary.

Digital Word Walls

Wallwisher is an online space to create a collaborative, digital word wall. Getting a leg up on the more traditional word wall, Wallwisher allows users to create sticky notes that can include text, images, links and videos. A great, collaborative tool and virtual classroom space to build online references and key vocabulary for content units.

ThingLink is a tool for making images interactive. To use, simply upload an image, identify hot spots on specific parts of the image, and add text or web links to the image. In the classroom, you could use ThingLink to launch a unit by introducing students to key vocabulary or students could design interactive images as they become more familiar with vocabulary.

TrackStar, a free online program, allows teachers to collect a series of websites and annotate them so that students can follow an online journey. With a little work, teachers can create a visual vocabulary field trip for students. TrackStar is a great way for students to experience multiple exposures to words in varied contexts which is a characteristic of effective vocabulary instruction.

Need a few more ideas? Top Tips for Word Walls, downloaded by thousands of educators, includes 26 ideas and 7 pictures from Garden City Elementary School to help get your creative juices flowing.

Word Walls - Step 4



Word Wall

When observing classrooms that have word walls, I usually see an alphabetical display of words on cards. Nonlinguistic word walls are the exception, not the rule. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Encourage students to create images or find pictures and symbols to accompany each word. Pictographs and images go a long way toward cementing the word meaning with a visual image. The example (to the right) was created in an intermediate classroom at Garden City Elementary School (Indianapolis). Students created the word cards and quickly drew pictographs to accompany each word.

Representing words by using visuals and pictographs – the 3rd step in Marzano’s 6-Step Vocabulary Process – appears to be the step that has the most impact on student’s mastery of new words.

Word Walls - Step 5




It is easy for any word wall to become part of the classroom scenery and not be used as a teaching tool and learning resource. In order to avoid this, I’ve listed a few ideas to keep your word walls an integral part of instruction and a resource for students.

Review and Play Games

  • Refer to them: Simply refer to words on your word walls as you teach and have conversation across the school day. Depending on the age of your students, have students practice the spelling by air writing (primary students) and “writing” the word on their hand with a finger (intermediate students).
  • Review Words: Multiple exposures to new words is key to understanding the nuances of a word’s meaning. Review words and continually use them in new and varied contexts. Have students use words verbally with a partner or in a small group.
  • Play Games – Elementary: There are many word wall activities for primary and intermediate students from ranging from Flashlight Fun to Word Sorts. I’ve compiled more than 20 word walls activities and games; you can access it in the Teacher Toolkit.
  • Save the Last Word for Me – Intermediate & Secondary: Secondary students need to review words, too. “Save the Last Word for Me” is a strategy that requires all students to participate as active speakers and listeners. Its’ clearly defined structure is perfect for reviewing vocabulary and helping students transition to using new words. You can download the template in the Teacher Toolkit – Vocabulary.
  • Games – Intermediate & Secondary Students: Vocabulary Games for the Classroom, a professional resource by Robert Marzano, includes many game-like activities that reinforce words and help students play with words while adding to their understanding of new vocabulary.
  • Word Jar: Some teachers make Word Jars to keep tally of how frequently students use new vocabulary. Each time a student or the teacher correctly uses a word found on a Word Wall, that person adds an m&m or cotton ball to the jar. When the jar is full, the class gets a popcorn party, for example. The most important element, of course, is the practice of using new words in oral language.


Word walls in the classroom and hallways support and extend word learning for students. Create words walls with students, change them up frequently, and use them as a resource for students to build a strong and diverse vocabulary.

{5 Steps Series}

Word walls are part of the bigger picture for effective vocabulary instruction. You may also be interested in reading 5 Steps to Effective Vocabulary Instruction.

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Kimberly has been a teacher, administrator, and literacy consultant who worked in districts across the country to improve student literacy achievement. She currently serves as an Educational Specialist with Solution Tree and project manager for large-scale PLC implementations. Her new book, Blended Vocabulary: Harnessing the Power of Digital Tools and Effective Instruction, was recently released in February, 2017.