On Word Walls

We tend to think that, if the words on the Word Walls are taught and used in class, the kids have acquired them. Is this true? I think that we always assume that they have acquired more than they actually have. Simplicity and narrow and deep gets it. In my level 2 classes, I have the same word walls up from last year, because many of those words have not been acquired, along with a ton of verbs.

It’s not about the amount of words we teach them. It’s about allowing their deeper minds to grasp the structure of the language, its grammar, by hearing it spoken correctly over and over and over. It’s about laying patterns of language down, and then, when it comes to individual vocabulary words, those are easily grasped and slotted into the system as long as the overall system – that which we build by doing constant comprehensible input – becomes more firmly established with each passing class.

We need to caution ourselves against thinking that word walls are there to actually teach words – they are there to stimulate and add mojo to our classes. They rain down into our comprehension based classes from their perches on the wall, adding to the discussion, helping us get classes started, making WCT possible, helping kids with their freewrites, etc. But the real work is in the use of the comprehensible input. The word walls aren’t really all that important.



6 thoughts on “On Word Walls”

  1. It is hard to acquire a word devoid of meaningful context. OWI provides that frame. I too have my same words from French 1 on my wall for my French 2 kids as well. Sometimes if I have a couple of minutes at the end of the period, or as a brain break I will go through them, reading them to the kids and ask what they mean and the kids know a lot of them , yet they cannot use them in speech. What does that tell you?

  2. I don’t use word walls. I thought I would when I started, but with spanish 1-4 all in one room, it would just be crazy. On a dry erase board, I write the structures up for the last two weeks.

    I do the same thing as Sabrina, just start a class with translating the recent structures, or for a brain break.

    When I observed Bryce this summer He didn’t have a word wall, but other CI masters did. I am crazy? Do they really help? I’ m open to change.

    Another thing I do that I don’t think is CI friendly but very helpful to me in conquering “The Fear” is a list of all the structures we have ever used from Tripp or Matava stories. This helps me meet IEP rules saying that students must be given study guides, or when a parent is not happy that Johnny doesn’t have an A in Spanish when he has A’s in all his other classes. I show them the “study guide” and tell them I give this out to all students every two weeks or so.

    It’s satisfying to me when we get to Spanish 4 with hundreds of high frequency verbs and kids tell me they “know” them all.


    1. David,

      I just saw this post from 2012, so I do not know if you are still teaching, but if you are, are you teaching multi-level classes? I am going to be doing that this fall, and was wondering if I could pick your brain! Thank you!

  3. Good plan with the study guide, David, and I love the way the kids with straight A’s are challenged differently in your class.

    The main thing is that we remember that we get to pick and choose from what is offered here and at workshops. The minute we all start doing it the same way is the minute the method is doomed.

    There is no standardized version of comprehension based instruction. It’s a candy shop.

  4. I currently don’t have a word wall, but I think I would find one incredibly useful so that maybe I don’t have to write so much on the board all the time. I of course wouldn’t assume that my students have acquired all the words on the wall, but it would be nice to have them for reference. I was thinking about having one poster of adjectives, one of modes of transportation, and so on. Is this a good idea, or would I be wasting my time? What words does everyone else have up? BTW I teach French I-IV.

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