Student: “Wait…I know I should know this, but what does that word mean again?”
As teachers, we are constantly referring to various terms in our content areas that we want/NEED students to know. To cement understanding, I designed a word wall to display academic terminology in my middle school classroom. It is a great way to reinforce the concepts we discuss in a lesson.
I have a wall of cabinets that are amazing for storage and are at a perfect level for students to access when they are in need of remembering a concept. Because there are so many different terms my students are expected to know at the 7th grade level when responding to a writing prompt or answering a text-based question, this visual is really helpful for my learners. If a student has forgotten a term, this space can be used as a resource.
Idea #1: Focus Wall/Learning Targets-(Pre-Teaching)
I never want my students to wonder or guess what they are learning. I find that my students learn best and retain material best when my teaching is explicit, and my students have clarity and understanding from the very beginning of a lesson. One way to utilize the word wall terms is by displaying them a few at a time on a focus wall that communicates learning standards with students.
For example, when I am teaching point of view, posting the word cards with point of view, first person, second person, and third person on the board is especially helpful to students to better understand terminology that is specific to point of view. Throughout the week, I can continuously highlight these terms within my instruction and use them as “front and center” visuals for my students.
A focus wall with a few word cards is especially beneficial to reinforce specific concepts for students.
Idea #2: Word Wall Exit Tickets-(Post Teaching)
After teaching a particular concept, I like to use various types of formative assessments to evaluate my students’ understanding of the concepts I teach. A simple way to gauge student understanding is through exit tickets. While I love to use Padlet and Google Forms, a simple post-it works wonders too.
An exit ticket strategy I utilize is-TQE (Thoughts, Questions, Examples)
After teaching theme, I might ask my students to share their thoughts on the lesson. Is the concept of theme in literature clear? What questions do you have about theme? Give an example of a theme from your independent reading book.
Using an exit ticket gives me a quick way to gauge where my students are with their understanding of theme and allows me to re-teach, move forward, or enrich my students based on their responses.
Idea #3: Quarterly/Unit Review-(Post-Teaching)
I am always asking for reflection and feedback from my students. A quick and easy way to help my students reflect on different concepts they have learned is a quarterly review.
At the end of a quarter/unit I might say, “Here are 10 concepts we focused on, choose the three terms you know best and share all that you remember. Give an example or share an insight that shows your understanding.”
Students can sketchnote in their reader’s notebook, use a LARGE post-it note, or complete a Google Form/Padlet to showcase their learning and retention of the concept.
I love this formative assessment strategy because it helps me gauge the effectiveness of my instruction. Are certain concepts more clear to my students than others? Are all 10-terms represented in student responses? If not, why might that be? Does re-teaching need to take place?
Idea #4: Standardized Testing Terminology Review-(Post-Teaching)
In the state of Ohio, our standardized testing is electronic. A few weeks before testing, students log in to the testing system to make sure that they are familiar with the electronic testing process. We walk students through the process and allow them the opportunity to view passages and questions that have been released by the state. While our focus is to familiarize students with the testing process since it is ever-changing, it also gives students the opportunity to observe the types of questions and the terminology used throughout the testing process.
After we navigate the walk-through, I ask students to share any terms that may need reviewing. While my word wall is always covered during testing, having the words on display prior to testing gives students the opportunity to review any terms covered throughout the year that may need to be re-visited.
Ideas #5 and #6: Pictionary and Scattergories-(Post-Teaching)
Pictionary: Break the class into two teams. Leave the terms hanging on the word wall so that students have access to the words and meanings. Students will take turns being illustrators or concept specialists. The teacher will whisper a term to Team #1’s illustrator, and the illustrator will work to draw the concept and have their team guess the term. Then Team #2 will take a turn with an illustrator drawing and concept specialists guessing.
The team that guesses the most terms correctly wins.
Scattergories: Break the class into two teams. The teacher will print out two sets of the word wall cards. Students in each group will be placed into categories. Example: Setting, Characters, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution-Plot Structure
The group that categorizes the word cards the quickest and most correctly wins.
While these are only a few ideas, an ELA Word Wall can truly benefit your students. If you want to save time building your own word wall, check out my TPT Word Wall resource below, which includes blank cards to add your own terms.
Editable ELA Word Wall for Middle School
Purchase on TPT for $5
I wish you all the best this school year!