I am married to a fire chief, so I've been coached pretty well on the fire-marshall visits our school gets each year. Every time, it's the same speech... "Andrea, there's too much paper in your classroom... you'll be written up." And each time, I think in my head, "Yeah, yeah, been there, done that." I don't know what your fire codes are, but in my district only a certain portion of the walls can be covered in paper. If I could only save one thing in my classroom, it would be my word wall. I would stand in front of it with Erin-Brokovich-strength and guard it from anyone who told me to take it down. :)
I think it's one of the most important tools in a primary classroom and, each year, I watch it help my students become stronger and more independent readers and writers. I have built the same word wall for almost 20 years now, changing very little each time because I have found it to be so effective for my first graders. It's modeled after the work done by Pat Cunningham (who I think is so smart) and functions primarily from common sight words and words with highly predictable spelling patterns (or "word families").
I begin each year by posting the children's names on the word wall... girls on pink paper, boys on blue. It's a personal way to introduce the word wall as we spend the first week playing with the features in their names... putting them in alphabetical order, counting how many girls we have, noticing how many names begin with the letter J, etc.
After that first week, I begin introducing five new words each Monday... typically three "pattern words" and two "sight words." The colors are very intentional. Pattern words (or words with "power" as we call them) have transferrable spelling patterns that can be used to spell many other words that rhyme with a given word. For example, get is a "power word" because it has the power to help us spell other words that rhyme with it. I teach the children, "If I can spell get, then I can spell wet. If g-e-t is get, then w-e-t is wet." These power words are all printed on green cards and the students learn that any green word can be used to read and write other words that rhyme with them. (This is one reason rhyming is such an important skill for your auditory spellers.)
Our sight words are printed on white cards and the students know that these are words that are tricky, but they occur frequently in our books and we use them often in our written stories. These words don't have "power" like the green words, so we don't use them to help us read or write other words. For example, the word said is on a white card because it's a sight word, but we would never use said to help us spell bed.
The green and white words make up most of our word wall, but we have a few others scattered here and there over the year (when the kids are developmentally ready). Multisyllabic words (like happy, favorite, and after) are displayed on red cards. Contractions are posted on yellow and something I like to call Chunky Challenges are posted on orange cards. The Chunky Challenges always get the kids excited, but most aren't developmentally ready for that instruction until late spring... it's a great way to prepare for second grade!
Something new I added to my word wall this year, were Jail Words. Jail words are sight words that are commonly misspelled, like have, said, and went. On Monday, when I introduce the new word, I also have fun introducing it's jail word, too. The kids and I "arrest" the word and talk about why it was arrested. They notice that it's "breaking the rules" and that a letter has been taken or changed. I post the jail word underneath the correct spelling on the word wall so the children have a visual reminder of how not to spell that word.
Even though the students are given five new words each week, we play with both new and old word wall words throughout the week. These activities and games are important because I want the children to be really aware of all the words they have access to on the word wall, especially if the goal is for the word wall to be a tool for independent readers and spellers. They are tested on the new words (and rhyming words and old words) each Friday and then the new words are added to the growing word wall. By the time the year ends, we have a little more than 100 words on the wall in all!
If you're building a word wall for the first time (or want to give yours a facelift), this set has dozens of cards for your word wall, including alphabet headers, activities, and suggested testing formats. (Link below image.)
This is one of my all-time favorite teacher books by Pat Cunningham. Mine is the 4th edition, but there are newer editions of this title. It's full of ideas on how to help young children become strong readers and spellers.
Your Turn: Do you have a word wall idea you'd like to share or a favorite go-to teacher book for spelling instruction?