My First Grade Word Wall


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?

23 comments:

  1. Andrea, I love the idea of posting the jail word under the correctly spelled word. I may have to try that next year. We have strict fire codes as well...I always dread inspection day. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

    Renee
    Fantastic First Grade Froggies

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  2. Awesome post! I love the idea of using different colours for different types of words and putting the jail words right on the word wall! Thanks for sharing!

    Amanda
    First Grade Garden

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    1. Thank you, Amanda. The different colors really help my students recognize different types of words they can use when writing or reading. Have a great weekend! :)

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  3. Love, love, love the jail word idea! I am so stealing this idea! Thanks for sharing

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    1. It worked really well for my kids... steal all you want!! :)

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  4. I have yet to have a good word wall, but with this inspiration, I think this year will be great!! Thanks so much for sharing your ideas.
    Alyce

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    1. Hi Alyce... I'm glad you like it... I hope it turns out just the way you want it to. Have a great year!! :)

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  5. Hello, Andrea:

    I absolutely LOVE your word wall. It never occurred to me to list the words directly beneath my alphabet chart. Your color-coding and jail words are genius. They will help my ELL students sooo much! I can't wait to design my own using your inspiration. I'll be sure to link back here :) Thank you for sharing!

    My Creative Kingdom {Kindergarten Castles},
    Mandy Fyhrie

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    1. Thank you, Mandy. Have fun building your new word wall!! :)

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  6. My reading program has specific pattern words and "memory words" every unit, so this will be really easy to implement for me! Thanks so much for the idea. I hope it will help my students use the word wall more often this year!

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  8. Hi Katricia,

    I've had them a while so I'm not sure this is right, but I may have ordered them from CTP.

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  9. What lists do you use to pull your sight words and power words from?

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    1. I use the 37 most common rimes (or spelling patterns) found in Pat Cunningham's book featured above and then relevant sight words from the Dolch lists.

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    2. Thank you for your response! I am working on my masters project and I am focusing on sight words. I have not had success in the past with a word wall, but I really like what you've done. I think this will be very effective.

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  10. I love your blog post! This is absolute perfection for a word wall. I love the jail and color coordinating word cards! I can't wait to try this in my classroom this year. I know many of my first graders will appreciate silly-seriousness of the jail cards. I can't wait to see how effective this will be! If you have learned any new tips about your word wall, please keep posting them!
    Thank you,
    Colleen Carson

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    1. Thank you, Colleen... I really appreciate it. Let me know how yours goes! :)

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  11. LOVE how you color coded, I started doing that this year, but just broke up the words into K sight words and "trick words" (those are 1st grade sight words, and correspond with our phonics program). Do you have the word wall activities separate from the word wall pack? I have the words, but the activities look awesome!

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    1. Hi Katherine... thanks for your comments! At this time, I don't have them in separate packs, I'm sorry. :)

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  12. I LOVE the jail idea! thank you for posting!

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  13. Hi Andrea! Where did you purchase your word wall words.

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