One of the things that people comment on when entering our classroom for the first time is that the walls are purple. Yup, purple. I inherited them, and have even grown to like them, especially when compared with institutional beige in my previous rooms. One of the next things that happens is they start engaging with our walls. Inspired by Martina Bex (see files here), I have turned our walls into a living tool for helping students to be successful. The back of the classroom, as seen in the photo above, started with Martina’s word wall posters and then grew over time to include more things that kids wanted to say. Since I teach levels 1-4, the wall has things that are more applicable to some levels than others, but they are all there. That kid who wants to know more “advanced” stuff? He can use the wall. The kid who still struggles to remember what the question words mean? She can use the wall. Kids who need some additional visual reinforcement of tough concepts like conjugation have a color-coded chart to help them get it right. It’s equal opportunity, but differentiated, support for the language learners, and I love it.
Last year my principal asked if the wall was decoration, or if kids really used it. Then he observed us working on a writing assignment and saw it in action and talked about it at our next staff meeting. I was reminded of how helpful it can be when used intentionally today in my novice class. Continuing with our theme of house/home, students wrote several sentences yesterday explaining which home on House Hunters was the best for their “client”. They handed this in, and I offered feedback with the assistance of Amy Lenord’s Quick Write form. Our goal is that they would be able to write at a level 4 as described on the form (novice high), especially with the support of their notes that they took while watching. Overall, most did well, but they only met the criteria of a level 3. So today we talked about how to use the word wall to take the work that they were already doing and move it up the proficiency scale. Instead of just rewriting the same description, today’s task was to explain why they didn’t choose the other two houses. Suddenly phrases like aunque, sin embargo, primero, antes, and many more are not only attainable (because they are on the wall), they are relevant. “I like house number 2” and “it’s far from town” can now become “I like house number 2 even though it’s far from town” just by adding aunque. Add in sin embargo and por eso and we can quickly achieve a passage that says “I like house number 2 although it’s far from town. Nonetheless, it has lots of natural light and as a result it is the best house for them.”
Now that, my friends, is progress! We had several “lightbulb moments” among the classes where suddenly they could see the difference in quality…and that they really could do it. The struggling students could see that even they could add simple things like también or como to beef up their work; the highly curious could connect some other dots and run with it.
Have you used word walls? How do you use them to support your students’ learning? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments.
image source: http://www.giftstogive.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/original_345330_p87t6rbh4umouluiusn19l77x.jpg