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Word Walls

Word walls are collections of words that are support the development of students' independent and strategic reading and writing. Word walls are a helpful visual record of students' learning that can also serve as a quick reference when students get "stuck" on a word while reading or writing. When used effectively, word walls can be the core of a systematic phonics and spelling program (Brabham & Villaume, 2001).

Different types of word walls

  • High-frequency sight words -- arranged alphabetically. New words introduced at a rate of 3 to 5 per week.
  • Word family word wall -- groups of words organized by word families, including words built during Making Words.
  • Graffiti wall -- words that teachers or students find interesting in their own reading; these may be organized alphabetically or randomly.
  • Content area word walls -- words from math, science, social studies, or other units of study
  • Frequently misspelled words, including homophones and contractions
  • Words with specific spelling patterns, such as vowel digraphs, prefixes, or suffixes

Don't just "have" a word wall -- "Do" the word wall!

Cunningham (2005) reminds us that many teachers "have" a word wall. But - for struggling readers, having a word wall is not sufficient. You have to "do" a word wall. "Doing" a word wall means:

  1. Being selective and limiting the words to those really common words that children need a lot in their writing
  2. Adding words gradually - five a week max
  3. Making the words visually accessible and attractive. Write the words in large black letters and use a variety of colors so that commonly confused words (from, for, that, they, this) look different
  4. Practicing the words by chanting and writing them
  5. Incorporating frequent word-wall activities in literacy instruction to support students' independent and interactive use of the word wall (see below for ideas)
  6. Insisting that word-wall words are spelled correctly in any writing students do

Making the most of the word wall

  • Show students how to use the word wall as tool to support their reading and writing. Plan activities that invite students to develop deeper understandings of the relationship between letters and sounds. Teach mini-lessons that explicitly demonstrate how to use word parts as clues for word identification and spelling (see chunking and decoding-by-analogy). The goal is to use the word wall as a scaffold to help students develop their sight word and word identification knowledge (Gaskins, 2005).
  • Encourage strategic use of the word walls during individual conversations. Instead of telling a student how to spell a word, demonstrate how you use the word wall to find similar words or remember previously learned spelling strategies. Strategic conversations can scaffold students' development of chunking and decoding-by analogy strategies used by skillful readers.
  • Use the word wall as a springboard for word study activities, including word sorts, word searches, flash card games, making words, and problem-solving conversations about spelling and word identification.
  • Use the word wall as a "sponge" activity -- When you have five minutes before lunch, play "I spy" or other games using word wall words. For example, "I spy… a four letter word that rhymes with mat." Encourage children to make up riddles for one another using word-wall words.

"Portable" Word Walls for Struggling Readers

In addition to explicit instruction and modeling in how to use the classroom word wall, students who experience difficulty with words may benefit most from a personalized word wall. "Portable" word walls (Cunningham, 2005) may take the form of a file folder with space designated for words under each letter of the alphabet. They are designed to travel with students wherever they go, such as the reading specialist's classroom and home at night.

What it Looks Like

Second Grade Word Wall

Third Grade Word Wall

Third Grade Word Wall

Click on any picture to see a larger version

Word Wall Instructional Activities

"On the Back" activities - Children use word wall words to make new words and extend their thinking about the words

Word Wall Chants

Word Wall "Active-ities:" Build Vocabulary, Spelling, and Writing Skills: Five fun ideas to reinforce word wall words

Word Wall Resource page -- More word wall activity ideas and how-to resources

Teacher Tips

How do you use word walls in your class? Submit your ideas here!

Resources and Links


Interactive Word Wall: Comprehensive description accompanied by 24 activities designed to make the word wall an interactive instructional tool

Kathy Gurskey's Interactive Word Wall page: A teacher's description of how she used word walls in her classroom. Includes pictures!

Word Wall Lists from the Kankakee School District: Downloadable lists and materials

Reading Assessment: Word Identification -- Includes the Dolch and Fry word lists and an online demonstration of a running record.


Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing (3rd Ed.) by Patricia Cunningham (Pearson, 2005).


How Primary Teachers are Using Word Walls to Teach Literacy Strategies by Mary Rycik (Ohio Reading Teacher)
This article describes different types of word walls and the ways that teachers were observed using them in their K-3 classrooms.


Brabham, E. G. & Villaume, S. K. (2001). Building walls of words. The Reading Teacher, 54, 700-702.

Cunningham, P. (2005) Phonics they use: Words for reading and writing. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Gaskins, I. (2005).Success with struggling readers: The Benchmark School approach. New York: The Guilford Press.

Rasinski, T. & Padak, N. (2004). Effective reading strategies: Teaching children who find reading difficult (3rd ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson.

Wagstaff, J. M. (1997/1998). Building practical knowledge of letter-sound correspondences: A beginner's Word Wall and beyond. The Reading Teacher, 51, 298-304.