Word Wall vs Vocabulary Wall

Updated: Oct 25, 2019


In a classroom where Reading and Writing Workshop matters, authentic engagement can be found in all corners of the classroom. So, when it comes to word study, authentic engagement is necessary too. What?! No Spelling tests…no worksheets to fill in the blanks…no copying the definitions down…no writing the word 10 times each. So much learning can be achieved implementing and using a word wall without rote memorization of the words.

When talking to teachers about word study in their classrooms, they often reply with “I have a word wall!” My follow up question is always, “What does that mean?” Their answers are varied. So, let’s clear up some misconceptions. Teachers should implement and use a word wall in their classroom. Words Walls are not just something to HAVE! Anyone can have a word wall. If you put the words up and never return to it, just expect the words to be spelled and read correctly all the time, the word wall in the classroom is going to be a fail!

An effective Word Wall contains commonly misspelled and misread high frequency words. The Word Wall is built over the school year. Many times, I walk into a classroom and there is a sea of words spilled onto the walls the first week of school. This will not be effective. Word Walls are built over time, 5-6 words per week. As children are working on 5-6 words per week, they are building their automaticity. It’s not overwhelming and they are committing the words to memory instead of rote memorization.

Some common questions asked of me when working with teachers on word study strategies and techniques are:

Where do I get the words?

The words come from high frequency word lists, student writing and district requirements.

Where do I put the words?

Words are placed on a word wall of high frequency words. NOT to be confused with a vocabulary wall. Word Wall and Vocabulary Wall are too COMPLETELY different word banks.

How do kids distinguish between the vocabulary words and high frequency words?

Content area vocabulary words are NOT part of the word wall. The Word Wall is limited to high frequency words that we need students to recognize automatically in reading and spell automatically in writing. A Vocabulary Wall is another area entirely.

What activities do I do with my students?

The possibilities are endless. These could range from word families, word chunks and word ending studies. Word ladders could be created using the words. Daily repetition and quick game like activities to repeatedly and authentically work on spelling and reading the words. Again…the possibilities are endless. This is another blog entry to itself, possibly even a series of entries…

How many words do I give a week?

No more than 5-6 words per week. WHAT??? I don’t give 20-25 words? Daily repetition and work with 5-6 high frequency, commonly misspelled words will keep the list from becoming overwhelming, as well as, help students commit the words to automaticity rather than rote memory.

How do I get spelling grades?

Student writing is edited for word wall words. Students should be spelling word wall words correctly in everything they do across the content areas and across the day. The ultimate goal of a word wall is for students to spell frequently used words correctly in their writing, as well as, recognize and read them automatically.

Until next time,



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