Lots of things are different from the time I began teaching until now, but there are a few things that I clearly stand by, specifically word walls and spelling dictionaries. Word walls are often displays posted in the classroom of common words, content or unit-specific vocabulary, and easily misspelled words. They’ll look different depending on the classroom and grade, but they’re generally organized in alphabetical order, similarly to the spelling dictionary. Spelling dictionaries are portable word walls, where students have the correct spelling of various words at their seats, with many including blank lines where they can write other words they need to spell (e.g. proper nouns). These can be organized alphabetically or phonetically. What makes these tools so effective? Here are a few reasons why every teacher should continue or develop the regular practice of having students use these tools to strengthen their writing.
Active learning tools. Word walls and spelling dictionaries provide students the chance to seek out information on their own, not relying on someone else to spell on their behalf. Students become owners, and not only recipients, of the learning process, increasing accountability and learning capacity. Depending on what’s included, conventional spelling patterns and rules also assist learners in writing well and choosing the best words to convey their thoughts. Just make sure to have the word wall accessible to students and filled with words students actually are like to use. So for example, you might not want to put prestidigitation on your word wall or alliteration.
Spelling improves. Generally, word walls and spelling dictionaries exist so that spelling may improve. Students who are aware of how it may look but have trouble spelling the words independently can look onto the wall under the letter it begins with to find the answer. Some word walls are made with detachable words, which allows students to take the words with them to their seats and return them when they’re done. With spelling dictionaries, students have access at their fingertips to the words, and if it’s organized by sounds, then students get the additional benefit of viewing how words with the same sound can appear differently. Furthermore, since word walls and spelling dictionaries tend to focus on words we most likely use in our writing, repeated use helps students memorize how to write the word correctly.
Management improves. When students learn to use spelling dictionaries and word walls in the context of their reading and writing activities, they spend less time asking others–like the teacher–to spell common words as well as less time sifting through a traditional dictionary trying to find a word they may not have a clue on how it begins. This allows students to focus more on the task at hand while teachers concentrate on facilitating the learning process based on student needs.
Word walls and spelling dictionaries are just two tools helpful to students in the classroom. Their place hasn’t expired nor do they take the place of traditional reference materials and learning strategies. Rather, their usefulness assists in providing confidence to students learning to read, spell, and write well.
Do you agree or have another idea? Share your thoughts below.