How to Use Word walls in Preschool and Kindergarten
A word wall is an important part of a balanced literacy program in any early childhood classroom.
Word walls can be used to display an organized collection of names, theme words, or sight words in a highly visible place in the classroom.
Word walls are used differently depending on the ages of the children being taught.
Why are Word Walls Important?
A word wall is used as a tool to support emergent literacy instruction. It can help students learn the alphabet, letter sounds, the first letter in their name, names of classmates, the sequence of the alphabet, and even sight words. Word walls are a required component in many early childhood programs.
When used as a tool to support instruction, word walls can be very fun and effective learning tools in the Pre-K or Kindergarten classroom. Some people prefer to call it a “name wall” at the pre-k level or an “alphabet wall”, both of which are also acceptable.
What does a Word Wall Look Like?
- The alphabet is displayed horizontally across the wall at student eye level.
- Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding picture that is easily identified by the students.
- The font of the names and words on the word wall are large enough to be easily read from across the room.
- A word wall changes throughout the year as the students learn and grow.
How Do You Use the Word Wall?
It is important to interact with the word wall on a daily basis. Incorporate visual, auditory and kinesthetic means of practicing the words. Add print to your word wall during specific literacy or word wall lessons with the students present and actively participating in the placement of the words.
What does a word wall look like at the beginning of the school year?
In the beginning of the year, a word wall can have student’s pictures and names under each letter on the wall. You might also include other members of the staff the students have daily interaction with such as your teaching assistant, principal, or custodian.
Names and pictures of the students are added to the word wall during specific literacy or word wall lessons with the students present and actively participating in the placement of their own names. When you have your student’s pictures and names displayed on the word wall it creates a sense of belonging and a feeling ownership of their classroom.
The first letter of each child’s name is written in red ink to indicate that it is the first letter of their name and therefore the reason why it is placed under that letter on the word wall.
Words to Put on the Word Wall
Words used on the word wall are most helpful when they’re meaningful to the children. In preschool, this means the children’s names and certain words they like to write often, such as mom, dad, or love, etc. You can also include words and pictures used during specific lessons, such as a picture of a lemon to introduce the letter L or the sound it makes.
In kindergarten, both names and sight words are used on the word wall.
Where to Put Your Word Wall
The biggest challenge of using a word wall is finding adequate wall space. The alphabet is placed on the wall horizontally so the students can see the progression of the alphabet from A-Z, so it’s often hard finding a place to put it.
It also helps to have your word wall in the same area that you conduct your large group activities; location, location, location! My word wall is located next to my large group area to minimize transitions.
How to Make a Word Wall
- To start making your word wall, first, find a picture alphabet that will fit in the space you have.
- Next select your background for your word wall, some suggestions are butcher paper, fabric, or felt. Always check your fire code before putting up a background for your word wall, some cities do not allow two layers of paper or fabric on the wall. When choosing a background make sure it is a solid color so it doesn’t detract from the words on the wall. Once your background is up you can and add the alphabet.
- Take a picture of each student using a digital camera (you can use a regular camera but digital is easier to crop). Crop each child’s picture to show just the head, print, then cut out.
- Print each child’s name on your computer in large point type; I recommend the Comic Sans font. Make sure to write the first letter of each student’s name in red. Mount the names and student pictures on construction paper. If you have both an AM and a PM class you may want to mount each class on a different color to differentiate between the two. After you have laminated the names and pictures you can cut them out leaving a border around the edges. See word wall pictures at the top of the page for example.
- Gather the students in your large group area and introduce the word wall and the name cards to the whole class. Explain how the first letter of each child’s name will determine where the names are placed. Select a few students and help each one identify the first letter of their names on the name cards.
- Help each student staple their picture/name card below the appropriate letter on the word wall.
Word Wall Activities
There are several fun activities you can do using your word wall throughout the year.
- Greeting: In the beginning of the year when we gather during circle time I will say good morning to each child individually. As we say good morning to a child he may go to the word wall and point to his name for the whole class using a fancy pointer. We may also discuss other students who also start with the same letter and point out their pictures as well. As the student points to his name I try to verbalize it as well; “Michael’s name is after Karen’s name but before Samantha’s on the word wall.” In addition to teaching the sequence of the alphabet this activity also introduces the children to the concept of the word wall and helps them to become comfortable using it.
- Theme Pictures: As you introduce new themes it helps to print out pictures using Microsoft clip art or similar to go along with your theme. For example, when learning All About Me you might print off some pictures of body parts like hand, nose, or mouth, then cut and laminate the pictures. During circle time on the first day of your new theme introduce your picture cards to the children. Hold up the picture of the hand and ask the students what it is. After hearing the correct response repeat the name of the picture several times emphasizing the first sound. Call on a volunteer to place the card under the correct letter on the word wall.
- Read and Write Around the Room: I introduce this activity in January after our winter vacation. Several clipboards, copy paper, cool pens, and pointers are placed in a dish tub for the students to use during center time. I explain the purpose of the activity, to find as many words or letters of one type as possible and I give several examples. I model for the entire class how to use the items in the tub daily during the first week. Pointing out print sources all around the classroom, I write on my clipboard and refer to the word wall often. When the students are done with a sheet of paper they may place it in a special Read and Write Around the Room “in-box”. Some of the ideas I use when introducing this activity are:
Show the children how to look for words that begin with the first letter of their names using a pointer, for example; if their name is Leo then they might write the words; lights, left, and Lindsey on their paper using the environmental print around the room in addition to the Word Wall. Show them how to put their paper in the in-box when they are finished. This is usually a good starting point and will keep them going for several days.
After a few days or a week of having Read and Write Around the Room as a center you may want to introduce some new ideas to keep the activity fresh and the children interested. Sometimes you may not even have to introduce any ideas, they may come up with them on their own naturally. Another idea my class had great fun with is this one: Model how to draw a line vertically down the middle of the paper on the clipboard. Next, brainstorm a yes or no question with the class such as “Do you like Pizza?” or “Do you have a dog?”. Point out the words “yes” and “no” on the word wall and so the children can write them on the top of their surveys. Next, the student goes around the room and asks each student a “yes/no” question and records their answers in his “poll” referring to the word wall for help spelling classmates names. When they are finished the students place their polls in the in-box. This activity is always a favorite in my class.
- Writing Workshop: Using the word wall is a big part of writing workshop time. I encourage the children to refer to the word wall often when they are writing in their notebooks. For instance; if a child asks me how to spell the word “blue” I might say, “Oh, that’s a word wall word, where should you go to look for that word? Listen to the first sound if you need help.” I try to encourage using the word wall during writing workshop time as often as possible.
- Environmental Print: I use lots of environmental print on my word wall. To get ideas and learn more about the benefits of environmental print visit the Environmental Print page
More Literacy Resources from Pre-K Pages