Ideas for Engaging Math Word Walls
There are few things more frustrating for teachers than an ignored math word wall. We understand that academic vocabulary is essential for a deep understanding of the content, so we spend hours creating, printing, laminating, and hanging our word walls. And when that is the extent of the engagement we feel the loss of time, energy, materials, and wall space.
I believe in the efficient use of classroom space and therefore think decor should serve a purpose. Word walls should improve academic vocabulary fluency and conceptual understanding while decorating the walls of the classroom. Students and teachers need to be interacting with the vocabulary in meaningful ways that enhance student learning. Effective word walls do more than provide a list of terms. Students need visuals and reminders. Effective word walls make the learning more accessible for all students, regardless of reading level or background skills. So, how do we achieve all this? I have some ideas to help your students get the most out of your math word walls.
1. Use magnets.
Let students touch, move, and sort the terms. The way I do this is by attaching magnetic tape to the back of the word cards and posting them on an unused space on my whiteboard. This is additionally helpful because after the unit is over, I can move them to the metal ceiling tracks. This way they can remain visible and usable, but not take up prime eye-level real estate on my walls. Utilize that space efficiently! (Please note. I understand some fire marshalls do not allow this. In each of my schools, it has not been a fire code problem. Definitely check before moving them to the ceiling.)
2. Make your walls purposefully interactive.
There have been times when my word wall became interactive out of necessity, but it was spontaneous teaching. Not purposeful or planned. It taught me how effective it was and that I need to be making them more interactive for students. On purpose.
So, instead of making one card per term, make three! One for the vocabulary word, one for the definition, and one for the example.
- Students can sort them at their desks like a card sort activity.
- Distribute one to each student and have them get up and find the other parts of the term.
- Use magnets on the back (like #1 above) and mix them up on the board and have students unscramble and match them to organize them correctly.
- Use them in small-group interventions.
If you would like to see more about how I use these interactive word walls, watch this video!
3. Let students add to the word wall.
Have students create their own examples on sticky notes and add them to the word walls. They have ownership and a deeper understanding of the meaning of the term when they can create their own diagrams, problems, and examples.
4. Provide students with their own personal word wall for their math notebooks.
One thing I do to ensure students are engaging with vocabulary is to have students fill in a vocabulary graphic organizer in their interactive notebooks. I print the organizers two per page and we fill them in together while we discuss each term and its relevance to the lesson/skill. (By the way, a student vocabulary graphic organizer comes with every word wall that I sell. See them all here!)
Do you have more ideas to create a more engaging word wall? If so, I would love to hear it! Please leave a comment below. Additionally, if you would like a sample word wall to get you started, I have a FREE set of 12 general math word wall terms. And they all come in 4 different formats from which you can choose!