The first school I ever taught in required all teachers to put up Word Walls. I had no idea what a word wall was but since it was a requirement, I purchased some large, neon colored index cards, wrote down a bunch of Algebra vocab. on them, and hot glued them to the wall. While I thought it looked great, the wall was super ineffective and taught me a lot about word walls!
A word wall is a learning tool. Students look at the walls of your classroom EVERY day they attend class. Use that to your advantage by placing words on the wall that will help them in class. In math it should be used to reinforce vocabulary. Every time a new vocabulary word is introduced, a word can be added to the wall. If words come up in class that students need help with, add those to the wall too! During instructional time, refer to the word wall. Use a laser pointer, ruler, etc to point out words as you discuss their meaning.
When introducing equations you may use a pointer to point to the word expression and then to the word equation and have students identify the differences between the two. This helps students connect the words on the wall.
Put your word wall somewhere that is visible to all students. If you use a smart board and your board is at the front of the classroom put the word wall somewhere along the sides of the board, over it, or around it. Put the wall in an are you know students will look at often. Putting the word wall on a side wall or somewhere students do not frequently look will make the wall ineffective. If needed you can even create a portable word "wall" (on folding presentation board for example). That way you can easily move the board around the room.
If you are thinking about using a word wall this year (and I would suggest using one!) here are some helpful word wall rules:
1) Write the words in dark colored ink with a white background.
Colors are fantastic, but should be used as borders, not for actual word cards.
An effective word wall is one that can be seen by all students at all times. A white background with dark ink will bring attention to the words and make them stand out. My neon colored index card word wall looked pretty cool up close, but the first time I walked to the back of the classroom to check it out I noticed that the bright colors meshed together and I found myself checking out the colors, not the words. Colored backgrounds make it more difficult to make out words from a distance, and take away from the point of the wall - the words.
2) When possible, add pictures to the word wall!
Your word wall card that says "equation" on it should have an actual equation on it. The variable card should have a variable on it (or around it). A great project for early finishers in the class is to have them create pictures to go with word wall cards. It takes all of 30 seconds to have a student draw some parabolas to stick under the parabola card and students love having their work displayed!
3) Group words that go together.
If unit 1 covers real numbers you can have words like real number, natural number, irrational number, rational number, etc all grouped together. These words can go under the title header: "Real Number Sets". They can also have coordinating borders to further connect the words (and add color to the room!). You may have those cards backed with yellow paper, while your "Pythagorean Theorem" cards are backed on green paper. When trying to remember real number sets on a quiz reminding students that the words they need to recall were the "yellow" words is a way to trigger their brain.
4) Update your word wall as often as possible.
My goal is to update my word walls weekly. I have found that sometimes words come up that need to be added sooner though. My first year of teaching I was discussing solving equations with students and discovered some of my students could not recall where the denominator of the fraction was. I always kept some blank cards in a drawer at my desk and was able to quickly pull out a card, have a student write down the word, and had them add it to the wall that moment. You can bet the next time I asked students what number was in the denominator of the left side of the equation every hand in the room went up!
Have you ever used a word wall? How is your word wall displayed? I'd love to hear how you do it, please leave comments below!
My current Algebra Word Wall cards can be found on TpT here: