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The In’s and Out’s of Word Walls in Special Ed

Every classroom has a cornucopia of learning styles… kinesthetic, auditory, visual…

Some students learn best by listening to the lessons, others are hands-on learners, and others need visual cues to support their learning.

Using a word wall in a special needs classroom

As a teacher, it is important to implement strategies that allow all  learning styles to succeed in the classroom.

And as special education teachers, we have this intrinsic love and ability to support all the students in our classroom. Word walls are one quick and easy way to do just that.

what is a word wall subheader

Students add hundreds of words to their vocabulary each school year. They learn new vocabulary across all content levels, in all classes… on class outings and field trips, in the community, at home… they learn new vocabulary everywhere.

Mastery of vocabulary is essential for future skills. So developing those vocabulary skills through a word wall is the initial foundation for future growth and development.

core vocabulary word wall starter kit

A word wall is a great way to create a visual, interactive area of the classroom for students who are learning to read, to introduce new words to students, or for students to use as a point of reference throughout the day. This area is designed as a board with a collection of words, printed in large letters to be easily seen from all areas of the classroom.

Any location in the room can be used for your word wall, such as a bulletin board, whiteboard, chalkboard, or another type of display surface. Keep reading to learn more about how to utilize a word wall without an actual wall.

benefits of a word wall subheader

There are many benefits for students when it comes to having a word wall in the classroom, as well as benefits for you as the teacher:

  • Constant, visual cues show high-frequency words that the students are learning. The repetition helps to solidify the memorization of these words.
  • Build the vocabulary of the students by increasing student engagement and encouraging high-level thinking skills.
  • Seeing the words in bold lettering, side-by-side, makes it easier for students to identify relationships and patterns in the words.
  • The activities and words build both spelling and phonics skills simultaneously.
  • The students can refer to the word wall while working on writing and reading activities. This area of the classroom is a quick reference, increasing self-management and independence.
  • Words can be paired with simple pictures so that the children make associations with the images and letters, especially with core vocabulary.

Make sure that the word wall is functional, simple and easy to understand, and accessible to all students in your classroom.

how do i use a word wall subheader

Once a word wall is up in your classroom, you can refer to the wall frequently during discussions to help the students understand how to use the wall. Various activities can be integrated to encourage the students to be interactive with the word wall during their lessons.

This word wall can be used daily to practice vocabulary, reading, and spelling. Look for different activities that can be used to engage with the words on the wall.

A few examples include:

  • Word wall notebook or journal (free in the Resource Library)
  • Chanting or cheering the words
  • Snapping or clapping for specific words
  • “Tapping” words out (for syllables)
  • Word arrangements and patterns
  • Tracing the letters with a finger
  • Guessing and matching games
  • Writing on paper to match the words on the wall

no space for a word wall subheader

If you don’t have the space for a large word wall, you can easily print any resource in a smaller size. Simply adjust the options while printing (shown in the snapshot below), and voila!

how to print a PDF in a smaller size

Using Adobe Reader to print is the easiest way to get your settings correct (on a PC or a Mac). Simply choose “Multiple” and landscape page orientation to print the letters and word cards at half the original size.

full size alphabet letter posters versus half size alphabet letter posters

You can see the significant size difference in the full size and the half size. Printing the letters and word cards this way will help you save space, but also make the most of the space you do have available… making ANY size of space work!

word wall cards in full size and in half size

It really is my favorite – printing the word wall cards at half the original size, cutting them out, punching a hole in the top left corner, and adding a binder ring.

cut out, hole punch, and add a binder ring for a portable word wallendless possibilities with words on binder rings

Instant portable word wall! Students can easily take the word wall with them to their inclusion or resource classrooms.

You can, also, easily create alphabet, word, or writing centers using the word wall binder rings… and with as little as 3 cards on one ring.

OTHER WORD WALL OPTIONS FOR LIMITED SPACES:

Look for options to create a word wall that can be moved from one spot in your classroom to another. For example, you might use large, brightly colored poster boards (or a trifold) that can be set up on the whiteboard, and then moved to another area when needed. This can easily be turned into a writer’s center or station. (Printing cards and alphabet letters in half-size (or quarter-size) is a great trick for this too!)

Another option is to hang the words from the ceiling in alphabetical order, keeping your wall space open for other things. Or put the words up on the cupboards, windows, or window shades if needed.

Add a bit of magnetic tape to the back of your word cards and use the side of a filing cabinet.

word wall tips and tricks subheader

core vocabulary word wall starter kit

When designing the word wall, place it in an accessible location where all students will be able to view the words. The letters should be in large, black print. Use a white background with colorful images, or different colors on the background to help with the association and visual learning (similar to Core Vocabulary).

Select words that are commonly used in speaking and writing (the Core Vocab Starter Kit is an awesome place to begin). Start with a few words, and then gradually add to the word wall as the lessons incorporate additional vocabulary. It can be overwhelming for the students if you start with too many words on the wall. So, the best method is to add the words to the wall as the students learn each word. You can place the word on the wall as part of the lesson.

Keeping the information fresh is key to ensure that the students master the words and continue adding to their vocabulary.

Word walls aren’t just for “core words” either. Both “core” and “fringe” vocabulary should be utilized throughout the word wall, just make sure that the focus of the words used coincide with the curriculum that you are using.

Many resources can help you get started with a word wall. Put together a word collection that you can repeatedly use each year. If you don’t have time to create the printed words, then you should consider using a pre-made kit such as this: Core Vocabulary Word Wall Starter Kit.

premade word wall sets

Home Vocabulary // Classroom Vocabulary // Fruits & Vegetables // Special Education Vocabulary

If your students are pre-word wall, you may find this pre-made kit to fit your needs: Alpha Word Wall (Pre-Word Wall) for Young Learners


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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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