Word Walls

There’s a lot of information related to the use of word walls – it’s one of those topics where you can never have enough ideas.   I’ve included some of my own in an eight page downloadable handout.  Check it out to see if there’s a new idea or two for you to use.  In this piece, I focus on word walls for MATHEMATICS.

Unpack the Content

Here is an example of a standard that needs to be unpacked. 

W.PS.01.01 Michigan

Develop personal style in oral, written, and visual messages in both narrative (e.g., natural language, specific action, emotion) and informational writing (e.g., sequence, specific vocabulary, visual representations).

Remember that part of unpacking a standard is determining what it is you want students to learn.  The standard provides insight as to what to include in the unpacking.  For the narrative writing, the standard states to develop personal style using natural language, specific action, and emotion.  For informational writing, the student is expected to develop personal style in sequencing, specific vocabulary, and visual representations.

 Here’s how I unpacked this piece after brainstorming with a wonderful group of first-grade teachers.  If you’re like me, it helps to see the big picture of the standard – which includes the content.

Once you’ve unpacked the standard, you have a content tool to use throughout the school year.  The list of actions gives you words at your fingertips you can use when talking with your first-grade students.  The list of emotions does the same.  In the sequence list, you’ll see starter ideas for the good things you’re already doing with your students; intentionally use sequencing words with students.  As for the column that lists visual representations, remember to pull out those sequence words and use them again and again and again.

Words Matter

A part of developing curriculum is that of determining core vocabulary a student needs in order to learn the concepts we want them to learn.  How important are words?

Take a look at this list of words I once shared with a group of Earth Science teachers.  I asked teachers to take the list and circle the words they had confidence their students would know at the moment in timeI asked them to do the task.  The time of the year was late spring – and just weeks away from a state test that students would be taking.

I also asked teachers to count the number of words they circled and figure out the percent of words they thought their students knew.  (This is an easy one since I put one hundred words on the list.)  We then looked at the data.

In a room of forty three teachers, not one indicated that their own students would know over fifty percent (50%) of the words on the list.  Now why is this important?  Because these words came from a state test;  from the released test items for Earth Science for the prior year’s end-of-course test.  Now why is that important?  If students do not know the words, they will not perform well on the test – whether it’s a state test or one of your own.   And guess whose job it is to make sure students learn the words?  That’s right – the classroom teacher, who hopefully teachers the words and related concepts in a direct and explicit way.

So here’s what I like to do.  Whenever I develop vocabulary lists, I like to look at the content words from released test items.  This is not the only place to go, but it is one source of developing solid lists.  If you haven’t done this yet for the tests for which you are accountable, give it a try.  Just go through each test item and circle all of the content words that students need to know in order to answer the questions.  Then use those words to refine your own vocabulary lists.  You’ll end up with lists that you really like to use.

Content Card – Scatterplots

One part of unpacking standards  is clarifying what it is we want students to learn.  It is not enough to simply look at nouns and verbs in curricular statements; we’ve got to go beyond that and figure out the specific content that students must learn.

One way to do this is to make a content card using  Frayer’s Model for vocabulary development.   The idea of using the model is to figure out the key content students should learn for a standard.   The visual below is a content card that I finished today.

Download a copy Content Card, Scatterplot.


To get to the information for the card, I  reviewed the following for a standard from the Commonwealth of Virginia:  Standards of Learning for Mathematics, Curriculum Framework, Enhanced Scope and Sequence, and Released Assessments.

I enjoy working with these and I’ll continue to post any that I do.

Fix That Graph: Proficiency Scores on a State Test

Each year, at the end of “testing season”, folks all over the country scramble to prepare charts and graphs for school board presentations.  Today’s post is an example of a graph that is used to share results from a state test.

Proficiency Scores on a State Test

Download the pdf file to read how I suggest the graph be improved.

Fix That Graph: Tax Revenues by Source

Graph, Tax Revenue by SourceThe scenario is a City Council or a School Board presentation.  You get to talk about the budget – and one thing you’ve decided to include is an overview of tax revenues by source.   The data has been designed – but does it meet the mark?

Download the pdf of Deb’s analysis in this newest Fix That Graph posting.

Eleanor Roosevelt

In Virginia, first graders have the opportunity to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt – along with a number of other historical figures.  This is a small set of posters that I put together as a quick tool to help students learn a bit about Mrs. Roosevelt.  The set has ten posters and a few ideas about how to use them.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Click here to download the mini-posters about Eleanor Roosevelt.