Interactive Word Walls
for Secondary

The Importance of Vocabulary

"In 2001, the National Reading Panel Report put a spotlight on vocabulary instruction. The Report presented three key findings about vocabulary:

1. Vocabulary is critically important to readers who use the words they speak and hear to make sense of the words they see in print. Decoding without understanding what words mean is not reading meaningfully.

2. Vocabulary is critical to reading comprehension throughout the grades. A reader cannot comprehend what is read if he or she doesn’t know the meanings of most of the words. As children advance in reading, they encounter words that are not part of their oral vocabularies, which they need to learn in order to understand what they are reading.

3. Most vocabulary is learned indirectly through everyday experience with oral and written language, but some words that represent complex concepts that are not part of everyday experrience must be taught directly" (Jobrack, 2001).

What is a word wall?

A word wall is a group of words that can be displayed on a wall, bulletin board, whiteboard or screen.  Words are printed in large font so that they are easily readable from any student seating area in the room.  The words are referred to through a unit or term by the teacher and the students engage regularly with the words.

Why  use a Word Wall?

"Knowledge of this vocabulary will not guarantee success, but lack of knowledge ofvocabulary can ensure failure" (Biemiller 1999).

"Each year students must learn and use thousands of new words in their various subject discipline studies. They are required to perform complex tasks using new vocabulary. The use of a word wall in a classroom can be a highly effective teaching strategy to improve literacy skills. Word wall activities encourage active student participation. Gestures, such as pointing to key words during a lesson, offer visual reinforcement which can be very helpful for students. Word wall activities engage students while they learn key vocabulary, whether it be learning to explain a word, to compare it to other key concepts, or to spell it" (Cronsberry, 2004).

"In order to render the study of language agreeable, the distinctions between words should be illustrated by the differences in visible objects. Examples should be presented to the senses, which are the inlets of all our knowlege. That nouns are the names of things, and that adjectives express their qualities, are abstract definitions, which a boy may repeat five years without comprehending the meaning. But that table is the name of an article, and hard or square is its property, is a distinction obvious to the senses, and consequently within a child’s capacity" (Webster, 1788).

Guidelines for Great Word Walls

1. Words selected must be useful to students, usable by students and frequently used in the subject area.

2. Select high-frequency words that are used in the context in which you expect the students to know them.

3. Use the same display area throughout the semester for your word wall. Students, once used to the concept, will look for the wall. Consistency is important when presenting organizational ideas to a class. Refer to the display area as the ‘word wall’ as some students will remember this from their elementary experience.

4. Do not overcrowd the word wall. You may want to remove words as the unit progresses or you may want to display words by unit and then remove the entire word wall when a new unit begins. Some high-frequency words may stay up during the entire course.

5. Creatively display and organize words. It seems that in secondary schools the creative displays are left to the art department. High school students like visual stimuli as much as their elementary counterparts. Creative displays that incorporate the message behind the words can be fun (time consuming, but fun).

6. Add words in manageable amounts (usually between 5 to 7 new words at a time…per week).

7. Make word wall activities a regular and predictable part of the classroom routine. Word wall activities make for natural class openers or closers. The word wall activity should be only about 5 minutes in length unless incorporated with a larger activity.

8. Use a variety of instructional activities to review words.

-Using a Word Wall in the Secondary Classroom.

Instructional Activites for
Word Walls

Name that Category - Working in pairs with category cards, one student sees the name of a category.  They must then drop one word hints to thier partner to get them to guess the category. Ex:  "Things that are on a map","Things that have angles", "Things that are used in poetry", Use categories within your curriculum.

Connect Two - Choose two terms and have students connect them and justify them.  Some stem choices might be:  

______ and ______ are connected because______.

______ and ______ are different because _______.

______ and ______ are key to knowing ________ because ________.

(Use as a warm-up or exit card)

Pictionary - Create a master set of cards which have all the vocabulary words your students have learned.  Students choose a card and draw the word for the class.  Can be done in 2-3 minutes at the end of class, in pairs, or in stations.

Password or Keyword - Two pairs of students compete against each other.  One player has the keyword and gives hints to their partner who tries to guess the vocabulary word before the other team.  Teams take turns giving one hint at a time.  Taboo words can be added.

What's the Question? - Give students a set of 3-4 words and have them create a question that they are all to answer.

What doesn't Belong? - Give students a set of 3-4 words, visuals, equations, people, places, etc.  Have them decide which word does not belong and explain why.  Ex:  Washington, Lincoln, Clinton, Hamilton, Taft. (Hint:which one was never president?) or Ex: Soccer, Football, Baseball, Basketball (this is more open to interpretation)

Word Sorts - Students sort words into categories via index cards or words on card stock.  the words should be from the word wall.  This is a tactile activity but could be done virtually.  Closed Sort - Teacher provides Categories.  Open Sort - Students group words and then explain their rationale.

"I'm Thinking of a Word" - The teachers says, "I'm thinking of a word that means_(gives a definition)____".  Students guess a word from the word wall.

Tech Tools for Interactive Words


Cronsberry, J. (n.d.). Word Walls: A Support for Literacy in Secondary School   Classrooms. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

Jobrack, B. (2001).  STEM White Paper: Developing Academic Vocabulary. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

Using a Word Wall in the Secondary Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

Webster, N. (1790). On the education of youth in America (pp. 41-77). I. Thomas and ET Andrews.

Word Walls for High School Links

Comment Stream

3 years ago

Great job Becky! I'm thinking I could put a bunch of algebra rules up somewhere in my room. We constantly use algebra and it is something many kids struggle with in physics.