Monday, June 16, 2014

Word Banks vs Word Walls

The word wall. A staple of the elementary classroom. That static bulletin board with the cartoon alphabet in rainbow colors you update every other month or so ... a showcase for words we know, a reminder of how to ... spell? Sometimes used solely for high frequency words, I've heard teachers talk about how these word walls help students recognize words or work on fluency but rarely have I ever seen a teacher do more than put the vocabulary words on the wall and then move on to the next lesson. Now, I've seen some really beautiful word walls. Many teachers really like creating some super Pinterest-worthy word walls. Commercially available in packs, they will definitely make your classroom look like ... a classroom. (Every May this becomes even more important as teachers rush to add more words to the wall before Open House - don't lie, we're all guilty of this at some level.) But if your goals are trending towards the more student-focused, I'd like to discuss the word bank.

The word bank serves many of the same purposes as the word wall theoretically does. It reminds students of words they've been taught, it aids them in spelling and in fluency. But it is not static, it is not even stapled to the wall. And it is for the students, not the parents or other teachers and administrators to admire. (Although they will once they see you using it.)

A word bank is interactive, students can borrow words, return them, and even add to the bank themselves. It is an incredibly helpful tool when we think about teaching literacy and science. If we use it well and often, students will really start to recognize the patterns of scientific writing.

10 Tips for Word Banks

  1. Use a pocket chart (yes, even you 6th grade teachers) and sentence strips - if at all possible mount on a short easel with wheels or make this chart stand using PVC (even better, get a group of kids to maker one)
  2. Add to the word bank together
  3. Pull words out as you model science writing
  4. Pull words as you talk about science content
  5. Encourage students to go up and borrow words as they write
  6. Some content words (organize at the top of the chart) come and go, some sentence starters (organize at the bottom of the chart) may stay in the bank all year
  7. Words that aren't used any more are removed from the bank (maybe they're put on a word wall)
  8. High frequency words or academic vocabulary words are in the bank as well if connected to the curriculum
  9. You can put students names in pencil on the back of some words as "word experts" then, if a student needs more clarification after pulling a word, they can ask that "word expert"
  10. Use the word bank often, use it every time you teach writing in science

The idea is that the word bank is more of a tool for students. A tool that encourages physical interaction with the words, self-reliance, and learning from peers.