Register for What Matters Most: EL Education 2020 Virtual Summit

Classroom Protocols in Action: Using an Interactive Word Wall

This video shows primary students using an Interactive Word Wall, a protocol, with words related to the unit of study (both domain specific and academic vocabulary). Students manipulate the words as they discuss relationships among the words and ideas. There are many ways to use an Interactive Word Wall; this video shows students doing concept mapping. First, the teacher restates the guiding question "How does a spider use its body to survive?" She has students pantomime to review key ideas and vocabulary. She then reviews with students the purpose of concept mapping: to articulate how the words are related to each other. Next, students work in small groups, manipulating vocabulary cards and symbols (e.g., arrows, equals) that help convey the relationships. The teacher circulates to check for understanding, clarifying misconceptions, and push student thinking. The teacher ends the class with students reviewing other groups' concepts maps to give specific feedback on what they thought was strong.


- [Narrator] Anne Simpson’s first grade class is studying spiders. Throughout the unit, they’ve been capturing key words on an interactive word wall. Most primary classrooms include word walls. Often these are high-frequency words. In Anne’s classroom, she uses a separate interactive word wall with words related to the unit of study color coded by unit. On this wall are both domain-specific vocabulary related to the topic and more general academic vocabulary. When using an interactive word wall, students manipulate the words and discuss relationships.

- Among the words and ideas.

- Spiders have parts.

- On there and and then they got--

- [Narrator] Some interactions are quick and can occur on a daily basis.

- [Anne] Lava!

- [Narrator] Other interactions can constitute an entire lesson. In today’s class, Anne’s students are working in small groups using vocabulary from their interactive word wall, practicing reading, saying and using the words and concepts as they relate to one another.

- See! What we are going to answer today is “How does a spider use its body to help it survive?” Oh my gosh, you already have some ideas, but we’re not ready to talk about it yet because we have to get our brains ready.

- [Narrator] To activate here students’ thinking on the guiding question...

- I want you to show me the pedipalps.

- [Narrator] Anne engages her class in a pantomime exercise.

- Ooh, everybody go ahead. Shape your web with your pedipalps.

- [Narrator] This exercise reviews the key ideas and vocabulary found on the interactive word wall.

- Can someone remind me, when we’re doing a concept map, what are we trying to think about? Go ahead and turn and talk to a partner.

- They’re a map of like our vocabulary words. So like the categories could be, like, words like dangerous, poison and fangs. They could go together.

- Yeah and like, um, I don’t know and brave.

- What are we trying to do with these vocabulary words when we go back and make our concept map? Yes.

- Um, we put them in our map because we have to, like, match them together.

- So is it just how these are the same and these are the same? Or is how they’re related to each other?

- [Children] Related.

- Related to each other.

- Yeah, exactly. So we’re not just sorting.

- [Narrator] Once students understand the task, Anne gives each small group a packet of vocabulary cards matching the words found on the interactive word wall as well as directional arrows to help students literally see the connections between key concepts.

- Does this go together? Um, fangs and venom because--

- Mm-hmm, because the fangs inject it into the prey.

- [Narrator] As they describe the relationships, they’re also building academic vocabulary.

- The spider puts...

- Yeah!

- An insect, inject inside of the prey.

- Oh yeah, predators survive with their prey.

- [Narrator] While her students are discussing their ideas, Anne circulates the classroom, checking for understanding, clarifying misconceptions, and pushing student thinking.

- [Anne] Tell me about survive and mash.

- The spiders have to survive so they could, so they could eat the, survive.

- Yeah, so how does mash fit in there Rasan?

- Um, because the spider could mash the venom.

- Does he mash the venom?

- No.

- No he mashes the insect’s inside.

- So the venom mashes the inside of the insect.

- Like mashed potatoes.

- But you say he does this to...?

- Prey?

- Oh, did you hear what Rasan said?

- What did you say?

- Um, the spider mashes the bugs to eat the bugs.

- Oooh!

- [Anne] Oh yeah, keep going guys.

- [Narrator] To help students synthesize and deepen their understanding, Anne decides to end the class with a gallery walk.

- Now that you have looked at everyone’s work, I want you to find the work that you really understood, that you thought was strong, and you’re going to stand next to it. After that, I’m going to ask you to share what part of that work you thought was very strong.

- I enjoyed about this work is the exoskeleton and molt because, like, after you molt, the exoskeleton is on your body acting like a harder piece of your skin.

- [Anne] Uh huh, uh huh.

- So molt and exoskeleton are really-- I really agree with that.

- [Narrator] An interactive word wall is a powerful instructional tool. It reinforces students’ understanding of the content and concepts, builds students’ academic vocabulary, promotes oral language development and equitable conversations and empowers students to be better able to write about the topic later.

Read More

Created By

EL Education

Resource Downloads

Please log in to access the downloadable resources.