Word walls are the best method for teaching Dolch sight words and content area vocabulary

Word walls are a wonderful method for teaching Dolch and other basic sight words. They are also ideal for building content area vocabulary such as math vocabulary. A variety of activities, games, and songs give kids the essential practice they need for mastery. Built together over time, they grow and change almost daily.


The best news is that they work - if you provide opportunities for children to practice, read, sing, and play games with the words. Some of our favorite activities are Word Adoptions in which students apply for custody of their favorite words, and Scavenger Hunts during which students search for specific categories. Students may also create their own Super Heroes and Word Wall Families, an activity which requires that students group words together into "families" and design houses to meet their individual needs.

With budget cuts in education and teachers being furloughed in many states (my state included!), I don't have to tell you that money is tight. So another good thing about this instructional gem is that there is practically no cost!

Forget premade cards and commercially packaged walls because they just aren't as effective as those to which children are allowed to contribute themselves. Starting the year off with their names places it in their context right from the start. Children pay far more attention and enter into the learning much more when they feel that the walls are about them.

Those walls you and your students build together will be the most effective. Allowing students to contribute words to the collection gives them ownership and their participation will increase.

Here is what you will need:

  • 4x6 index cards
  • Black markers
  • Pointers

4x6 cards

Unruled 4x6 index cards are perfect for me. Words should be written in black letters at least three inches tall so they can be clearly seen.

Index cards are ideally suited both for practicing and for playing games with the cards before they are placed on the wall. Remember that students must be given opportunities to read and spend time with the words.

If there is no money for index cards, not to worry - teachers are the most resourceful people I know! We can make pieces of paper or card stock work, too!

Black markers

One word: Sharpies! We love 'em, don't we?


We have had so much fun using different kinds of pointers to read words on our walls! Our favorites include a very cool Star Wars light saber and some equally cool mouse laser pointers, both of which require careful supervision (I don't have to tell you that, of course!)

Using toys and gadgets such as these once again places the learning in their context so the activity has meaning for them.

Basic meter or yard sticks work well for some activities, and the children seem to enjoy using those as well. Use your imagination - one teacher I know used a fishing rod to point to words high on her wall. The kids loved it!


Word walls can be located anywhere - on walls, cabinets, doors, hallways, and even windows. Generally speaking, it is best for word cards to be placed parallel to the floor and words to be printed by hand in black print on a white background, as described above. Building several word walls around the room is a good idea.

You might, for example, have first grade Dolch words on one wall and animal words on another with each child suggesting the name of an animal. This is a good opportunity to improve memory with questions like, "Do you remember whose word this was?" and "Who remembers which word was Natalie's?"

Your goal is to help children learn close to 1000 words per year, but remember that just putting them on the wall is not going to help you - or them - reach that goal. Words must be practiced and assessed regularly.

Word Wall

Classroom Word Wall

Second grade Dolch word wall

Second Grade Dolch Words in a hallway

Word wall on window

Third Grade Vocabulary Words on Window

Practice Makes Perfect

Children enjoy reading words from the wall. My basic procedure with small groups in K - 3 is to point to the words in a row and have everyone read them together. I give the pointer to a student to read the same words backwards, he gives it to another person to read the row again, and so on until all 5 or 6 children have read the words.

It is important to note that when reading words from the wall, it is not a problem for them to read from right to left. In fact, it strengthens the learning of sight words which are taken as individual words. Words should be read in columns also, in which case the children alternate reading up and down.

It is also important to note that words must be moved around so that children do not just repeat the words from memory. Sight word games and activities give variety to this essential practice, and since they are fun, they are very enthusiastic and happy during this time. Since learning and memory are associated with emotion, they are definitely worth checking out!

Activities with math word walls are also a lot of fun for elementary and middle school students. And you can boost your state test scores by creating a special word wall specifically for testing vocabulary and keywords.

No matter what the subject area, wall words must support reading.

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Teacher Support Force


Math Word Walls
Math word walls are tremendous in getting the correct language to kids and keeping the words before them. It is invaluable in creating a culture of math in the classroom. They are perfect for ongoing review and should be constantly referenced throughout the day.

Vocabulary Assessment
Vocabulary assessment is an ongoing and necessary part of teaching sight words with word walls. But how do you do a sight word assessment for word walls?

Testing Vocabulary Word Wall
Learning testing vocabulary and keywords used on standardized tests can give scores an added boost. So put them on a word wall and let the fun begin! You'll be glad you did because focusing on those critical testing words can improve your students' scores on state tests.

Second Grade Sight Words
These second grade sight words can be used to fill your word walls for an entire year. They are the categories I used to build word walls for one year with second grade students and resulted in 883 word wall words and amazing gains in oral reading fluency

Other Suggested Word Walls

Subjects and Predicates - Having one wall for nouns and another for verbs is a great way to help children practice subjects and predicates which helps improve reading comprehension.

Descriptive Words - Building a wall with descriptive words is very useful when teaching children to write poetry.

Sight Words - The best way to deliver Dolch sight words and Fry instant words.

Favorite Words - Let each child contribute a favorite word.

Funny Words - These come from the kids, too, though I can never resist adding a couple of my own!

Synonyms and Antonyms

Science words

Math terminology - Unlike sight words for reading, I leave math words on the wall as we add more throughout the year. I move them around, however, for special intensive review and as a memory exercise to see if students recognize which words are missing.

Holiday and seasonal words

Color words

The list could go on and on!!

Learn how to build vocabulary with word walls.