Judie Haynes

Wyckoff, NJ

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 7 Years ago
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Using Word Walls is More Than Displaying Words

          ASCD author Debbie Zacarian presented on the topic of word walls at TESOL 2010 in Boston. Her presentation was based on information from her latest book (co-authored with Judie Haynes)  on Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010), Although this presentation was geared toward English Language Learners (ELLs), Zacarian’s points are valid for all learners.

          This blog presents highlights of the presentation.  Reading researchers such Beck, McKeown, and Kucan. (2002). divide vocabulary into three tiers:
Tier 1 includes basic 1-2 syllable words or phrases used in everyday conversation (e.g., blue, pencil, chair).

Tier 2 words are synonyms for Tier 1 words and translition words that mean and, but and so.                                   

Tier 3 words are low-frequency  multi syllabic words that students often learn in subject area study. (eg: quadratic equation, iambic pentameter, ecosystem) These words are not generally used outside of the classroom.

            English Language Learners and students who struggle to learn are often not directly taught much needed Tier 2 words.

           Vocabulary should be taught in chunks as opposed to single words. Zacarian uses the acronymn TWIPS to help teachers and students to consider vocabulary as key terms, words, idioms and phrases. (TWIPS) Word walls help visually communicate key vocabulary to help students to learn, understand and, most importantly, use.
           Zacarian recommends having two "word walls" in your classroom to help students practice their words and phrases: one reserved for for Tier-1 and Tier-2 TWIPs, and another reserved for content-specific Tier-3 TWIPs.    Transition words, such as and, but and so, for example, should be included on word walls of synonyms that students can readily see and use to develop and expand their vocabulary. The words on the Tier-3 wall should change from unit to unit. Words should not be arranged on a wall in alphabetical order but in categores.  This helps students remember the words.



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01 Apr 10, 03:02 PM


Thanks for providing a summary of the presentation that I did at TESOL.  It was prompted by an article that I wrote in June 2009- "Displaying Word Walls is More than Displaying Words" for Essential Teacher.  The article highlights the importance of visibly displaying key vocabulary terms, words, idioms, and phrases [what I call TWIPs] so that they can be accessed more easily and meaningfully.  The article yielded responses from teachers from all over the world and the US asking for more information.  Rather than assembling a list of words in alphabetical order or in order of appearance in a course text; we should determine the vocabulary that's key, display these terms, words, idioms, and phrases in categories that are written in student friendly language, and display them on a class board, table mat and/or in the form of a student handout so they are continously accessible.


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31 Mar 10, 08:31 PM

I also like Margarita Calderon's Teaching Reading to English Language Learners.  She has done a lot of research in vocabulary development in New York City.


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31 Mar 10, 07:41 PM

I have been doing reading on ELLs in order to make connections on some of the non negotiables of differentiated instruction. And I have come to the same realization that you are saying, that many of these strategies are good for all learners. And as we all know vocabulary is the key. In Miami Dade County Title I schools have purchased "Elements of Reading Vocabulary" by Beck and McKeown and I can personally tell you that when it is used consistently and appropriately it greatly increases students vocabulary. 


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