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.
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 categories. This helps students remember the words.