What Tier Do You Speak?

Every year as I get my classroom ready, I try to tackle something close to my heart: words. Specifically the words my students know and need, and will learn in my class.

Typically all teachers have word walls, some are given specific parameters on size, placement and content, while others are given some flexibility, so I have seen a wide range. They often are a visual aid that shows students the words they are expected to know, and often it includes sight words and the like. A big complaint is that students tend to ignore them and don’t use them.

My first year in be classroom, I honestly did not know what a sight word was, though I could guess. Instead, I had an idea of the words my students would need to be academically successful. Heck, there were certain academic words they were going to need just to understand me! (my first year in a classroom was with students who would likely be classified as long-term ELLs, not newcomers. This matters when discussing classroom talk.)

So, my word wall was filled only with academic words, aka CALP; words like humongous, frustrated, cooperation, etc. It was very successful — which i defined based on how much the students were incorporating this language as their own. It took up one whole wall in my then much smaller room. And it was one of the only things a student could get out of their seat for without asking first. It was a special privilege allotted to word wall use. Perhaps that helped it’s success 🙂

It was difficult to repeat in recent years as my room has been filled more with newcomers. I had to have a more flexible and varied approach to teaching words, and my word wall was mixed with tier 1 (basic and sight words), and tier 2. If you are wondering if there are other tiers, there are — tier 3 refers to technical language that is specific to a field and doesn’t really work as a synonym for more basic words (think submarine, ecosystem, etc.).

So — this year, I have students who have primarily been here for at least a year, and most are coming from the bilingual classes in my school. So I want the focus to mainly be on the academic words while still supporting them as they continue learning basic and sight words. But… I’m debating the best way to do that visually, considering that bulletin boards are prime real estate in my classroom. I will post pics soon so you can let me know your thoughts, but in the meantime I’d love to know your own experiences and choices regarding word walls.

For more information regarding the concept of Tiers, check out this book by Isabel Beck


3 thoughts on “What Tier Do You Speak?

  1. As far as teaching with the word wall, I incorporated daily routines that students ran including: reading our shared writing charts and highlighting the week’s words as well as having students randomly point to words while others read them. This is for sight words, of course. For your other words, check my blog for Olympic Words, we had great success with that.

    • Yes I remember your Olympic Words. I think that is a great way to give words value and then allowing students to determine if a word is worthy of gold, silver or bronze was a smart way of letting them take ownership of the word wall. Your students were mostly advanced and proficient ELLs, if I recall reading that correctly?

  2. It has always been a challenge for me to construct a useful word wall because I work with various levels and grades of ELLs. There isn’t enough space in my room to encompass the necessary content areas words with my regular anchor charts. However, last year I found another option and it relates somewhat to the vocabulary tier system outlined in Beck’s book.

    I had my students create a word graveyard. The main purpose of the project was to find alternatives for boring or overused words that could add spark to their writing. The students interviewed each other and teachers. They collected lists of boring and overused words. Then, working individually or in groups they created tombstones (on poster board) in order to lay those boring words to rest. One tombstone read: RIP: Here lies GOOD Survived by awesome, amazing, fantastic, delicious, wonderful etc.

    The project motivated the kids to create a valuable resource that they could use over and over again to improve their writing by using more descriptive language. Also, knowing that other classes would see them gave them inspiration to work hard and create a quality product.

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