I love words walls. Not the ones that you buy with the words already done in pretty colors. The ones that I made with my class. We built our word wall as students learned the words. It was organic and just-in-time.

How did we make the word wall? I bought sentence strips and markers and left them on a shelf. When we ran into a word that students didn’t know, even if it wasn’t a math word, a student put the word up on the wall with definition in student language and an example. Usually, the student that wanted to make the word was someone who really didn’t like math. They liked the art of making the word and that helped them connect to the content. My students referred to that wall ALL. THE. TIME.

I had one student who perpetually couldn’t remember what the word dimension meant. I must have told him the definition 47 times! When he asked what it meant for the 48th time, I just closed my eyes and pointed to the wall. He finally got the picture and became a word wall super-user.

Let’s talk about student language for a sec. Just because the definition is written in student-friendly language doesn’t mean that the definition isn’t mathematically correct. Just because a student wrote the word and example doesn’t mean that I wasn’t in complete control. [Trust me—I. was. in. control.]  If the definition wasn’t quite right, we remade it. I used to tell my students, “You speak 13-year-old. I speak old-lady-year-old.” I wanted the definition and example to be super kid friendly, so they would really use the words.

Don’t read this if you love purchased word walls.

I get it. Those purchased word walls are pretty, and they are already “done,” and they can be put up at the beginning of the year once.


  1. The words on your wall need to match your instruction and your For example, a measurement word wall might include the word “surface area” and a formula. If you’re teaching surface area as a sum of the areas of the faces of a figure, the formula is useless and confusing.
  2. Word walls should be personal for your class culture. Schools in a rural area might have different examples from schools in an urban area. For example, schools in an urban area probably won’t use barbed wire fence as an example of perimeter. Your word wall needs to be meaningful for your students and should use examples that your students understand.
  3. Purchased word walls are like posters. They are decorations and aren’t meant to be interacted with. Plus, it’s unlikely that you’ll add words to something pre-made.
  4. This is the most important reason why word walls need to be made just-in-time. When a student makes a word for the wall, when the class sees a word that they created, they are engaging with the classroom and the content. They own the word.

Need more specifics on creating a word wall? Download Using Word Walls to Build Vocabulary to set up your interactive word wall. I’d LOVE to see pictures of your word walls! Send me [carolg@teachtransform.com] a pic for a chance to win a FREE TeachTransform book!