5 Ways Math Word Walls Have Changed My Teaching

5 ways math word walls have changed my teaching

Math word walls have completely changed my teaching! From reminders to student independence to making the room an inviting place to learn, there are so many positives. In this post I want to highlight 5 reasons I believe so strongly in math word walls, especially ones that show examples and concepts in context. I'll also include photos of the word walls I've made covering grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 and Algebra, Geometry and Algebra 2. 
5th grade math word wall
(part of a 5th grade math word wall)

Reason #1: Greater student independence
You're at the board in the middle of an amazing lesson when a hand goes up. The good thing? It's not to go to the bathroom. The bad? It is about a concept not at all related to your awesome lesson. 
6th grade math word wall
(part of a 6th grade math word wall)
Students are forever asking questions that have nothing to do with what is currently happening. A lot of times these questions are long-held misconceptions or misunderstandings. Magic happens when those confusions are ironed out. Those are the "lightbulb moments" we all live for as teachers. With references on the walls, students can independently access the information that is clogging up their thinking so that they can get back to the current topic. The boost in confidence this gives students is reason enough for a word wall. 
7th grade math word wall
(part of a 7th grade math word wall)

Reason #2: Keeping the class on track
This one is the teacher version of reason #1. Word walls help keep the class on track. When I am able to point to a reminder on the wall and quickly get that one student over that speed bump, class runs so much more smoothly. I believe in answering all questions, especially those "you should have learned this 3 years ago" questions. It is an honor to have students ask questions that are not on grade-level and I never, ever, ever use "should" in my teaching. Asking these questions means that they trust me with their insecurities and this means so much to me. That being said, random math questions increase the possibility that the rest of the class will start snapchatting. Math word walls help me move faster through these questions so that my class stays on track.
8th grade math word wall
(part of an 8th grade math word wall)

Reason #3: Math word walls look good!
This sounds so superficial, but hear me out. In Broken Window Theory, the idea is that a small thing like a building's broken window sends a loud message that the building is not being cared for. The theory states that people will then break more windows because what does it even matter anyway? When a building is cared for, people know it. When we put even a little effort into making our classrooms warm and inviting, it sends a powerful unspoken message that we care about our students and their learning. It also sends the same message to parents. A principal once gave me some advice about parents. He said, "Parents just want to know that you like their kid." Now as a mom, I completely get it. 
Algebra word wall
(part of an Algebra word wall)

Reason #4: Connections to previous topics
Many of my students in Algebra 2 don't automatically remember what the x value at a y-intercept is or how to find the slope of a line. Even though Algebra 1 is not taught in my classroom at all during the day, I have Algebra 1 references on my wall. Over and over again I go to that wall to point to the vocabulary my students had seen 2 years earlier. By having those reminders there, more difficult Algebra 2 topics are more accessible. When one of my students forgets what a zero is, I can point to our linear graph's x-intercept and make the connection. Breaking hard problems down into easier examples is also a useful skill, especially during dreaded standardized tests. 
Geometry word wall
(part of a Geometry word wall)

Reason #5: Low floor, high ceiling
Math can be super intimidating for some kids, and those are the same kids who may not always feel comfortable asking questions. Math word walls create a classroom environment with a "low ceiling, high floor" where all kids can enter and then grow. I'm reading this amazing book called Mathematical Mindsets written by Jo Boaler that puts into words everything I want to be as a teacher. To be quite honest, between work, family and exhaustion, it's the first book I have read in probably 5 years. That is embarrassing to type, and at the same time I am so thankful my first book back is this book. I'm an exceptionally slow reader, which makes me think about my students with diagnosed and undiagnosed reading disabilities. If it's hard for me to read, how must it be for them? I make sure to make word walls accessible for all with visual references that are not too wordy. This allows kids with learning disabilities, English Language Learners and kids who are afraid of math to enter into the conversation. 
sketching polynomials reference for an algebra 2 word wall
(part of an Algebra 2 word wall)

If you are interested in giving word walls a try in your math classroom, you can find all of my math word walls though this link

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  1. Word Walls are something I've been trying to implement in my classroom. I liked your ideas, especially because they are a great resource for our students, and they do make the classroom look nice. I will be checking out your posts more often, it looks like you have some great ideas and examples to support our students with special needs. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much Sirce! I hope you have a great year!