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5 Ways Math Word Walls Have Changed My Teaching

Every year, it seems we get more and more visual learners coming into our classrooms, learners who benefit from math word walls that show concepts and vocabulary in action. This approach has worked wonders in my classroom and has given me back so much of my time previously spent on explaining and re-explaining concepts. And I know the same will be true for you!

Creating math word walls for my classroom has made it easier for me to reach my students and easier for them to learn. The references completely changed how my students have been able to access our math vocabulary and the concepts we learn in class. Our math word walls are covered in examples and visuals that show the math concepts in context along with the vocabulary words we cover in class.

 (part of an algebra word wall)

From math vocabulary reminders to greater student independence to making the room an inviting place to learn, there are so many positives to adding a visual math word wall to any classroom.

 (part of a 4th grade math word wall)

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, and why have them in my classroom. I'll also include photos of the pdf math word walls I've made covering grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 and Algebra, Geometry and Algebra 2.

 (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.

 (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.

 Pythagorean Theorem math word wall reference

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.

 (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.

 part of a 2nd grade math word wall

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.

 (part of an 8th grade math word wall)

Reason #3: An inviting classroom
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?

 (volume and surface area math word wall)

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.

 (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.

 (triangle sums visuals)

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.

 (part of a geometry word wall)

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.

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 floor, high ceiling" where all kids can enter and then grow.

 (nets on a 6th grade math word wall)

I'm reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and am finding that it 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?

 (part of an algebra 2 word wall)

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.

Over the years, teachers have sent me some great photos of their classroom word walls. Here are just a few:

 Ms. Davenport's math word wall

Ms. Davenport's choice of yellow background paper is just so happy.

 Ms. Paulus's math word wall

Ms. Paulus chose a blue background. I love the way she colored and grouped these pieces.

 Ms. Mac's math word wall

Ms. Mac chose a bright orange to display her unit circle word wall.
 Ms. Heaton's math word wall

I'm a huge fan of black in general so I really like how Ms. Heaton's and Mr. Caruso's math word walls came out.

 Mr. Caruso's geometry word wall

The blue and yellow that Mr. DeVore chose to back his math word wall makes for a really nice display. (He also has some math pennants along the top.)

 Mr. DeVore's math word wall

To meet the needs of classrooms with technology and to allow for students to access their math word walls digitally, I updated every PDF math word wall to now also include a digital version.

 digital math word walls

Every math word wall now comes in both PDF (color and black & white) and digital (in Google Slides). You can see them all here.

From math vocabulary reminders to greater student independence to making the room an inviting place to learn, there are so many positives to adding a visual math word wall to any classroom.

All math word walls are also available individually here. Each now comes in printable PDF (color and black & white) and digital in Google Slides.

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!

2. Thanks for sharing your ideas. This is something that I would like to implement for the rest of this year.

1. I hope it goes well! If you're subscribed to my blog I'll be sending some free resources to get you started. I'd love to hear how it goes!

3. Is this something you do on your own, or have your student make independently to display on the wall?

1. I want to be sure our word wall is as easy to read as possible, so I make the references. Though I have heard of teachers having students take a part in it.

4. I want to implement word walls in my classroom and will be buying your 8th grade and Algebra 1 word walls from TPT. Do you introduce new concepts to the word wall as you teach it?

1. Hi Anisha! I have been adding to my word walls for about 3 years. Each time I find that something else should be added, I add it to what is already there. I am lucky to not have to take my math word walls down each summer off the bulletin boards (just off the actual walls themselves), but I know that teachers can have limited wall space and stricter policies. I am a fan of putting it all up at once, but other teachers like to add (or replace) as they go. I think it just depends on what you would like to do and what makes sense for your classroom and kids.

5. I love how this looks and hearing how it's helped your students. I am hoping to use this next year when I hopefully have my own classroom (I travel this year). When you assess students, do you ever cover up a portion of the word wall?

1. I know how it is to travel - it's hard. So I hope you get your own room soon! I never cover up our word walls. That being said, state testing doesn't happen in my room. If it did, we would have to cover them up, but kids take their 10th grade MCAS (our high-stakes exam here in MA) in other places. For my own assessments, I encourage my kids to use the walls for reference. My feeling is that knowing how to access information is as important as knowing it, and I like that encouraging self-sufficiency helps them gain independence and confidence.

6. I wish you had a 4th grade word wall! I’m teaching a bilingual class next year and I already KNOW that I’m going to need to get something like this ready

1. I'd love to chat, Jaye. My email is shana@scaffoldedmath.com. We may be able to work something out. :)

2. Did you nake a 4th grade? This looks amazing and I could really use this in 4th grade

3. I did! I finally completed a 4th grade math word wall earlier this month...

7. I love your post and materials! I'm interested in the "floor, ceiling" analogy, but I'm a little confused. I would think a "low floor, high ceiling" would allow students to enter in at any level, even if it's low and have enough room (high ceiling) to grow to their potential. But, you say a "high floor, low ceiling" is better? I'd love if you'd explain to me...I find analogies so helpful when talking to students and parents. Thank you!

1. You are right, Pat! I by all means meant “low floor, high ceiling” for just the reasons you said. I read about the analogy in Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets and loved the idea that in the same classroom all kids can feel successful- from kids who are terrified of math to kids who are above grade level. Going to change my wording right now. Good thing mistakes grow the brain! (Another Jo Boaler nugget:) Thank you so much for your comment!

8. AnonymousMay 08, 2018

I love this idea for our home school!

1. Thank you! I have heard from another homeschool family that notebook-sized pieces would work better so I shrank my Geometry word wall for them. Would this make more sense for your family than pieces that go on the wall? I’d love to chat! shana@scaffoldedmath.com

2. EDIT to my previous comment on shrinking. I've since found that a better shrinking option is choosing to print the word wall 2 per page. The 4 per page shrinking I had done made the pieces too small. A teacher mentioned that printing 2 per page made her word wall fit well into a notebook.

9. Wow. A great concept that I hope to use next year. I am working in China teaching maths in English. This is a brilliant display.
I have just liked the page and will try to follow.

1. That's exciting-- teaching math in China! Thank you so much for stopping by to comment!

10. Rachel KlemmeJune 06, 2018

Do you have this for 3rd grade? I love everything about this math word wall! I am moving from 1st to 3rd next year and this would be an awesome resource for not only the students but also for me.

1. Hi Rachel, I don't now but it's possible I'll make a 3rd grade math word wall in the future...Congratulations on the new job!

11. Esta genial propuesta, voy a poner en practica.

1. ¡Gracias! ¡Espero que tengas un maravilloso año escolar!

12. Dr. PM WorthyJune 18, 2018

Absolutely unique word wall. Are you selling these (or their templates) on TPT? I am teaching 6th, 7th and 8th grade this year. This would be an awesome way to refresh 7th and 8th while showing 6th how their vocabs carry forward.

1. Thank you! I do sell them on TPT. If you click that image above of the "All Math Word Walls", each math word wall is in there listed separately. I also have 4-grade bundles (4th grade-7th grade, 5th-8th, etc.) that can be found linked on a word wall's individual listing. If you have any questions, my email is shana@scaffoldedmath.com

13. Never mind, I found it!!!

1. LOL! I should have checked all comments before replying! I hope you have a great year!

14. Do you suggest covering up the word walls or removing them for a test? Or leave them up doe students to refer to?

1. Thank you for asking this. I don't cover the walls during assessments but also know that every teacher and ever class is different. Whatever you feel as a teacher is best, is best.

I hope you have a great year!

15. I read that you add to it each year - I can see why you wouldn't take it down as it is a lot of work and looks amazing. Is there something you add to highlight the concepts/vocab you are currently working on? Thanks for all your resources.

1. Hi Becca, I was lucky that I had ever been asked to take down my word walls for the summer. I know a lot of teachers have to clear out come June. As I teach, I point to references to get kids comfortable with referencing the walls on their own. We end up referencing a lot of the walls throughout the year for reminders of how to do things we're currently learning and also links back to previous topics. I reference the Algebra word wall section a lot during our Algebra 2 classes to link back to slope, y-intercept, x-intercept, etc, while we learn about nonlinear functions. A teacher mentioned that she was going to make a frame that could be moved around her word walls as the year went on to highlight current parts. I thought that was a nice idea.

16. I would love to get your ideas. I will be teaching math at a university model school. So I have kids 2 days, their parents home school 3 days. Would there be a way to have this is my classroom but also in a notebook/portable for the students to take home and use on their home days?

1. Hi Mrs. Eaton! That sounds like a fun position. There is a homeschooling center near our house that I have been wanting to visit. One teacher mentioned printing 2 of the pdf word wall pages per page to shrink them down and had said that this size worked well for a notebook. If you have any questions or would like to chat my email is shana@scaffoldedmath.com. We also have a Facebook group called Visual Math were teachers share ideas that I hope you may want to join. I hope you have a great year!

17. Me encanta la idea de colocar en las paredes conceptos matematicos, que son visibles y no se les olvide.

1. ¡Yo también! Ayuda a disminuir la ansiedad en la habitación. Me encanta ver a los estudiantes mirar la pared en busca de ayuda con sus matemáticas<3

18. Thanks for sharing! I'm doing my student teaching in January and am excited to get my own middle school math classroom

1. So exciting! Congratulations on getting your own classroom!