Blowing Up Our Word Wall!

Yesterday I was sitting with my friend, Ms. Turken, as we worked on a geometry assessment, figuring out a new schedule and just musing about some first grade topics in general.  I had some ideas to throw at her related to my class library, my classroom layout and most importantly the way our Word Wall is being used–or really NOT being used.

We talked about the purpose of a word wall as we understood it, which is to be words that kiddos are accountable to know how to spell.  Yeah–it’s full of words that most kids know how to spell and read already.  It’s not words that most kids need support with so its use is minimal.  That’s where we were in Rm. 202.

I sat down with my class today (in front of the Word Wall, naturally), and asked them what they were thinking. I asked what a Word Wall is for, and I got two decidedly different answers (which was not very surprising, actually).  I had one friend tell me it was for sight words that we know, and someone else said, no, it’s for words that we need help with.  We talked about how we needed to be clear–and agree upon–what we wanted the wall to be for us.  I asked many kiddos if they personally ever use the wall to help them spell.  Nope. No. Not really.  Yes, but only for names.  We agreed that having words like it, is, it, get, and, am, etc., is not helpful.   I talked with them about what other kinds of things they might want to have on there, and also went to my word wall word stash to make a few suggestions if they needed help.  The word BECAUSE came up (as it has several times in multiple conversations of the last week) as a word that most of us need to reference, and so we agreed it would go up there.  Someone suggested color words, then we also talked about number words and other categories.  This led to the idea that we could organize the words by type, rather than by alphabet.

I gave them a few minutes to work with a friend (or on their own) to suggest categories or specific words that we might want to put up on our wall.  While they worked, I started to take down the letters.

Kids had great ideas for categories of words, like colors, numbers, names (which were already on our Word Wall but that are now in a square together instead of by first letter separately), school words, seasonal words (like Halloween, fall, parade, etc.), and just sight words or other “regular” words that might be tricky.

After school I was able to make a start at putting it back together.  It already looks great, and I am SUPER excited with how the kiddos like it and how they begin to use it differently.  After all, it is THEIR word wall and should be organized and created in a way that makes sense to THEM.  Otherwise it’s just letters that no one pays any attention to.


A fresh start…


Color words and the beginning of “school” words


Number words (yes, I know there’s no eighteen. Somehow I lost it. I’ll fix that. 🙂


Names. I will add girl once it gets printed.

Can’t wait to share more soon!  Please tell us what you think! 🙂


More on Spelling Investigations: Kids at Work

I was excited and inspired by the conversation I had last week with my teammate about spelling.  To share with each other this week as we’ve put the investigations into practice has been even better.  Similarly to the punctuation studies I’ve done over the years, kiddos figure out all sorts of amazing things when you get out of the way and let them discover!

We began with a story about names.  As I had talked with Mitzi, my teammate, she started telling me about how they had decided to spelled her new grandson’s name, explaining the rationale behind the combination of letters and connections between his first/last name.  It made me remember doing the same thing when we chose how to spell my daughter, Allison’s name (Allison, Alison, Allyson; should it be Allie, Ally, Ali for a nickname–it was hard work!), and it became clear that this would be how we could introduce the investigation to our kiddos, too.

After I told Allison’s story, I showed them that thinking with my name…


…and then we tried it together with Grant’s:


By this point I think they knew what I was going to say was next (and they were excited to do so), and so I gave them the invitation to try their own name.  We talked about how it was easy to see the different sounds/chunks/letters when we did it in different colors, and we talked about the kind of paper to use, but beyond that, they had free reign to find whatever they could.  Before releasing them, though, I made sure to help them see our purpose as I asked this question:  How does knowing about our names help us become better readers and writers? Some kids worked alone, and some talked to their friends while they worked.  Whatever they chose to do, everyone investigated their names. 🙂

The room was abuzz with conversation and electricity as they worked, asking questions, making suggestions and trying things out with their names or their friends’.  By the end of the first day, everyone had found some pretty interesting things about how their names work.

On Day 2, we went a little deeper, and our job was to take the chunks/sounds/letter combinations we’d found the day before and do something with them.  I showed them an example with the -er in my name:


Together we made a list of as many words as we could think of (or find) that had that -er chunk.  Along the way a couple of suggestions were made that I knew had /er/ spelled with -ir, -ur and -or, and we saved those for later (that’s more for Days 3 and 4!).

After this inspiration, kiddos did the same thing with whatever part of their name they wanted to work on.  Again, some worked alone and some worked with partners, some just wrote words they knew, and some used other resources.  It was great to watch how differently each kiddo approached the challenge.  As I looked around the room, I saw iPads, dictionaries, and kiddos using classroom text (including the word wall!) to find words that matched their patterns.  Students had even more energy and excitement about this job today and spent more time digging in and investigating.

As with our punctuation studies, the focus is not on the activity itself, but on how the learning that comes from it will help us in future situations.  Even though we’re only 2 days into this official investigation, there are already glimpses of how kiddos are using this knowledge in other places.  In almost every reading group I worked with this week, someone’s name was used to help us figure out other words.  We kept adding to a big ‘ole list of words where the letter a sounds like a u (like almost half of kiddos in our class!).

I’m excited to see what happens this week as we continue to use our names to connect to new things!

Spelling Investigations

I have been doing spelling differently than others for while.  Even when I used to do spelling tests every week, the way the words were chosen was a little different than what is typical (personalized to each kiddo, often from their writing or frequently misspelled words that mattered to them).  We even used an actual week–not a school week–and kiddos studied from Wednesday to Tuesday.  I never quite felt, though, that what we did was effective; either kids were great spellers and they stayed that way, or they had struggles and those remained as well.  Even when they did well on tests, they didn’t do such a great job of bringing that expertise into their work.  Eventually, the last year I taught 5th grade, I abandoned spelling tests altogether.  No one seemed to notice…

When I moved to 1st grade last year, it was an easy decision to tackle spelling inside of all of the other things we were doing with reading and writing, especially during interactive writing and word work during guided reading groups. My kiddos took to this kind of thinking quickly, and used their new skills interchangeably between subjects, which is a true sign of transfer of knowledge.

So, fast forward to thoughts about 2nd grade.  This one was a little bit tricky; all of the other classes in our grade do spelling in a traditional sense of the word–lists of words each week that follow a pattern, with a test on Friday.  I was pretty sure that I was going to opt out of that choice (but for a long time wasn’t sure how to explain why without sounding like I was right and others were wrong.   I’m actually working on how to do that in many areas; my objective is NEVER to judge or sound like a know-it-all–unfortunately my passion often super cedes and that happens–but instead my goal is to share info I have, offer concerns or questions that arise, or bring up other considerations on the topic that might not have been mentioned.  Believe me, I am FAR from knowing it all!).

I found my “out” when I thought more about interactive writing this summer with my previous 1st grade team and Mrs. Ford, our Director of Professional Learning (and my longtime friend!).  As the rest of the table planned how they’d begin the structure with their 1st graders in the fall, I considered how I might build on the foundation we’d set last year and continue the same kind of thinking, pushed to a new level.  When my friend, Katie, suggested the idea of spelling investigations, I knew they were a good fit with my learners.

Much like we are already in the habit of doing with math, investigations would be centered around conjectures that students brought up about words/letters/sounds/patterns that they notice.  Kiddos were already familiar with this idea as mathematicians, and so it seemed like a natural connection.  We had worked through our first one last year as 1st graders, anyway, and it is a permanent (and well-utilized–we even used it today during a reading group!) fixture on our word wall:


So far in 2nd grade (before we started this study), we’ve added a could of other ideas to our investigations.  They are still in an informal form, as we add to them frequently:

Sometimes small groups investigate them specifically, sometimes we talk about them as a whole group when we’re reading together, and sometimes kiddos just notice things about them as they are reading in their own independent work.

So why am I writing about this now, you ask?  Well, last Friday I was at a staff in-service with the rest of my district 2nd grade cohort.  We broke into smaller groups to discuss a topic we’d been working on throughout the year, and my teammate and I realized we were the only ones there!  So much for a district cohort. LOL  It worked out really great, though, because despite the fact that we work together on a regular basis, we don’t often have time to sit for a long period of time discussing one specific topic.  This day, of course,  it was spelling. ❤

As we talked about what we were doing in spelling (which is completely different for her than it is for me), questions came up about how, why and what results we were looking for, how we knew if what we were doing was working.  We agreed transfer was the goal.

I shared details about the way we had tackled spelling through our word study and investigations, and she began to wonder about how she could try something like that with her learners.  She came up with the idea of doing an investigation with students’ names.  She had experience with a similar procedure from 1st grade, but had yet to get her kiddos thinking about words/names/sounds/ that way as 2nd graders.

She put together a plan for how to start–with kiddos looking for patterns/sounds that they’ve studied (during their traditional spelling work and tests) that occur in their names.  They’d move on to making more words with those patterns/chunks, try to figure out how/why those sounds work that way, and also try to brainstorm other ways their names could be spelled using what they know about sounds.  For me, the best part of the conversation wasn’t even the plan or the ideas we shared, it was how excited she was about trying it!  There was a new energy in her related to spelling, which would of course be spread to her students when they started their own investigations.

Well, as I was also inspired by both her energy and the noticings I had made about our own classroom names, I resolved to do the same studies in my classroom as she would be doing.  We agreed to check in along the way to see what each group of students was doing; my class had already had experienced with this kind of thinking, so we hypothesized that there would be differences in what we noticed and discovered.

More on the details of Rm. 202 spelling investigations soon! (Yep, this post has gotten way too long to keep going! hee hee).  Please check back and see what we’re doing with spelling and words and what we’re discovering about sounds that can help us be better readers and writers. 🙂