Why display content area vocabulary words?
Wall space was always at a premium when I was in the classroom! With a regular word wall, anchor charts, and posting standards, there wasn't much extra space. But displaying content area vocabulary is so important that it definitely merits taking up some of that precious space!
Kids learn vocabulary through multiple exposures - this means that they need to encounter a word more than once or twice in order to internalize its meaning. If you post vocabulary words in the classroom and refer to them often, students are more likely to remember these words. Your students will also be more likely to use them in their own writing when the words are right there in front of them.
Content area vocabulary is also super important for English Language Learners. Research shows that ELLs learn social language and vocabulary ("playground language") much more quickly than they do academic language (i.e., science and social studies terms). Your ELLs need pictures and words to help them learn content area vocabulary, and displaying these terms in the classroom is a great support for them.
How should I organize my content area words?
Some teachers have a word wall that's devoted entirely to content area vocabulary. They organize it alphabetically, just like a regular word wall. In my classroom last year, I didn't have enough room to post pictures and words for all of my science and social studies vocabulary for the entire year. So I just did it one unit at a time. As we encountered a word, I would hang up the word and a corresponding picture. (Putting up the words as a class makes it more meaningful to the students than if you just put up the words all at one time, without them watching.) After a unit was complete, I would typically take the words down, unless I knew we were going to encounter some of the words again in the next unit. I wish I could have left them all up there, but it wasn't possible.
I had these not-so-attractive brown cabinets in my room, so I decided to make use of them by covering them with my content area vocab. I bought sturdy sheets of scrapbook paper that coordinated with my classroom colors and laminated them. I hung them on the cabinets and left them there all year.
Then, as we encountered vocabulary words, I used a single piece of Scotch tape to hang the word cards and pictures on the scrapbook paper. When I was ready to remove a card at the end of the unit, it was easy to take off, and my scrapbook paper stayed put.
This picture shows two word cards that came with our science curriculum, but I also made cards for other words, too.
I liked this system because it was very low-maintenance and made use of cabinets that were too small for larger displays. How do you display content area vocabulary words in your classroom?