ELA & Writing,Management & Organization

A portable word wall and why you need one

In recent weeks I’ve gotten several inquiries in regards to my portable word wall. I’ve decided to put this post together to end the mystery behind the portable word wall ::cue mystery music:: and to hopefully get you to join in on this amazing way to have a word wall while saving space and promoting engagement.


You’ve seen it, you’ve wondered about it, you’ve even contemplated taking the plunge and making your word wall portable.  But, something is holding you back-you don’t understand its purpose. I’m going to explain the portable word wall, gush over its benefits, and give you tips on how to introduce it to your class.

What is a Portable Word Wall?

It is exactly as its name denotes.  The words that we normally put on the word wall are on cards instead of written on the wall.  They are organized alphabetically and placed on rings to create word wall “books”.  They can be hung up on the wall and students go up and grab a “book” depending on what word they need help with. i.e. A student is writing and is not sure how to spell “friend”.  They know the word begins with the letter F so they go up and grab the F book and take it back to their seat.

Portable word walls offer the flexibility of space and engagement all in one!


Why Use a Portable Word Wall?

1. It is a Space Saver

I used to dedicate an entire bulletin board to my word wall.  It was great, but when you have limited display spaces in your classroom, it is not so great.  Now I am able to use my cork board for student work display and my white board as a focus wall.   A portable word wall doesn’t need a lot of space.  My word wall isn’t even located on a wall that would be used for anything else.  It is on the lower end of the wall and at eye level with the students when they sit on the rug. It is literally available wall space that I wouldn’t be using otherwise.

Portable word walls are a space saver! Look at where this teacher keeps her portable word wall in her classroom.

2. It is Engaging!

Yes, it is!!  I LOVE that the students take responsibility of their learning.  With the idea of student centered classrooms at the forefront, we can say that a portable word wall centers around the students. Whenever my kiddos are writing, they love getting up to the word wall and grabbing the book they need.  The hands on experience makes it personal.  The students remember that it is a tool for their advantage and it is very helpful for students who struggle with tracking letters because the word is right in front of them.

3. It is Portable!  

My classroom is not fully flexible when it comes to seating arrangement, but during independent work time, the students are never at their seats.  We sit in different areas throughout the room in order to work and some areas are far away from my traditional word wall or out of a student’s view.  With the portable word wall, it doesn’t matter where my students are because they have access to it. They can easily grab the book they need and take it back to where they are sitting.

Portable word walls can easily be hung up on the wall with the use of binder rings. Look at how this teacher sets hers up.

4. It is Interactive!

You are not limited to keeping the portable word wall on the wall. Because the words are on cards, they can be used to “play” some center games or for fluency practice.  Students can use them to do read and write rainbow writing in which they read the word on the card and then write it 3 times using different writing tools (markers, crayons, pens).  They can also use them as flash cards with a partner to practice reading and spelling.  My personal favorite is when a student holds a word up on their forehead for their partner to see.  The partner will spell the word and the person holding the card must identify which word they spelled.  Fun!

I created 9 engaging sight word centers that my students absolutely love! Read all about the Engaging Portable Word Wall Sight Word Centers.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do you introduce it to the class?

I introduce it right at the beginning of the year and place as much emphasis on it as I would a traditional word wall. Students should understand its importance and how it is a learning tool for their benefit and not a toy.  Practice how to get it from the wall and how to put it back so that it is always in alphabetical order. Explicit instruction of how to manage it goes a long way.

How do I avoid it becoming a game?

The biggest attraction with the portable word wall is that students get excited about it because they will get to manipulate it.  They get to stand up out of their seats and who doesn’t love getting a good stretch?  I like to nip this “getting up and pretending I need a word wall book because I want to walk around and get a good stretch” behavior from the beginning (I’m sure this never happens in your class :wink:). Students are expected to highlight or underline any word in their writing that was aided by the word wall.   This way they have “proof” that they used the word wall.  I notice that after the initial 2 weeks, students don’t even need the proof anymore because they learn how to use the word wall appropriately and for their benefit.

How will my students know if the word they need is on the word wall?

Initially, they may not because they don’t know all of the words that will end up on the word wall. At the beginning student may ask me “is this word on the word wall?”, if I know it is, I ask them what letter they think it begins with and then have them attempt to find it themselves. With continued exposure, the students start to remember which words are there and which words are not. As your students interact with them, they will find words that  they wish were on the word wall.  With this EDITABLE resource, you can add those words in and customize for your students’ needs.

Do you start out with all the words or add them as you go?

Either way works. I know many people that do it gradually. I like to put them all out at the beginning because it increases exposure. I don’t want a student to have to wait until a specific unit when I introduce a certain word if they may already need it now. As students are looking for words, they are inevitably being introduced to others. Exposure is always a plus.

What command hooks do you use and where did you find them?

I use the Command Mini Hooks and I purchase them either at Walmart or on Amazon.

What size rings do you use and where did you find them?

I use 1 inch binder rings and I purchase them on Amazon.

What lists are included in the pack?

The lists in the pack are Fry’s first 300 words and Dolch words from grades PreK-3rd grade, (PreK-40 words, K-52 words, 1st grade-39 words, 2nd grade-46 words, 3rd grade-41 words) as well as Dolch Nouns (94 words). The lists are noted and separated so you don’t have to print all of them. You can print only the lists that you want/need.

It says editable, but I want to change the design.

The design of the template is not editable. Due to other projects in the works, at this time, I am not making design custom orders. The template is included in a Powerpoint slide with directions on how to download the font needed. You can type any words you want to add to your list. Teachers’ favorites are student names and items in the classroom.

Do you laminate them?

My students use the word wall books on a daily basis, so yes, I absolutely do laminate them for durability. I laminate them using my personal laminator at home and use the laminating sheets for it. I also purchase those on Amazon.

Are you ready to take the plunge?! START HERE

Do you already use a portable word wall in your classroom?  Tell me all about it in the comments section below.

Happy Teaching,

Want to save this post for later? Easy! Pin the image below.

A portable word wall has helped so much. My students are independent and use it a lot during writing centers. It is great for kindergarten and first grade. The template in this particular one is editable so you can add more words and differentiate for the needs of your students. #portablewordwall #wordwall
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  • Reply
    Second Grade Stories
    July 30, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    I'm sold! This post game at the exact right time for me. I'm moving to first and was really considering finding a different way to use my work wall. I love the reasons you shared and I'm excited to make the switch! Just put your rainbow word cards on my wishlist! – Lisa

  • Reply
    Megan K
    July 31, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I switched to this a few years ago as a space saving technique and haven't looked back! I'm moving to second grade this year and plan to continue to use it there. Thanks for a great post that highlights the pros of this kind of word wall!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I really like this idea, but I’m wondering how the kiddos know what words are on the cards? It seems like my students are always looking to see if the word they need is on my word wall. How do they know the word they need is in a book?

    • Reply
      July 6, 2017 at 2:58 am

      Hi Maria,
      Usually my students can identify which book they will find the word in based on the beginning letter sound. Since sight words don’t necessarily follow phonetic rules, it can be challenging for them to figure out what the card says. The students will usually ask me or a friend for support. Sometimes I am not available to guide them like during centers time, but when checking their work and having conference time with the students, we go over some words and find the correct ones.

  • Reply
    August 23, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    I am a first year teacher and love this idea! I’ve already purchased your yellow stripes edition and am wondering if you have a tutorial for how you figured out your spacing for the command hooks. I’m trying to decide where I’m going to put this in my classroom and am having a hard time figuring out how much space I need. Thanks!!

    • Reply
      August 26, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Jennifer!
      Thank you for your purchase. I do not have a tutorial on that. I would suggest hanging two of the sight word books side by side to test the spacing and then measure. You can do two rows like I have mine or more to be able to use less space across if needed.
      I hope you have an amazing school year. Remember to take it one day at a time and never forget to breathe 😉

  • Reply
    August 28, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Hi there!
    Just wondering where you found the small rings?

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 2:15 am

      Hi Marilyn,
      I got them at Walmart 🙂

      • Reply
        Beverly Kilmer
        September 1, 2017 at 3:13 am

        Could you please specify which Command brand hooks you find work best? [There are so many listed online and it’s hard to discern from the photos which are type you used.] Thanks very much!

        • Reply
          September 3, 2017 at 10:15 pm

          Hi Beverly,
          I use the Command Mini Hooks. I buy the 18 pack 🙂

  • Reply
    jill himmelberger
    April 11, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Do you start out with all the words, or do you add words to each ring as you teach them?

    • Reply
      April 15, 2018 at 2:28 am

      Either way works. I know some people put them all out and others add them as they introduce them. For me, I like to put them all on at the beginning of the year because during writing time, if a student needs a word and I haven’t taught it explicitly yet, they can at least have access to it and the exposure 🙂

  • Reply
    July 29, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Thinking about incorporating this brilliant idea…Do the activities come with the downloaded pack?

    • Reply
      July 30, 2018 at 3:21 am

      Hi Cindy 🙂 I’m glad that you love the idea. It has truly been effective in my classroom. The sight word centers pack is a separate resource not included with the word wall.

  • Reply
    Amy Sommerville
    August 2, 2018 at 1:56 am

    Just purchased on TpT and am excited to use in my resource room. What size book rings do you use?

    • Reply
      August 2, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Amy, thank you for your purchase. I hope your students love it! If you read above in the FAQ, I have linked which rings I use. The information wasn’t there before; I just added it 😉

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