Wonder wall boards are built at the beginning of a unit and are kept alive throughout student learning. These are living examples of student learning throughout the unit.
This is the beginning of your inquiry journey with your students. It is the provocation that begins your unit of study.
Wonder Walls start with a blank board and some prompts. These prompts are designed to get students thinking about a topic. The purpose is to have them:
Activate their prior knowledge
Look for connections between ideas
Present students with a mixture of artifacts, images, and words related to the topic you are studying.
Have students look, notice and wonder about what they are looking at, how they are connected and what they mean. Students can record their wonderings and ask questions. These questions will then form the basis of the learning in the unit and will guide your journey and help you develop and form a learning path going forward.
Type of Display Board
This is an example of the board that I use for my wonder wall. It is a trifold board. One side is for my fourth graders, and the other side is for my fifth graders.
Grab these tri-fold boards from amazon. *Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself, and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Sometimes I use these trifold boards, and other times I just use my bulletin boards, but this is great if you lack wall space, and it also works to move around the classroom for students to use when you are working with them.
I use artifacts to help provoke conversations and interest in a topic at the beginning of a unit. Artifacts can be many things
Most of the time I use pictures that I print out in colour. Especially if I don’t have access to real-life objects.
If I have easily accessible artifacts like my rock collection or some small appliances from home I might use those as well.
The Role of Questions
Using a wonder wall at the beginning of an inquiry unit means that you provoke students to think about a topic. Providing them with artifacts gets them thinking.
Now, having them ask questions is the next step. If you struggle with getting your students to ask the right questions, check out my post on Asking Questions.
Students will take sticky notes and ask questions about what they see. Use these doodle notes in my free resource library to help your students keep track of what they are thinking.
As students share their background knowledge and their questions, the board is built. These questions are the driving force behind your learning.
Group their questions into themes, use them to develop learning goals and success criteria, and to find gaps in their knowledge that may require a teacher-directed lesson to fill.
Put student questions besides the artifact or picture on the wonder wall, and throughout the learning strive to answer these questions and keep track of unanswered questions.
It is through student questions that learning is constructed.
Another thing I learned while implementing my wonder wall is that when students ask questions, I really, really want to answer them! I want to share my knowledge, have them soak it all in, and teach them something. I am a teacher!! this is what I do!! I know stuff and teach about it!! STOP STOP STOP. I had to get myself to stop!
This was not what the inquiry was about. I am a teacher, but I am not as powerful or knowledgeable as Google. I mentally needed to stop myself and concentrate on not answering their questions but to ask them to add their questions to the Wonder Wall and allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.
I knew that I would lead them through my lessons to these answers but I needed to stop just giving them the information. They would now have to start working for this information because I was not going to give them an easy way out.
Sure, later on in the unit, we would have a discussion on certain topics and I would explain different concepts to them. But we did this together. I was not teaching them I was facilitating their learning.
Giving them the tools to let them find the answers to their questions on their own.
And you know what…a funny thing happened.
They started learning faster than I had expected.
My students took those questions home and found out the answers to them. They would read books during the independent time and find the answers to our questions. They were discussing these things with their parents at home.
It was amazing to see how excited they were about learning these concepts, which also allowed our discussion at school to become more vibrant and engaging.
Sure there were times when a teacher-directed lesson was necessary, especially in the technical aspects of the units. But overall, seeing them apply their learning in new and interesting ways was great.
If you would like to see how I made my Wonder Wall for these units, check out my video below
I now include wonder wall cards in most of my units to help teachers get started with artifacts for students and teachers to use as a provocation to get started with the units that they are teaching. If you are interested in the cards that were used for the wonder wall on the video, you can get them in the two units below.