Quick Tip Tuesday: Create a snazzy bulletin board

March 10th, 2009

Rick Wormeli’s book, Day One and Beyond, is a sort of survival guide for middle-level teachers. He tackles all the nitty-gritty practical issues that all teachers face: how set up a grade book, what to do if there is only one computer in a classroom, and how to get students’ attention. In this week’s Quick Tip, Rick offers some advice on creating bulletin boards that not only decorate the classroom, but also engage students.

The Disney Company has two requirements for all rides at its amusement parks: they must be a good show and tell a good story. People will come if you have both. It’s the same for our classroom walls. The “good show” part refers to the attractiveness of the bulletin board. Is our bulletin board enticing? Do folks want to be near it? Does the bulletin board draw their eyes? Does it create uriosity? Those of you blessed with a gene for graphic art design will find this sort of thing easy to achieve. The rest of us mild-mannered, Clark-Kent, stick-figure artists have to work at it.

A few suggestions: Have more than one color as your background. I often run out of fadeless or mural paper and have left only scraps. Arranging these in a patchwork mosaic, cutting edges so there are soft curves or harsh, jagged edges, makes for a great background. So does a whole background of wrapping paper—as long as it’s not too “busy.” Consider going 3-D with your bulletin boards—have objects, labels, or important concepts jut out from the bulletin board. Velcro works well for this. You can also hang items from the ceiling just in front of the board, or build mini shelves into the bulletin board to hold display items. Attach small tape or CD players to bulletin boards to offer an auditory component to the visual experience. I’ve used recordings of famous speeches, sections of text, poetry, radio dramas, definitions, debates, music, stories, and “What to Notice” scripts over the years.

The “good story” aspect is expressed in many different ways. This is your bulletin board’s content. One of the most compelling elements for young adolescents is seeing their own names, their classmates’ names, or their own culture on the bulletin board. If possible, create interest by using the students’ names, their work, and/or their community in whatever’s being presented—you’ll get crowds. For example, when presenting grammatical concepts, use sample sentences about students or the local sports team. When presenting the proper diet and exercise program for good health, display the typical daily menu of one of your students (with permission, of course) along with his or her picture and magazine cutouts of sample foods from the menu. When presenting math concepts, incorporate elements from a currently hot movie: “Check Out the Endeavour’s Trajectory and Rate of Descent in Ben Affleck’s Armageddon III.” When presenting something about the Great Depression, grab students’ attention with phrases from television commercials or cultural icons: “Wuzzup?! I’ll tell you wuzzup: Fear and Financial Ruin!” or “Scrounging for ketchup and handouts at McDonald’s?”

The best bulletin boards cause observers to think about the topics presented: “How did Pythagoras get his hypotenuse?” “What would happen if you traveled back in time and caused the death of your grandfather before he ever met your grandmother?” “Is that any way to treat a maggot?” “Do warriors cry?” (This was a topic question for our study of the novel Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals.) According to Socrates, we have to create a sense of wonder before any thinking occurs. We can create wonder and offer substance with bulletin boards.

Beth Huddleston offers advice for new middle school teachers: Instructional bulletin boards should emphasize only one to three points. Color, simplicity, and something that connects to the world
of the middle schooler are also important for getting their attention. I have used pictures of students in our classroom or a three dimensional of Harry Potter on a broom. I find that students love to create the bulletin boards themselves. They also like to see their work displayed. Two rules for myself: (1) When students are creating a board, let them present a plan first and offer guidance in a positive way; (2) Always receive permission from a student to display her or his work or picture. Self-concept is a major point with this age.

As much fun and substance as these bulletin boards might offer, it’s important to take them down and replace them with fresh ones periodically. Bulletin boards that are up for more than a month lose their impact—they blend into the general clutter of a room and no one references them.

Their staleness permeates the room, too, making everything a bit less compelling, even your dynamic instruction. Don’t waste something so powerful; keep those boards changing. If you’re too busy to design and change them, ask your students to take responsibility for them. What they do to
create an interesting and accurate bulletin board on a given topic will teach them more about that topic than a lot of other activities would. An added benefit—they have ownership. They’ll give the bulletin board more attention while it’s on display.

One last idea: Bulletin boards don’t have to be on your classroom walls. How about on your ceiling? I’m serious—we’re talking total immersion into our subjects. When students get bored, lean back, and look away from you and to the ceiling, they’ll find themselves surrounded by the concepts.
How about having them taped out on the classroom floor? How about bulletin boards in hallways, in the library, and in the cafeteria? We’re limited only by our imaginations.

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice,Quick Tip Tuesday

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