Quick Tip Tuesday: Making wall charts work

November 24th, 2009

The walls in Jeff Anderson’s classroom are covered in wall charts – organic, growing, changing charts that address what kids need to know to survive in the world of writing. In this week’s Quick Tip from Jeff’s book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style Into Writer’s Workshop, Jeff gives some practical pointers for making these wall charts work in all classrooms.

What makes a wall chart work? Content? Size? Placement? All these things and more. Over the years, I have experimented with many variables and have found what works best. To ensure an optimal experience with wall charts, I have honed a few guidelines:

Write big. Write in letters large enough to be read easily from anywhere in the classroom.
Include examples. Examples from literature and student writing put rules in a meaningful context and serve as models.
Use color. Highlight crucial information or draw attention to a particular place with bright colors or highlighters.
Use light backgrounds. As a general rule, use butcher paper or posters with light backgrounds. This creates enough contrast so that the words can be read.
Place carefully. It all depends on your room, but place similar rules together. I always have a comma corner and a consistent place for my editor’s checklist. If I am going to need to write on this poster, I consider: Can I reach it? Can they see it? Can I write on it?
Have students use sentence strips. Even though their motor skills have grown, I have found that kids do better when I hand them a sentence strip to use for adding materials to wall charts with more text. Students can stabilize the strip and write on a flat surface, using the unlined side. If they need more space, they can tape two sentence strips together.

Middle school students have trouble writing on the wall, and the sentence strip has the added benefit of containing students’ writing in a specified space. Using a sentence strip also allows more than one kid to write a contribution for a chart at the same time. Plus, it is easier to correct a sentence strip than a mistake on a huge chart.

If you can’t write in a way that others can read, find a student or colleague who can. You can always type up the rules and put them through a poster maker at Kinko’s or some other printing service. It’s a tax write-off! The following lists contain a few general teacher guidelines and student rules for using wall charts.

Working the Walls

1. At first you will need to remind students of the wall-chart rules.
2. You must move your body to the spot where the wall chart hangs.
3. Students should watch you write on the wall chart.
4. If you marked a chart in a previous class, it is important that you point to it and explain how you added to it today.
5. It’s best to have a specific reason to introduce or to add to a wall chart.
6. Students should add to wall charts to keep them growing.
7. Revisit the rules often. When you see an example in readings or in student writing, highlight it. Encourage students to do the same.
8. Over the year, use those odd moments at the end of class or while waiting for the assembly to start to review posted items in the classroom.

Student Rules for Wall Charts and Posters

• Use wall charts and posters while you write.
• Know that if it’s on the wall, it’s important.
• Know it’s not cheating to look at the wall charts; that’s why they’re there.
• Attempt to make the walls a part of your mind.

Wall charts and posters should go up not all at once, but one at a time over the first months of school and anytime you find a new need. These posters and wall charts should be revisited often while reading, while correcting sentences, while drafting, while editing. I continually highlight them by pointing at them, tapping on them, having students chorally read them, asking what effect the writer’s choices have. My job is to make using these mechanics like breathing for students: Exposure is the key.

My classroom walls are a gigantic scaffold, a place to hang and categorize new knowledge, to see connections, to form patterns. From Sentence Patterns to Capitalization Rules to a high-frequency word wall, my wall charts and posters help ensure that students have the scaffolding they need to become adept users of the English language. This multidimensional, visual strategy, anchored in brain-based learning, has revolutionized my grammar and mechanics teaching. Grounding students in visual print, marinating them in the context of examples, and highlighting what is important in the multitude of grammar and mechanics rules—these strategies have revolutionized my students’ learning as well.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Annie Campbell  |  November 28th, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Great ideas here and inspiration for many more! I especially appreciate the tip on using sentence strip to incorporate the students’ ideas in their own writing. I will now chart punctuation work with “mentor sentences” that we glean from our favorite author/mentors in my third grade classroom. Thanks!

  • 2. Mrs. V  |  November 28th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I always love skimming back over books to refine ideas that are inspired by other teachers. This summer I read Jeff Anderson’s two books and loved them! I have been trying out his ideas this year. I have a good start but I continually revisit and reflect to see what else I need to do in order to get it to be more effective and closer to what I imagined when I was first reading the books.

    It was great to have this quick tip to review and think about what I am already doing and what I forgot to do with wall charts while trying to get the ideas in place.

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