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Building Active Anchor Charts to Support Teaching and Learning (One Thing You Might Try...)

Posted by admin on Mar 18, 2021 12:30:08 PM

In this week's One Thing You Might Try . . . post, K–8 literacy specialist, Gwen Blumberg, shares ideas for building anchor charts as visual scaffolds that can be easily implemented regardless of instructional setting.


In the spring of 2020, I recorded my first asynchronous teaching video. My trusty document camera along with most of my other teaching materials were at school due to our sudden closure, so in true necessity is the mother of invention style, I discovered how to turn my phone into a doc camera by mounting it to a tower of canned goods. I created a way to record a faux “split-screen” with myself on one side, and my document camera image on the other. After prepping a simple anchor chart crafted with a black marker on sticky notes with the points I wanted to make in my lesson, I was ready to go.

This first lesson focused on choices kids could make about what to write in their pandemic journal to record this unique moment in time, something we were asking all of our students to do. As I talked students through each point and gave examples from my own life, I added my sticky notes to a blank notebook page to anchor my words. The video and anchor chart were uploaded to our learning management systems (Google Classroom and SeeSaw) and many families shared that they printed the chart out and physically posted it in the small learning spaces they carved out in corners of their homes for their children.

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I went on to craft a series of minilessons about pandemic journaling that followed the same format—my image on one side to provide the human connection we were all craving, and an anchor chart I built as I spoke on the other. These sticky note anchor charts became powerful ways to support kids in our asynchronous environment.

For the Love of Lists!

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Gratitude Journals

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Flipping Our Perspective

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Teachers and families shared that their kids were writing! The anchor charts were supporting students days and even weeks after the lesson had been viewed, which was critical as each lesson was not intended to be a mandated prompt for the day, but rather the planting of an idea that each individual child could choose to grow when the time felt right for them as a unique writer.

Visuals are not at all new to teaching. However, the particular power of these anchor charts was the act of building them during the lessons. Students saw when and where the sticky note was positioned on the page and heard what was said before and after its placement. This made the charts feel more “alive” than a ready-to-go handout. Because students were present during this shared act of building, they were more likely to draw on our anchor charts again at a later date.

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Rethinking and Retooling What Works

In the fall of 2020, our revised teaching and learning model provided so many more synchronous opportunities than in the spring. The majority of our students were physically in school in small socially distant cohorts, while a portion of our population chose to remain fully remote. As good as it felt to be back in school, some of the daily pre-pandemic practices we had most relied on such as conferring with children around a shared or independent text were surprisingly challenging due to physical distancing barriers. We began to use more digital tools to increase 1-1 interaction with our students. However, while these tools afforded opportunities to share and connect in safe ways, they were creating a different kind of inauthentic barrier to more natural interactions.

Making a one-sided recording of your thinking is a very different experience than talking to a peer or teacher who can give you verbal or physical feedback that encourages you to elaborate your ideas. Therefore, many of our asynchronous reading checks were falling fantastically flat. To remedy this, I went back to the idea of co-constructed anchor charts that had worked so well in the spring. Rather than giving students a premade checklist or simply telling them what they needed to do . . . or weren’t doing well, I thought about what we hoped children would do based upon what had been previously taught. I illustrated this in the simplest of ways and made a quick video to support the construction of the anchor chart.

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My words likely left everyone’s short-term memory as quickly as they entered, but the visual anchor chart left a tangible representation that could be close at hand even when a teacher, due to distancing restrictions, could not.

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Crafting Active Anchor Charts

Since then, I’ve continued to make and share anchor charts and the reactions have been positive. However they are typically followed with phrases like, “How do you decide what to include?” or “I wish I could do that; I can’t draw.” If that’s what you’re thinking, try pushing beyond that mindset and embracing the following framework as you work to create your own anchor charts grounded in what your learning community needs:

  • Think about what you most want to convey to students
  • Say it in as few steps as possible, and in as few words as possible
  • Place each of these steps/words on a sticky note
  • When you can, link those words to an image
    ○ Embrace stick figures
    ○ Use emojis from your phone as small simple drawings you can emulate when you don’t know how to represent something or search Google images using the phrase “(what you want to draw) simple line drawing” to give you a model to work from
  • If you feel you have limited drawing skills, use clear lettering
  • Whenever possible, include language that will scaffold student’s asynchronous talk (i.e., “At first I thought . . .” or “The author wanted me to learn . . .”)
  • If you like, add simple borders around your sticky notes to make them feel more polished and complete
  • Build your anchor chart during live or asynchronous lessons and provide students with a copy of the finished product

Lastly, ask yourself if what you are trying to convey through your chart is specific to a single lesson, or if it has potential not just for this one day, but for today and every day. If your focus feels too narrow, what might you change? How could you make this concept more transferable to a range of learning experiences? Beyond the initial sharing and electronic or physical posting, to make your charts really come alive you might try:

  • Inviting students to use the chart to help them with goal setting by circling or adding a star to the step or ideas on which they most want to focus (Uploading to Jamoard or SeeSaw will allow students to annotate directly on the chart)
  • Encouraging students to teach someone else about the chart as a way to deepen their own learning
  • Model using charts you’ve created in the past during small groups and conferring
  • Encourage learners to think about which charts/tools from past lessons would transfer from one situation to another

When you lean into the idea of anchor charts being active, the possibilities for how to use them expands. Teaching for the present and future while including our students as active participants in this process, sets them up for success far beyond this single moment in time.

About the author

Gwen BlumbergGwen Blumberg is K–8 literacy leader in Greater Boston. She’s an avid reader who loves to share books with kids and listen to the stories they write and tell. She believes book and topic choice are essential ingredients for students to develop authentic reading and writing lives. You can find Gwen on Twitter & Instagram @gwenblumberg.




Topics: Literacy, Reading, Writing, One Thing You Might Try