I had it all planned out.
Every month a new theme, and with every new theme a new bulletin board. Not only would my students be fluent in English in no time, but our classroom would be a happy, welcoming place that always had some new visual to offer and inspire. Then reality hit me.
I was always busy: planning lessons, grading papers, helping students. I had teacher development classes to attend, conferences with parents, and all your typical teacher responsibilities that take up more time than you expect. What happened to my grand bulletin board plan? Whether it failed me or I failed it, I cannot say. What I can say is that my plan for a new board every month did not fit into the reality of my teaching life.
If I had the chance to do it again, I could make a much better bulletin board strategy for the year. It might sound silly, but I still think how a classroom looks is important. But I’ve learned a lot more about how to make bulletin boards work with me and how to not let them work against me. Here are some of the things I learned.
4 Tricks to Using Your Bulletin Boards for Good
Your Bulletin Board Can Be Your Best T.A.
Believe it or not, your bulletin board can actually play a part in teaching your students. You already know labeling the items in your classroom is good for vocabulary development and spelling practice, but you can take it a step further with a vocabulary wall.
Designate a blank bulletin board as your vocabulary wall at the start of the year. Encourage students to make note of any words they encounter as they read, watch TV and movies, or interact or overhear in public spaces.
Near your bulletin board, have a stack of notecards and a black marker handy so students can write their found words each on a different card. On the back of the card, they can write the definition. Then they can post their word on to the word wall, word side out.
As students look around during downtimes in class, they will see the words on the wall and begin to learn them and their spellings. They might also look up their definitions in a dictionary. This way they will be learning the words passively, and it won’t take any extra work on your part.
You can also encourage active learning of the words by adding them to your vocabulary lessons or requiring students to use words from the word wall when they write. Your student will actually be helping one another learn.
Your Bulletin Boards Can Engage Students through Voting
Do you ever have your students vote on each other’s projects? I love doing that, usually for things like dream vacations, dream house designs, and things along those lines. I’ve been known to have students plan a Thanksgiving dinner and have the rest of the class vote on whose dinner they want to attend. I can have students vote by a show of hands or by ballots, but having them vote on the bulletin board, especially for projects they need to see before they can vote on, seems most efficient to me.
What I do is display all the projects on the board – brochures, pictures, paragraphs, whatever. Then I give students some time to peruse what is on the board before casting their vote. To keep things simple, I ask each student to use a pushpin to represent their vote and to put it beneath the one they are voting for.
It’s easy to tally up the votes by simply looking to see which item has the most pushpins beneath it.
Your Bulletin Board Can Grow or Modify as the Year Goes On
Some bulletin boards can provide a foundation that you need make little changes to as the year goes on. A great template for this is a tree. Change the leaves to snow to blossoms to green leaves to match the growth happening outside your window.
A birthday bulletin board is another good way to keep changes to a minimum as the year progresses. Put up markers for students (pictures, names, birthday hats…) in chronological order and remove them one at a time as each special day comes and goes. If you do, your student will also be learning the months of the year in English.
You might also have a set up for students to display their own work and change it as the year progresses. Assign a clipboard to each student and display the clipboards on your bulletin board, allowing student to change what is on their clipboard whenever they want. If you want to keep things even simpler, attach a clothes pin to the board for each student and have them clip their items for display (though you may need to have a stool handy so students can reach their clothespins). Students can show off what they are most proud of, and you’ll get a read of what activities they have enjoyed most in class.
You can even do something as simple as divide your bulletin board up into nine spaces for the nine months of the school year. As each month comes, put a large picture representing its theme in its spot on the bulletin board and you’ll have a build in review at the end of the year.
Your Bulletin Board Can Give Your Students Ownership
Who doesn’t love to give their opinion on something? When you allow your students to express their opinions and share those opinions with their classmates, they take ownership, and when you post those opinions for everyone in class to see, they are taking ownership of your classroom.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to set up a Goodreads wall. If you have an account on Goodreads, you know the app gives you a chance to rate and review books as well as read about books you might want to add to your to read list.
While I can’t provide all the perks Goodreads does, I can use a big, blank piece of cork to encourage students to read and to give them a place to share some of their personal experiences with books.
If I am doing a unit on a particular subject, say travel, I might borrow several books from the library related to topic. I then make a color photocopy of each book cover and post it on my Goodreads bulletin board. Students have the freedom to choose which books they read and in what order. I may or may not give them a goal for the total number of books I want them to read.
When a student finishes a book, I ask them to give it a very short review – small enough to fit on a sticky note or an index card. They provide a rating up to five stars and a short blurb of why they did or didn’t like the book and if they would recommend it to a classmate. Two sentences is enough. Students sign their name at the bottom of their review and then post their review near the photocopy of the book on the bulletin board.
When other students are considering which book to read, I encourage them to read the reviews of their classmates to help them decide which book is right for them.
When I change the unit, I change all or some of the books on display and students continue to add their thoughts and opinions to the board.
These are just a few ideas of how you can make your bulletin board a classroom asset rather than a classroom chore.
By encouraging your students to express themselves and share what they are learning, you can really make a classroom set up that works for you and your students without putting too much extra work on yourself.
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