Friday, June 23, 2017

What's on the Walls?

A member of my PLN, Cintia Costa, will be starting a new job this fall as an ESL literacy teacher. She asked me for ideas on decorating her classroom. There isn't enough room on this page for me to share all the ways I can think of for doing this. But I'll start a list of ideas with the hope that some of them will spark Cintia's imagination. Others can add more ideas in the comments.

Although this doesn't get you started on day one, I would say that having the students do the decorating is a wonderful way to make them feel at home and to instantly convey the notion that it is their class, their space. Their work is the focus; their work is valued.

Another thing to consider is whether you want stations, or want a classroom that can easily be reconfigured to accommodate learning stations (a table with iPads, a table with art supplies and paper, a table with letters that can be manipulated, a sand tray to help students with learning disabilities and kinaesthetic learners, a table with flashcards). I am a strong believer in self-paced, self-directed learning and think every school week should include at least one or two hours in which students choose their activity and pace--even if you have to narrow the choices down to only two: Puzzle or iPads? Peer reading circle or illustrating and colouring today's terms?

Each unit you teach will produce something that can be displayed on the walls.

Maria Margaritis incorporated students' colouring pages and stickers in a quiet alcove.

Students love to see their own work displayed on the wall. Everyone benefits from seeing what the other teams came up with. Our walls are a constantly changing gallery of learners' work.

When you succeed in creating a sense of community in your class, the learners will feel empowered to take over many tasks, such as throwing birthday parties for each other.
An alphabet line is invaluable. The many ways we use ours would take up an entire blog post. Try to find one whose illustrations are items that will be familiar and relevant to the learners (x-ray, not xylophone) and not babyish. You might even want learners to cut out their own pictures from magazines to create a custom alphabet line to laminate.

In one corner of my whiteboard, just under the day's date, I write any announcements, such as "Friday: no school." Students learn over time to keep an eye on that part of the board in order not to forget important events and information.

Students in my class also quickly learn that retrieving prior days' worksheets after an absence is their responsibility, not mine. I find that students of both my classes TRULY appreciate this system.

You may want to keep an easel chart at the front of the class for a list of words that you will revisit throughout that week's module.

Students remember the lexis when they have illustrated the new terms. These posters stay on our classroom walls for a week or two and then move to the computer lab for the rest of the school to see.

Some teachers post frequently needed phrases and gambits on a bulletin board, along the wall near the ceiling, or keep them at the ready for certain activities.
Some literacy instructors use word walls. For a while I had one poster for every vowel sound we learned to decode in CVC and vowel team patterns, but I found that over a period of a year or more, this system did not render much bang for our buck.
One thing I can think of that is really important to have on the wall is an exemplar of what the expectation is for a particular task. I put up a copy of the rubric or checklist we'll be using to measure success on a task as well as what success looks like. For example, this is uniform printing. This is not. These sentences each have a capital and period. These do not. And so on. (I seem to have lost the photo of my printing exemplar poster. Sorry!)

Oftentimes our walls are a reflection of what our classroom has become that week. Is it a doctor's office with magazines on a table in the waiting room? A family's dining room during Thanksgiving? A grocery store with aisle signs? A bus stop with schedule posted for weekdays and holidays?

One of the first activities Maria Margaritis did with her Foundations learners was on names of the colours. Their pastel creations soon covered one wall and instantly transformed a sterile little room into a safe and welcoming space.

From musical instruments to construction paper, from live plants to cooking utensils to cameras, the sky is the limit on what your learning space can contain. Cintia, I cannot wait to see what you do with your classroom as you and the learners form relationships and organically co-create the learning space and experience.


  1. Dear Kelly, I have no words to thank you for these wonderful ideas! I can't wait to try all of them very soon. I am very thankful for your generosity. I will keep up posted. :)

  2. I can't wait to start getting and using ideas from you!

  3. I was able to use stations with my PM 1-2 class (26 students) on assessment days and am looking forward to starting more classes this way in the fall. Thanks for all of the ideas you've shared this year and for your thoughtful PBLA candor!

  4. Elizabeth,
    Thank you for chiming in. I may also consider using stations more often this fall. --K


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