January looms in the distance, across the frothy madness of holiday parties and our long-awaited vacation from school. At the moment, most of my strained mental capacities are tackling tomorrow’s candy cane math lesson and how to turn Elf on a Shelf into a grammar lesson about prepositions. But in my fleeting rational moments, I recognize that with the new year, I’m going to need to kick things into high gear in my classroom. The new year is the time to reestablish routines, refresh procedures, and generally raise the bar for the second “half” of the year.
In many ways, I find the return to school in January mirrors the first weeks of the school year. As at the beginning of the year, it’s worth slowing down and taking the time to carefully model expectations, practice rusty routines, and assess what’s working, what can be fixed, and what needs to be changed. I let my students know that this is now third grade without the training wheels — time to step it up!
In the spirit of rethinking and rehabbing routines and learning expectations, here’s a “tour” of some of the procedural, organizational, and strategy anchor charts hanging up in my colleagues’ and my classrooms. Most of these were created with student input — some were tidied up after a mini-lesson or created in advance to support a lesson. For my of my philosophical musings about anchor charts, check out my blog post "Anchor Charts: Academic Supports or Print-Rich Wallpaper?"
Create the charts with the students’ ideas. Try to capture their own words as closely as possible. Add the students’ names after their ideas to “credit” them as the source. My students love this and are much more likely to participate when their names get added to the chart!
Include visuals to more literally anchor the ideas on the chart with the students’ lived experiences. Try the printouts of the covers of books you read as a class or photos from field trips, science experiments, or other class experiences.
Use sticky-notes and sentence strips to add students’ ideas and input.
What if most of your teaching involves the interactive whiteboard, document camera, and PowerPoint, not chart paper and markers? I know of teachers who create digital archives online (class website; Google Drive,) with the digital documentation for the students to refer back to. Other teachers print out key slides and hang these on the walls. I’ve noticed that my students really do refer to our anchor charts, so if I’m teaching an important lesson with digital tools, I’ll still create a chart afterwards to document the learning.
Remember, while the curated charts posted on blogs and Pinterest tend to be oh-so-pretty, the usefulness of a chart far outweighs its aesthetics. A sloppy chart with the students’ ideas trumps a pretty font or fancy border hands-down!
Charts created "live" with the kids don't always have perfectly straight lines or beautiful handwriting.
Anchor charts have an expiration date. Not only are charts from several months ago possibly tattered and fading, chances are my students don’t need to refer to those charts any more. We’ve moved on, the ideas in the charts have been internalized, and it’s time to refresh my walls.
Middle-school blogger extraordinaire, Ronda Stewart explains the purpose and various types of anchor charts in her blog post "Anchor Charts as an Effective Teacher/Student Tool."
What’s your anchor chart philosophy? Do you have plans to revamp things in your classroom for the New Year? Share your thoughts and plans in the comments section – I’d love to hear from you!
One year ago: "Digital Moviemaking Projects for Geography Globetrotting"
Two years ago: "Holiday Celebrations With a Bookish Twist!"
Three years ago: "Eight Tips for Eight Nights – Fun Activities For Teaching Hanukkah"
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