Displays can be the bane of educators’ existences.
Of course, they are necessary to showcase your students’ learning, but creating a visually appealing display is a time-consuming and pain-staking process.
I spent nine years swearing at copy machines and losing my temper as I tried to evenly space apart papers on bulletin boards. I vowed to myself that if I was going to exert a lot of effort into making aesthetic displays, I wanted them to command students’ attention. I believed I could create displays that were engaging, worthwhile, and prompted back-and-forth interaction. Doing so felt novel; as I expanded my classroom to the hallway, I facilitated a connection between students’ liminal socializing and their learning.
Displays don’t have to be static and boring. They can involve three-dimensional artifacts, interactive components, entertaining and thoughtful ideas, questions that make students stop, think, and talk. With a few specific, actionable protocols, it’s easy to make interesting, complex, and interactive exhibits. See below for my top five tips to do so!
Use sticky notes to initiate silent conversations
Create an interrogating and complex question that students will be moved to respond to. Leave sticky notes and markers out for students to pen their responses. Let it be anonymous; that’s always more fun!
Color code the sticky notes by grade so that students can track the responses of their peers. For Women’s History Month in March, print images of female activists throughout time and ask the question “What was this heroine’s contribution to feminism?” Invite students to submit their thoughts.
Later, display the real “answers,” which might involve addressing cultural misunderstandings; students might not know the answers but this can be made into a public teaching moment! Another idea is asking students: who is the most important woman in your life and why?
Use wooden nickels and manila folders to conduct polls
The best item I bought this year was a sack of wooden nickels. Students designed their own wooden nickel by doodling and coloring their names on the nickels. I keep these grouped in small plastic bins divided by grades. Then, I hang images or quotes on manila folders by taping them to the outside of the folder and using thumbtacks to hang the manila folders.
Keeping with the Women’s History Month theme, print text or images to show the most important victories of the feminist movement. Have students vote: what do they think was the most important victory? Invite students to explain: why is this the most important victory? What did this do to improve the living conditions of women's lives? Invite students to predict: what do they anticipate the feminist movement doing next? (They can respond with sticky notes).
Make sure to display the results; create a poster that states OUR SCHOOL SELECTED to show which was most popular.
Use velcro to create interactive games for students to mix and match
For this display, you will need to purchase pieces of felt and velcro. Velcro sticks to felt; felt easily pins to any bulletin board. This allows you to create matching games, where students move around images or words to another part of the board. You can laminate the images or words you are displaying to make them more durable.
Another Women’s History Month idea: print images of feminists and a timeline. Use string to create a line in the middle of the bulletin board; mark 1800s, 1900s, etc. Have students place the feminists in chronological order. Students can switch and shift the order. Another mix and match game is “Who Said What?” Print quotes by feminists and images of those feminists so students can match the quotes to the feminists.
Use string to display printed matter
Most substantial content is longer than a paragraph or blurb. Don’t shy away from displaying book reports, zines, posters, or collages! Students will stop and thumb through lengthier content.
I purchased small, colorful clothespins that I attach to twine to hang student essays. What is a summative assessment in your classroom that students will want to read or show to their peers?
Whether it is a book report, essay, or creative writing piece, it can be hung in the hallway and perused!
I realized that having actual objects out in a display area makes any wall more enticing. Moving from two dimensions to three dimensions gives students an opportunity to touch and engage with tangible items that reflect ideas.
I bring a shelf or basket into the hallway, and tuck objects inside for students to peruse. I found that the most accessible items to include are books; for Women’s History Month, bring out a collection of feminist texts. You can also consider showcasing protest signs, objects from past women’s marches, or printed photos arranged in an album.
It’s important to remember that displays can constantly evolve; take your time! You can slowly add more images, artifacts, and student work to a bulletin board; this actually entices students to stop by and interact more frequently!