September 8, 2014

25 Bulletin Boards You Can Keep Up All Year

Advice from Real Teachers Series

Even if you love creating bulletin boards, chances are good that you don't have time to dream up a new bulletin board every month for all of the boards in your room. Wouldn't it be great to have at least one board that you could keep up all year and not have to replace?

Today's Question
April, a fan of the Teaching Resources Facebook page, asked, "What is a good bulletin board to keep up all year?" Over 150 teachers responded to her question with some terrific ideas. I compiled the answers and removed duplicate responses, but I could not narrow the list down to any less than 25! Luckily you'll only need one or two of these ideas if you plan to keep the board up all year.

Bulletin Board Photos Needed!  
The ideas below are terrific, but in this case a picture really is worth a 1000 words! I would love to see some of these ideas in action, and I know my blog followers would, too. If you create a bulletin board from one of these ideas, please take a picture of it. Email it to me at If I'm able to use your photo in this post, I'll send you $15 worth of teaching materials from my store - your choice! In order for me to use it, it will need to be clear, sharp, and taken in good lighting, so turn up the lights and keep your hand steady!

25 Bulletin Boards You Can Keep Up All Year
Here are my picks for the top 25 bulletin board ideas in no particular order. If you would like to read all of the ideas, you'll find that question here on the Teaching Resources Facebook page.
  1. Debbie Powell - I did a Classroom Timeline last year that the kids and I loved. The timeline is put up at the beginning of the year with the months of the year spaced along it. Each month I put up pictures of students having birthdays and other pictures of classroom activities.
  2. Diane Fulp - I just bought some window valances and curtain rods.  I am going to make one of my largest boards a "window".  I'll use sheet protectors for the windowpanes to display student work all year.  I'll cut strips of a darker paper to use as lines to divide the windowpanes.
  3. Elizabeth Odrap - I have a giant world map on one of my boards (Under $10.00 on Amazon) Students place a pin on it to mark the setting/ location of the current book their reading. Two years using the same map, and it still looks great!  It was an excellent opportunity to interject geography into every day! 
  4. Paula Gentry - My 5th graders created an interactive social media board where the kids posted notes to each other and they used the board to ask questions to the teacher. I also used it to post missed assignments when a student was absent.
  5. Stephanie Bradshaw - I have a giving tree and at the end of each day I have the kids post something positive about themselves. As the year moves along, I have them pull a name of a fellow classmate and say something positive about them. They hang all the responses on the tree. 
  6. Paula Colvett - I have a board where I put a new random question each week. Students put their answers on a sticky note sometime during the week and stick it on the board. They enjoy looking at all the answers, some funny, some serious.
  7. Mischa Yandell - I put up black paper black and white filmstrip border. Red glitter letters saying "NOW SHOWING" and foam stars on clothespins. I hang their work on them each week.
  8. Zena Lewis - Google Board: This could be a white board or a bulletin board. When students have a question that needs be researched later this is your spot. The lesson can continue but it is not forgotten.
  9. Jan Bryant - I give everyone a piece of paper that has a puzzle piece for them to cut out and decorate. Their assignment is to decorate it in any way that would represent them. Then I put them all together on a bulletin board titled "You Fit Right In."
  10. Jenn Davidson - I have always kept our "Writing Wall" up all year. I put a writing sample up for each student each month. The latest is always on top so I can see the progress by lifting the pages. I do one on the first day of school and one every month detailing the student's personal favourite thing they did during the month. The last is done during the final week of school. I bind it nicely and attach a letter to each family telling then the significance of the writing. I do not edit this writing so that it is a true reflection of the students work and progress (both written and artistically). Each year I am brought to tears in June as I take it down when I realize how I have been a small part of a huge journey in the Grade 1 year.
  11. Allie Serna - I love the idea of this Facebook bulletin board... It's fun and up with the technical age :-) and it can be used for famous people in history, characters in a book, student of the week, and many more. 
  12. Mary Tudor - A birthday chart is a great year long bulletin board. When a student has a birthday have the other students write a positive comment and put it on the board.
  13. Tina Thorp - On my large bulletin board outside my classroom in the hall, I have a large world map and heading with "Where in the World is Flat Stanley?"  I use this as my first book club book to introduce the rules and expectation of the book club.  I also use this as a social studies tool for geography, map reading, and cultures. I pose 3 questions for each location while my class and the entire school try to locate Flat Stanley.  After the clues, I write the location and connect red yarn from the location to point on map.  I also include a picture and 3 important cultural facts from that city/country.  All the grades love this!
  14. Dan Watt - For the past four years (with this past year being the best year ever) I've created the "We Have Character" board where we share photos of people/pets/ items very important to each of us.  We talk about it and share it with the class.  As the year progressed, we posted pictures of family members who passed away, so the board evolved into a tribute board.  Very touching, and even more difficult to take down for the year.
  15. Bobbi Jo - A couple years ago I made the Twitter bird and said, "A Class to Tweet About." Then I laminated conversation bubbles and the kids could tweet questions, comments, and compliments on their conversation bubbles w dry erase markers. The kids loved it.
  16. Kelly Shuffield - I have a brag board. Each student has a piece if construction paper with their name at the bottom mounted on the board. Two paper clips are at the top of the paper. Students choose which graded assignments (90+) they want to post.
  17. Vikki Grimley - I did a 'Celebrating Success' wall where students were able to display extracurricular achievements or just something they were particularly proud of. It was a mixture of photos, art work, certificates etc. all with captions from the kids.  It worked extremely well, particularly with the less academic children.
  18. Kelly Witte - I do one that says, "I am proud..." And then the students can write on a star and put it up that says what they are proud of. It can be from home or at school.
  19. Stephanie Borden - Instagram board. Take pictures all year long and post.
  20. Mike Allan - I do an "inspirational quotes" bulletin board for middle schoolers!
  21. Darby Gerke - Academic language word wall along with high frequency words
  22. Heather Smith - I have jungle theme so I do "Spotting Great Work" (little safari guy/binoculars) on leopard print fabric. Just change the work out. Works all year!
  23. Nicole MacDonald - "Look Who's Hard at Work" with a construction scene and workers. Or "A Handful of Learners" - trace hands, write 5 qualities(one on each finger). You could even send that home to the parents as homework, then put their picture in the middle
  24. Stefanie Geoghegan - I'm going to build a tree outside my classroom and hang up leaves for each book the kids have read. All year I'll be adding leaves, but won't have to cover up anything for testing and I'll never have to take it down.
  25. Joan Armstrong - I put up monthly calendars and we put examples of work, notes, birthdays, newsletter articles. Year at a glance, we can see where we've been and where we are going.
Question Connection - Advice from Real Teachers
Do you have an idea for a year-round bulletin board that you would like to share? Please post it in a comment below. If you would like to submit a teacher question of your own, be sure to watch for the Question Connection announcement on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 pm ET on the Teaching Resources Facebook page. Even if you don't have a question, please follow me on Facebook and offer your advice when you see the questions come through!

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

September 6, 2014

4 Square Planning: The Key to Organized Writing

Guest post by Catherine Reed, the Brown Bag Teacher

As a fifth-grade ELA teacher, I spent many hours writing together with my students. We worked on developing ideas, learning writing conventions, giving opinions, and most importantly, organizing our thoughts.

My students were expected to learn three differentiated classes of writing, and my lowest writers really struggled with the execution of ideas.

My students knew what they wanted to say but struggled to write it in a logical, organized manner that allowed others to understand. Throughout our first 9 weeks together, I tried planner after planner including a pyramid planner, a traditional main idea planner, genre-specific planners, etc., and found that these planners did not work for my students.

I was blessed to visit a neighboring school which has shown tremendous growth in their on-demand writing scores and I asked questions. My first question - How do you teach students to plan? The answer - Schoolwide (K-5) we use a 4-Square Planner. So, back to 5th grade I went and introduced the 4-square planner, this time, very successfully.

While my gut feeling was to provide my students with a printed planner that they would 'fill in', I fought it. My 5th graders (even my lowest writers) needed ownership in the process and were very capable of creating the planner themselves. Additionally, on state testing, my students definitely wouldn't be given a pre-printed planner; we needed to practice like we play. The format went like these - a horizontal and vertical line down the middle, a small box in the center of the paper. Below is a typed version of the planner. If you would like like it for your reference, you may grab it below from DropBox.

Below is an example of a template planner for Opinion Writing. The great part of the 4-square planner is that it's not mode-specific. We used this planner for opinion writing, narrative writing, and inform/explain writing. We could meet and teach all components of the Common Core Writing Standards through this one planner.

Some students choose to write a very detailed plan, methodically recording their ideas on the planner and then, on their formal writing piece. While others include a main idea for each paragraph (required by me) and then, a main word/idea for each supporting detail. When students wrote an entire piece, I wanted to see the following things on their planner: a full thesis, 3 main ideas, and at least 2 supporting details/words in each box/paragraph.

Using the 4-square planner, I found many students preferred to fill in the 4th box (the conclusion) only after they had written the bulk of their piece. once their piece has substance, they would then return to the planner to play around with their ideas and anchor their ideas.

Ultimately, we give a planner format to help guide their work and organize their thoughts, but as they grow as writers, students must learn what works best for them (How do I best organize my thoughts? How thoroughly do I need to plan? How long does it take for me to plan vs. write?). After much practice and modeling, students then have ownership over their writing process and know what parts of the planner work for them. It's at this point that we as teachers have to give up control and trust our students.

Catherine Reed is a former-fifth grade ELA teacher in central Kentucky and is now visiting first grade for her second year of teaching. Catherine blogs at The Brown Bag Teacher where she shares ideas for creating learning experiences and integrating technology in the everyday classroom!

September 1, 2014

What Makes a Parent Love a Teacher

Guest post by Jennifer Gonzalez

The note from Mrs. F. came home two weeks into the school year:
I’d like to talk with you about how we can make reading time more challenging for Ruby. When can we meet?

Although I knew my daughter was an advanced reader, I had accepted that it would always be up to me to ask for this kind of differentiation. The conversation had never been initiated by the teacher.

Thus began my year of absolutely loving Mrs. F.

I know a lot of teachers, and I know that a lot of their energy goes into things like setting up classrooms, finding new materials and activities, learning new technology, and downloading beautifully designed templates and worksheets. All of that is good and important: The more efficiently your class is run, the more hands-on your activities are, the more welcoming your classroom is, the better the year will be.

But all of that pales in comparison to this one thing. The thing you could do in a bare cinderblock room with no electricity and no more technology than a stick for writing in the dirt floor. The one thing a teacher can do that makes a bigger difference than all those other things combined:

Know my child.

That’s it. This knowledge can manifest itself in so many ways: You can know their academic skills, their allergies, their family, their moods, their quirks, any and all of these things. Just know my child, and a lot of other stuff just falls into place.

It Makes a Difference

My kids are currently in grades 2, 3, and 5. As a family, we have experienced a combined total of twenty different teachers, including preschool teachers and those who teach their “specials.” So far, what has made a few stand out far above the others is how well they get to know my child.

Do other parents feel the same way? When I ask my friends with kids what makes them really love certain teachers, their responses vary in some ways, but one element is always present; “know my child” is always at the core. Here are just a few examples:
From a mother of two: Some of my favorite teachers have been those who were interested in my children and made them feel important. The best one made me feel like my kids were the only kids in her class – she knew them so well – but every parent thought that. The kids wrote in journals every day and she'd read them all – every entry – by reading four or five a day – and respond to what the kids had written. To this day, those journals are among my most treasured keepsakes from their elementary years. 
From a mother of four: Over the years the teachers that stood out were the ones that really put forth the effort to get to know not only my kids but all their students. Those are the teachers my kids still talk about.
From a mother of three: I love it when a teacher "gets" my kid.
Putting in extra effort to really know your students also benefits the teacher. When I taught middle school, knowing my students well helped prevent a lot of behavior issues. If Melissa shared her recent family issues with me, I was gentler with her when she got off-task. If I learned that Joseph had a hard time reading in a crowded room, I could let him read in the hall, avoiding the problems that would have come from forcing him to remain in class.

Creating a System for Getting to Know Students 

Knowing your students on a deeper level doesn’t happen quickly, and it takes a bit of work. Many teachers use some kind of questionnaire at the beginning of the school year to help them learn more about students. As a parent, I look forward to completing these, because I assume the teacher will read every word. If the year moves along and I never see any evidence that they have, it’s kind of a letdown.

If you send those questionnaires out, do something with the information. One way to get systematic with this process is to maintain a chart of the “deep data” that makes each kid unique. By keeping everyone’s information in one living document, you’re more likely to learn that information well.

Click here to download a free customizable copy of the Deep Data at a Glance chart.

Once you've filled out the first round of facts, keep going. Put a shortcut to this document on your desktop and update it as you pick up more information about your students, because kids change and grow. Family configurations change. New passions develop. Who they are at the start of the year is not the same as who they are at the end.

Then, use the chart as a reference tool: Before surprising the class with a special treat, check out the “Food & Drink” column to remind yourself of special preferences. When shopping for new books for your class library, scan the “passions” column to remind yourself of the topics students are interested in. And regularly search for holes: With all the data in one place, you can keep students from fading into the woodwork. Using my chart below, I can see that I need to spend a little more time with Tim Christopher. 

Finally, you can use it to reconnect with students. If Jaylen and I haven’t had any non-academic interactions lately, I can study the chart in the morning, then later that day ask him what he’s been building in Minecraft lately, or how his dog Reggie is doing. He’ll probably be shocked that I know these things, but it will mean a whole lot to him. We all want to be seen.

By now it should be clear that this post isn't about getting parents to love you. Building relationships with your students just makes you a better teacher. It helps you meet each child where she is academically. It reduces discipline problems. It makes your work more satisfying. And more than anything, it makes a difference to your students. Having the support of parents is just an added bonus.

So the next time you’re stressed because you haven’t posted to your class blog or changed your bulletin boards lately, choose to put your energy into making personal connections with your students. You will only have these children for this period of time, only this one chance to know them. So make it a priority.

I promise, it will be appreciated.

Jennifer Gonzalez is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts. Before starting her website, Cult of Pedagogy, she taught middle school language arts for eight years and college-level education courses for four. She lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.