A new school year beckons and teachers across the land are heading into school in order to set up exciting, engaging learning environments for the young fresh faces that will pour though the doors next week. I love displays. I love planning them, sourcing things to go on them and creating them. I find it therapeutic and also exciting. I also know that I sometimes put unrealistic expectations on myself when it comes to doing displays. It is at this point that this blog is not me saying you should…it is me sharing my approach to display and if you take something from it, great!
For me displays are very personal things, like your classroom. I believe they should reflect you, your professional ethos, the young people that spend their days in that space and the learning that goes on. I want my classroom to make an impact. I want the children to walk in a go ‘wow!’ I want to create excitement and awe about what they are going to learn before a word has been spoken. I want someone to walk in my classroom and know without any shadow of a doubt that the children are learning about Macbeth or Titanic or Ancient Greece. I also want my classroom to look like my classroom, not like every other primary school classroom across the country; there are those unrealistic expectations again!
But how do I do this? What does my classroom look like?
- Working walls
I am a big fan of a working wall. They are useful, immediate, easy to maintain and very flexible. I would only have working walls for Maths and English as my other displays would be more permanent but I will come on to this later. A literacy display might include a copy of the cover of the text, pictures of the setting, characters, key vocabulary, text features and post it notes with comments from the children. In addition I might included story maps, annotated bits of text, shared, guided or modelled writing and character maps to name but a few that I have done in guided sessions or direct teaching. Working walls should be fluid and changed/updated regularly. I know displays are time consuming but if these are done with the children it saves a job. Why not occasionally use big pieces of newsprint instead of the interactive whiteboard? Works just as well and you have a display at the end of it. This also gives you opportunity to model handwriting and presentation expectations.
- Other subject areas
I believe in a holistic approach to the curriculum. I feel that if subjects are linked and tied together within a theme the learning will have greater impact. This also helps when setting up your classroom as your classroom then gives itself over to that theme. My main theme display usually fills an entire wall. It will contain key vocabulary, lots of pictures and key questions. I have often also created a large painting to form part of the display too, but I will discuss that more later. This display also works like a working wall as things are added to the display as the learning develops. Timelines, new questions, photographs of drama, samples of writing, art etc might be added to the display to document the journey that the children have been on. This display is the one that always has the most impact as it is what the subjects feed into, whether it is English, science, history, geography or art. I know that not all subjects will necessarily fit together but I have always kept a separate display area free for this or used my windows.
What’s the big deal about backing paper I hear you say? Well display paper I find can be very garish. The colours are often intensely bright and can give you a headache when you look at them for too long. I am a big fan of black backing paper but this can make for a very dark and dingy classroom. So whats the alternative? Well, I love brown paper (kraft paper YPO) this comes in very large sheets that can cover a whole board. Its neutral and works well for pretty much any theme. Its also a great surface to work into, in the past I have painted on to this to form the background to the display. I have painted lions as part of a theme on Africa, a skull, dagger and crown linked to work on Macbeth, a galleon as work on discovers and explorers and an industrial landscape as part of work on the Victorians. Now I know not everyone thinks they are a ‘skilled’ painter, but there is a way around this. Find a simple image/silhouette on Google, blu-tack paper to the IWB and project image the size you want. Easy and very effective, also guaranteed to be different to anyone else. On a theme on Titanic I printed out passenger lists, tea stained them and used these as backing paper. Simple and effective. Old maps would work brilliantly as display paper, maybe print them off a little bit lighter and off you go! I do think though you should think carefully about your colour palette. Match the colours to whatever the theme is.
Labels and Signs
I always think a mixture of handwritten and printed labels are nice. Again as I have mentioned before handwritten labels give you opportunity to model good handwriting in line with whatever policy is in place at your school. When it comes to titles or signs again a mixture of handwritten and typed work well. Handwritten banners can be very effective, especially when working on historical themes. I have also found an image I like, such as a poppy field and used this to cut letters out from for a theme on World War One. I once used portraits by Hans Holbein for a theme on the Tudors. Luggage labels are great for labels or key vocabulary on displays, especially as these are now available in a multitude of colours.
Borders, backing and laminating
I rarely use borders, I also rarely mount or back work. I certainly never double back; a waste of time and waste of paper! At my school we have our own way of backing. We call it the ‘Medlock rip’. Torn edges can look very effective when done carefully, particularly with a historical theme. When it comes to laminating I will laminate the things I will use again, pictures, vocab, titles etc. English and Maths resources are usually laminated but for theme displays I don’t bother, it saves time and with laminated work you can get a glare so the children can’t see what’s on it anyway.
Like I said earlier I am not suggesting this is how you should set up your classrooms this September but I hope it’s given you some food for thought. Maybe there’s something you might take away and try.