By Teachers, For Teachers
What decorates the walls of your classroom? Amongst the educational posters, rules, shelves, and schedules, there should be a special type of student work that takes its place prominently beside everything else. And that is big, colorful, student-made posters.
Much of the classroom activities and work students do involves them staring downward at their desks, reading, writing, thinking, or – alas – zoning out. Other times students have fantastic interactions with one another, but their work is only viewed to a teacher and not easily shared or remembered later. Big, colorful, student-made posters, on the other hand, have enormous potential for how students interact with one another and learn their material.
Don’t forget these important tips when endeavoring to have your students engage in making big, colorful posters to go along with your other classroom activities:
Students learn from making. This is an obvious reminder, but important to consider when thinking about posters. When students have a tangible product they create that graphically depicts their teamwork, then it crystallizes in their mind the learning that they have achieved. Let them struggle, debate, conjure, revise, and include lots and lots of details. The work of their hands is the learning of their mind!
Shapes and colors are important. The mind learns more effectively when abstract ideas are combined with concrete visuals. Shapes and colors go a long way in allowing students to take their ideas and turn it into something uniquely visual. Their thoughts are transmuted into images. The effort and product help the students to distinguish information in their mind much better than just dealing with the abstract ideas alone. Encourage organizing information with big shapes and bold colors!
Make it relevant. Simply decorating a poster is one thing, but connecting it to the important learning goals of your course is another. Don’t think of posters as a “break” or a nice “change of pace.” Think through what specific skills you want your students to achieve, and think of the big, colorful poster as a chance to work towards those skills. It’s still requiring students to think critically, just in a different medium.
It’s not about the art skills. Is your class an art class? If not, then don’t worry too much about the artwork skills students have or don’t have. Your real goal is that students think critically, so if that means they have ugly stick figures but great ideas, the project is still worthwhile.
Make it interactive. Just hanging a big, colorful, student-made poster on the wall will draw attention to it. And attention is good, since students will be visually reminded about their thinking on that poster’s topic. However, go the extra mile and make these posters “interactive.” This means that students can compare posters, you can have competitions between posters, or you can even require that students look at all other posters and perform some kind of classroom learning activity associated with it.
Hang it, refer to it, change it up. Make sure these posters are hung and that students have amble opportunity to take pride in their work. Make sure that you are personally aware of what is on each poster so that you can refer to students’ ideas in future lessons. The benefit from you referring to them is that students take even more pride (“He likes mine!”) and they remember the material more (“He referred to that part of that poster.”) Of course, don’t leave the posters hanging up all semester long. Ideally, you’ll be hanging up all kinds of student work throughout the year and your posters will need to be changed!
So amongst the arsenal of classroom activities and teaching techniques that you regularly employ to more effectively impact student learning, make sure that big, colorful, student-made posters play as prominent a role in your plan as they do on your wall. Big, colorful posters appeal to different techniques and styles of learning, which leads to making a lasting impression.
What specific poster projects have you done with your students? Tell us about your big, colorful poster fun in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.