Making Thinking Visible with Interactive Bulletin Boards

Over the last few years my teaching has been heavily ingrained with inquiry based learning, problem/project based learning and open ended questioning. This has totally changed how I use bulletin boards in my classroom. I used to have my bulletin boards covered in teacher created beautiful anchor charts but I realized that this isn’t fostering the learning environment that I wanted for my students. I want my students doing the work and I want their thinking to be visible. When their thinking is displayed on the walls it becomes more meaningful to them. All the time I spent making those beautiful anchor charts and students would barely refer back to them. Once I loosened up and handed over the chart paper and markers to them, their engagement level sky-rocketed and they constantly refer to the charts, thinking and sticky notes all over our walls.

This is an example of how I have made my bulletin boards more interactive:

It’s called the Tug of War StrategyI wrote about it in an earlier post here when I was teaching second grade (I'm in 3rd and 4th grade now)I did not invent this strategy. I learned about it from the book Making Thinking Visible (affiliate link) which has tons of great strategies just like this. I highly recommend this book.

Basically, you present a fairness dilemma to your students and they choose a side to support by adding "tugs" to their side. I have done this two ways. Sometimes I tell them they have to pick a side and that is the only side they can add their responses to. Other times I have told them they can add their thinking to both sides and in the end we will see which side wins.

Not only is this a great strategy for inquiry but it’s also a great activity for split grade teaching.

In this case I set up 2 bulletin boards with a rope through the middle (you can use string or yarn or even tape to represent the rope). Then on either side I posted the two sides of the dilemma. I teach a split grade so my third graders were learning about plants and my fourth graders were learning about animals. I made our dilemmas very similar and we were able to make connections among the two bulletin boards.

For the third graders I asked them to add their thinking to either “People help plants” or “People Hurt Plants”, and fourth grade did “People help animals” or “People Hurt Animals”.

What do they write on their sticky notes? Anything related to the dilemma. They might have wonderings, "what ifs", thoughts, prior learning etc. Once we have a decent amount of sticky notes up we go through the thoughts and see if any need to be moved. We almost always have some "In the middle" thoughts that can go on either side of the dilemma. These make great conversations and often spark the beginning of a new inquiry.

Let me know if you try this strategy out in your classroom and what you think! I would love to hear from you.

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