Classroom Strategies

5 Strategies to Create Spaces that Spark Interest and Investment

The walls of your classroom create the learning environment your students enter every day and communicate the classroom culture you hope to create. Even if you aren’t interested in making your classroom Pinterest-ready—you can probably picture one of those classrooms now—you can still create a space that sparks interest in content and investment in your classroom community. 

These 5 strategies help you prioritize what goes on your classroom walls and ensure that everything you display has a purpose and a positive impact on the learning environment.

1. Community Agreements

In many classrooms, rules and expectations are posted on the walls for students to reference easily and quickly. While this is definitely an important part of your classroom environment, these posters can be even more effective when framed as Community Agreements and created as a class. 

As a student, if you walk in on the first day and see big posters full of rules and expectations you have to meet, you might not be getting a warm, welcoming feeling in that space. It could be overwhelming for you, or you might feel like this teacher is already thinking about ways to control you. 

Instead, what if the teacher involved you in the process and asked what you thought would make the classroom an effective place to learn? This is where Community Agreements come in: You as the teacher can lead your students in an open discussion about what is important for you and what is important for them to maintain a safe, supportive learning environment.

Now, those same posters of rules and expectations are rooted in community rather than control and help students feel immediately invested in the classroom.

2. Academic Supports

When students look around the classroom, we want them to see a rich learning environment, but not one that overwhelms them. Academic supports like content-focused anchor charts or discussion protocol posters are important, but these should be used only as necessary. 

As a student, an anchor chart is helpful because it can guide your thinking, remind you of a key vocabulary word, or illustrate an important process. But, if there are so many anchor charts plastered on the walls, you might now know where to look. 

When you are deciding about the critical academic supports you want to exhibit in your classroom, remember that you can always change them out as you move into new units throughout the year. Don’t try to put up everything your students could possibly need all at once! 

3. Academic Goals 

Similar to Community Agreements, you can work with your students to establish classwide academic goals and post them as inspiration in your classroom. Depending on the grade and subject you teach, these can differ greatly. But, some examples could be:

  • All students will complete their homework assignments.
  • All students will try their best on assignments.
  • All students will try to help each other when they can.
  • All students will score a 80% or above on the end-of-course exam.
  • All students will increase their MAP scores this year.

By posting these in the classroom, you can remind students of the goals they set and openly discuss how they can work towards achieving those goals. 

4. “Family” Photos 

One of my favorite ways to help students feel welcomed, seen, and valued in the classroom is through “family” photos. Your classroom is a type of family, and, just like any family might have photos of themselves around their house, you can have photos in your classroom! 

My first year of teaching, I had an instant camera on my bookshelf and would periodically capture special moments in the school day to post on a bulletin board. Students loved to see themselves reflected physically in the space and were eager to take home the photos at the end of the school year. 

Whether you simply post one class photo, or try to collect as many pictures as you can from field trips, sporting events, and spirit days, your students will feel more at home in a space that treats them like a family. 

5. Individual and Class Accomplishments 

Just as you can set goals as a class, you can celebrate accomplishments as a class. These can be either individual or whole-class achievements ranging from a student winning a spelling bee, to one scoring a touchdown, to the entire class being named winners in a canned food drive. Whatever the achievement is, find a way to commemorate it in your classroom. 

It can be helpful to dedicate one specific area, like a small bulletin board or area on the wall, for these accomplishments. Students will be eager to see themselves celebrated in their classroom community. Additionally, it really helps you show students that you recognize them as people beyond your classroom; by celebrating their accomplishments outside of your specific subject area, you can forge strong relationships with students regardless of their academic performance in your classroom, and help inspire them to work hard in your classroom.

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About the Author: Rachel Fuhrman is a former middle school math and special education teacher and currently the Curriculum Marketing Manager for Fishtank Learning, a free ELA and Math curriculum to challenge, engage, and inspire students.