Many classrooms display student work and decorations, but often the power of the classroom as a tool for learning is ignored. From the arrangement of seats and availability of supplies to the use of wall space, every aspect of your classroom can help promote learning. Use these five methods to stimulate your students’ minds by improving the space in which they learn.
1. Use your wall space to educate.
Each unit that is taught in your room gives you an opportunity to use your bulletin boards and wall space as a learning tool. Write important vocabulary term as a word wall. List key questions or learning objectives and refer to them as you teach. Find items in the news that relate to what you’re teaching and make a current events wall. Help Teaching offers free early education printables that not only spruce up any classroom wall, they also focus on the important information to be disseminated to the students. This is also a good opportunity for your students to communicate what they took from your time together. As the culminating activity of your unit, allow them to create a wall displaying the major themes in a creative manner. Find more ideas how to engage students in hands on activities in 7 Tips for Learning with Kids.
2. Set up a learning center using old school resources.
There was no internet until I was in college so my elementary and high school research included a lot of library time. Most districts can’t afford to put multiple computers in each classroom, but you can make your own inexpensive learning center with encyclopedias. EBay has a 2008 set of World Book Encyclopedia for $160 or a 2010 version for $290. Subscribe to Time, Newsweek, or other magazines and make a reading corner. Your learning center can be also be the home for your classroom blog. All it takes is one workstation and a schedule for student writing and the kids will learn the benefits of writing about what interests them and leaving a positive digital footprint.
3. Embrace Makerspaces and Genius Hours
Makerspaces use a variety of tools to encourage students to explore or create. Some makerspaces are high tech, while others use no tech at all. Whatever tools and resources you include in your makerspace, the goal is to give students a chance to enjoy open-ended tinkering, play, inventiveness, and exploration.
Another way to give students a chance to explore on their own is by bringing genius hours into your classroom. During a genius hour, students are given time to explore a topic or complete a project related to their own interests. This time is student directed and can be held a few minutes a day, a few hours a week, or a few weeks a year. It’s up to you. To make both genius hours and makerspaces successful, you just need to be sure students are aware of the expectations for the time before they begin.
4. Display student grades on the wall.
Students like to see their grades as they are posted in your grade book. By posting them on the walls (by ID number or some other cryptic way to maintain privacy), the students will be more aware of their progress and position in the class. It also can act as a motivator to continue to perform well or to begin to achieve better grades.
5. Mix up seating arrangements often.
Changing the classroom seating arrangement and style is a wonderful way to being an element of surprise to your lessons and to accommodate a specific learning objective. Plan a discussion by organizing desks in a circle. Have students edit each other’s work by facing two desks together.
Bonus: Set up stations around the room.
Sitting in a chair for 45 minutes a day for an entire year can be boring. For lessons that require use of sources, documents, or visuals, have the students work in small groups that walk around the room to different stations. Each station contains a different visual to be analyzed and discussed by the group members. After a set amount of time, each student cluster moves to the next station. Use the Help Teaching activity Which Continent Am I? by cutting out the continent descriptions and placing them around the room, or have the class create a story with a different student contributing each facet as the walk to the different stations around the room using the Help Teaching story organizer.
Not every district can provide their teachers with the resources to make a classroom a technological center of learning, but with a little time and creativity any room can contribute to a successful lesson or unit.