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From "Pretty" to Practical:
Using Bulletin Boards to Teach

If you've ever been guilty of ignoring a clearly out-of-date bulletin board or of putting up "anything" that will do, maybe it's time to give your bulletin boards a second look. Experts tell Education World that classroom boards can be more than just "wallflowers" -- they can be tools for teaching too! Included: Tips from experts to help you get more out of your wall décor!

"Too often bulletin boards are just thought of as decoration, when they really should emphasize the learning that is taking place in the classroom," author/educator Michael Gravois told Education World. "Those two qualities do not have to be mutually exclusive; a bulletin board can be both educational and decorative."

Michael Gravois' second graders from New Jersey create a mural of the surface of another planet. (Click images to see larger.)

Gravois left a ten-year career in advertising to teach fifth grade in Westfield, New Jersey. When he was unable to find a resource book that met his needs, he developed his own activities for the classroom. Through the years, he has turned those ideas into 17 books for educators, including 20 Totally Awesome & Totally Easy Language Arts Bulletin Boards (Grades 4-8) and 25 Totally Awesome & Totally Easy Bulletin Boards! (Grades 3-6). Gravois now instructs pre-service teachers at the University of Memphis (Tennessee).


The three types of bulletin boards Gravois discusses are teacher-made (sometimes pre-fabricated), student-made, and those that combine teacher and student work. When creating boards, he prefers to set up the bulletin boards and then let students take over. He often develops for students a hands-on manipulative, or "response vehicle," which becomes a part of the bulletin board. Gravois keeps three bulletin-board principles in mind. Bulletin boards, he says, should:

  • be interactive and make the classroom "come alive" with the curriculum material being studied.
  • give students a sense of ownership of the classroom by surrounding them with examples of their work.
  • be mostly created by students.

"One of my favorite boards was created when I taught second grade," recalled Gravois. "We were studying the ocean. We read books, watched videos, wrote stories, and more. Each child researched two different sea creatures and made them out of construction paper, paper plates, streamers, and other art materials."

Gravois placed a long strip of white bulletin board paper on the floor and assigned two-foot sections to his students. "They worked with the students on each side of them to 'match up' the ocean floor, and colored the floor, rocks, and water," he explained. "They then taped or glued their creatures into the scene. Next to each creature, the students taped an index card that detailed some facts about their animal. We hung the student-created mural on one of the classroom walls." Similar murals also were made for the topics of the rainforest and the planets, with students designing aliens, spaceships, and comets!

To Gravois, the "key" to making bulletin boards meaningful and manageable is using them as learning tools, not just in content, but in their creation as well. "If the bulletin board becomes part of the learning, it saves the teacher from having to create it, it ties into the learning, and it gives the students ownership of their space," he said. "Plus, once a teacher does this for several years, he or she will develop a file of ideas that can be used in future years, making the job even easier. A teacher shouldn't feel as though he or she needs to reinvent the wheel every year. If an idea works, reuse it!"


Worth a
Second Look

Want your students to give your bulletin boards more than a passing glance? Judy Serritella suggests that you:
* Plan your bulletin boards in advance.
* Create displays and boards that can remain up for at least a month.
* Find reliable students to help make and set up the boards.
* Make sure the theme of the board is instantly clear to the students.
* Keep boards neat and organized.

"Having interactive boards lets the media specialists and students use library materials to create questions and quizzes and develop entertaining ideas that will hopefully attract more patrons to the library media center," reported Judy Serritella, an experienced elementary and high school media specialist who is coordinator of library media services for the Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta, Georgia

Serritella created the Web site Bulletin Board Ideas for High School Media Specialists to share some of her board ideas with other media specialists and published it in book form as Look Again! Appealing Bulletin Board Ideas for Secondary Students (Linworth, 2002). Some of her interactive bulletin board ideas include:

  • "And That's Final." A library media specialist chooses books from the collection and writes down the final sentence in each book. Two lists are created. One list has the titles of the books and the other has the final sentences. Students and teachers attempt to match the books with their final sentences.
  • "Herstory." This interactive board celebrates Women's History Month. Questions are created about women's roles in literature, science, politics, theatre, and other fields. Students find the answers by using the library media center's resources.
  • "Twenty Questions." Black History Month is the focus of this board. Questions are posed that deal with important African American people, literature, and facts. Prizes may be given to students who answer the most questions correctly.

"Library media specialists are always looking for ways to encourage reading and to promote the library media center," Serritella explained. "Clever and creative bulletin boards can help students gain understanding and find inspiration and even amusement."


Barbara Colvin was so taken with the great bulletin board ideas she found on the Internet, that she created an online index called Classroom Displays and Bulletin Boards. Later, she added some of her own boards, boards from other teachers in her school, and e-mail submissions, complete with photos.

"Students love to be challenged," says Colvin, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at University Christian School in Jacksonville, Florida. "When you put something on your bulletin boards that presents a challenge to students, they get interested in meeting that challenge."

One board Colvin has used many times has students "draw pictures" of adverbs. She posts the pictures and refers to them during adverb lessons. The student-created visuals are especially simple and effective. On another board, a snowman is surrounded by snowflakes that have appropriate verbs written on them -- melt, freeze, slip, drip, and so on. Students write about the scene and use those descriptive verbs.

"I think teachers can make their classrooms so much more inviting if they have eye-catching bulletin boards," Colvin stated. "This year, a seventh grade boy told me, 'Mrs. Colvin, your classroom is so colorful and exciting. Too many classrooms are just dull because they don't have anything on the walls and the teacher never does anything to the bulletin board.' That made me realize how much students do pay attention to your bulletin boards. You can make your classroom attractive with a little creative thought."


"An excellent bulletin board is one that makes students think," observes Kimberly Steele, an eighth-grade English and reading teacher. "That can be as simple as a thought of the day or as complex as an interactive lesson in bulletin board form."

Steele creates bulletin boards that her students at Abe Hubert Middle School in Garden City, Kansas, can use as references during class or on tests -- a strong incentive for students to pay attention to what is on the bulletin board!

"One of my favorite bulletin boards is one I made in the form of a graphic organizer, particularly a mind map or web," she told Education World. "I used the mind map to illustrate the different types of text structures students encounter while reading."

Another favorite is a word wall Steele created this year. The school recently adopted a list of universal vocabulary terms classes are to focus on during the year. Steele has several students whose first language is Spanish, so she created a word wall of the words in English and added the Spanish versions in another color. The Spanish-speaking students appreciate the words in their native language and they help Steele pronounce them correctly in Spanish; the other students are encountering a new language too.

"Most important is to relate the bulletin board to information your students actually need to know, rather than something that looks cute," advises Steele. "Don't be afraid to experiment with different ideas. There are many ways to make a bulletin board unique and creative. I am not artistic, so I try to find unique things such as movie tickets or post cards to make my bulletin boards stand out."


The school choir in Richwoods, Missouri, receives congratulations on a fine performance from their teacher Tracy King.

For five years, Tracy King has provided Bulletin Boards for the Music Classroom, an outlet for music teachers to share their creative ideas. A music educator and technology teacher/coordinator for the Richwoods School District in Richwoods, Missouri, King uses bulletin boards as instructional tools in many ways. For example, she uses them to

  • introduce concepts. "My favorite board for this is The Elements of Music are Not Puzzling," said King. "This board shows visually how all the elements of music are connected." The board presents the elements of music as words in a crossword puzzle with their definitions as clues.
  • provide a place for daily review of concepts. An example from King's classroom is Go Wild With These Rhythms. She printed the names of various animals with rhythms that matched the number of syllables in their names. (For example, "alligator" was "ta ta ta ta" or four quarter notes.) Once this board was in place, she used it with many of her classes to read rhythms, to create rhythm songs, and to find rhythms that matched their names.
  • provide information about seasonal topics or events that classes might not be studying. To coordinate with her eighth graders' study of the Civil War, King designed a board entitled Music of the Civil War that included quotes about the music of the war, lyrics to some of the more popular songs of the day, and titles of other songs.

King also uses boards to reinforce her students' role in the school community. "I love bulletin boards that brag on student achievement," she explained. "I like to highlight performance groups like band or choir and classes that are working on special projects like compositions or recorders."

A recent board commended King's choir students for their performance at a mall. "Even the simplest idea can be turned into a board that teaches or a board that brags on your wonderful students," she said. "Don't be afraid to use on your bulletin boards such non-traditional items as cereal boxes, gloves, empty video boxes, CDs, fabric, wallpaper and so on. And, most importantly, share!"


  • Creating Interactive Bulletin Boards In this brief article, Randall S. Davis explains how he makes bulletin boards instruments of learning both inside and outside of his classroom walls.


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Updated 07/19/2010