The Anatomy of an Anchor Chart

I get asked about anchor charts all the time.  It seems to be a thing a lot of teachers dread making because they think they aren't good at it.  But anchor charts are an important part of any classroom.  They contain key information about the knowledge you want children to learn.  They represent the learning going on in the classroom and they foster independence, so they need to be posted where kids (and yes... anyone who comes into your classroom - GASP) can see them.

These are the three roadblocks I hear most often from teachers:

1.  I can't draw. 

2.  My handwriting isn't pretty.

3.  I can't fit everything on the chart.

Let me throw #2 out right away.  Your students' handwriting isn't pretty either.  It's ok.  And perfection just makes your kids uncomfortable anyway, like they'll never be as good as you.  So let them in on this one flaw of yours. :) However, if you really feel that strongly about it (and your handwriting is truly impossible to read), my tip for that is to print titles and labels from your computer and glue them onto your chart paper.  But seriously, just write with your own hands.  It'll be fine.  I promise.

Alright, I know all you OCD-ers - I'm one, too - are annoyed that I started with #2, so let's go in order now.

About #1, I am not an artist... at all.  

Stick Figures:  But I can draw stick figures which is all an anchor chart really needs.  If you've seen samples of my charts in other posts, you'll see little stick figures and other VERY PLAIN drawings are pretty standard for me.  And, if it makes you feel better, I learned this strategy from super smart teachers who were actually paid to write professional books about anchor charts.  Check out Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz or The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. These are my go-to books.  

Clip Art:  If you need something more complex than a stick figure though, print clip art or images from the Internet.  I do this when I need an image that represents a more complicated concept or idea.

Real Artifacts:  Sometimes, the best visual for an anchor chart is a real sample of something, such as a piece of student work, a chart from a nonfiction text, an annotated article, or a page from a piece of literature. Use the actual sample, if possible, or make a copy of it and attach it to the chart.

(I somehow managed to attach entire books to this chart.  LOL)

Ok, #3... 

If you can't fit everything onto the chart, then you are trying to put WAY too much information on there.  I went to a PD session once where the presenter told us to think of anchor charts the way ad agencies think of billboards.  A driver has about 3-5 seconds to see the content of a billboard while driving by, so the advertisers know their words and images have to be brief, but memorable.  Anchor charts are the same way.  Think of the most important thing you want the children to remember and then figure out how to say it with as few words as possible, using images to help convey ideas.  

If this makes you uncomfortable, remember that the anchor chart "anchors" the lesson, but you're still teaching.  You'll be using the chart during your lesson, so you'll be explaining and facilitating rich discussions to elaborate on the chart... especially if you're using it for several days.  The children will understand and remember the important point from the chart if you take the time to explain it.

Still not sure if "less is more?"  Have you ever been to a training where the presenter had Power Point slides that looked like novels?  (I know you have.)  Don't do that to your anchor charts.  The kids will never use them.

Other Anchor Chart Tips

You can use anchor charts year after year, as long as the content is still up-to-date.  Laminate them for durability and label the standard or topic in the bottom corner so you know how you used it.

If you want to "grow" an anchor chart over time, use sticky notes to gradually add content as you teach it.  The basic shell of the chart can be used over and over, but this allows you the flexibility to change the text or ideas each time you use it.  This is one of my most popular charts on Pinterest.  This anchor chart took 3 days to build.  Each day I used a different colored sticky note and added the the ideas as a I taught them. 

Also, think about using colors intentionally.  On this sample, I used black, red, and green with purpose.  The black part names the character's feeling and the red part provides an example from the text.  The green part (which was my goal for the students' thinking) shows a deeper elaboration of that idea.  The green color symbolized "GO" ... keep that thinking going... dig deeper.  (Again, notice how plain my drawings are.  Trust me... they look NOTHING like the illustrations in the actual picture book.) 

As I think of more, I'll come back and them to this post, but I hope this little bit helps for now.

Happy teaching!

Determining Importance & Main Idea: More Anchor Charts

This is a follow-up post with more anchor charts to help children understand main idea.  A key part in being able to figure out the main idea of a text is being able to determine the importance and identifying the difference between plot and the overall theme. Ultimately, all of these lead to greater comprehension, which is our goal for every reader.  Here are a few of my favorites.

It's not always necessary to come up with ideas for anchor charts on your own.  Sometimes, the ideas just come to me as a natural extension of our lessons and discussions, but other times I think, "Why am I trying to reinvent the wheel?"  Jennifer Serravallo's resource The Reading Strategies Book is a really thorough guide for any reading teacher.  Sometimes I think, "Well, that's brilliant," and I use it exactly like she suggests.  And sometimes I modify her ideas so I can adapt the content for the age of my students.  Check it out:  

Happy teaching!

Teaching Main Idea: Anchor Chart

Here's a great little anchor chart to use with upper elementary students (grades 2-5) when you're working on the concept of main idea.  Readers need to learn that the author is intentional about everything included in the text and that includes not only the words themselves, but special text features.  The features an author chooses to highlight in a selection are usually a good clue as to what the main idea of the passage is.  Teach children to look at these key features when they're trying to synthesize several components and determine the main idea.  

Soon, I'll share another post to include more anchor charts that will support your planning and your kids' understanding of main idea.  Keep an eye out for those...

Happy teaching!

After the Fall: Teaching Perseverance

I found a great book today called After the Fall:  How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat.  

The story picks up where the original tale ends... Humpty has been put back together again.  

But now he's scared.  The fall broke not only his shell, but his courage and confidence, too.  His fears hold him back and they keep him from enjoying the things he used to.  Until, one day, one step at a time, he decides to conquer his greatest fear.

This story is a great support to any discussion you're having about growth mindsets, but it's just a good life lesson as well... even for me... even now.  As a matter of fact, when you're discussing perseverance with your children, plan to share a personal example from your own life.  It's a great way to connect with the kids and will give you credibility when working with them throughout the year.  And the lesson is a good one... young or old... "Life begins when you get back up."

Happy teaching!

Ditch the Teacher Desk

Go on!  Try it.  Ditch your teacher desk.  :)

I just finished reading chapter 18 from Justin Ashley's book The Balanced Teacher Path where he encourages us to take a leap of faith and relocate our desks to the supply closet.  

I moved mine into a classroom closet years ago... but for slightly different reasons.  Take a look at the video to hear some ideas!

Happy teaching!

Writing on the Ceiling!

If you've seen any of my recent posts, you know my kids are NUTS for these lasers!  They're actually just cat toys I found in the pet section of Walmart.  Compared to "serious" lasers from office supply stores, these lasers cost less than $4.00 each.

And that's a steal.

Trust me.  

Today, we took our learning down to the floor... literally.  These kindergarteners are still in the early developmental stages of learning how to recognize and form numbers correctly.  I've used different materials to appeal to their senses (scented markers, sand, shaving cream, etc.), but then today I thought of something else...

...why not "write" our numbers on the ceiling tiles??  

So, lying on the floor, we used our lasers as pencils and the ceiling tiles as paper.  It was a great way to warm up before working with our small white boards.  And the kinesthetic variations (larger arm movements / lying on our backs) increased engagement and memory.

First, they watched as I modeled making a number and saying the coordinating number poem.  Then, they followed me by keeping their laser dot on mine while we formed the number together.  And then, they worked on doing it all by themselves.  

My little management tip for this activity is to assign each child their own ceiling tile (if you have that kind of ceiling) and show them how to work within the boundaries of their own tile. 

Happy teaching!  :)

Segmenting & Blending Sounds

These are a few simple ways I try to help my visual and tactile learners practice segmenting the sounds in words. This is especially helpful if their auditory discrimination skills are still developing.  This way, they can connect hearing the sounds with something they can also see and feel.  

The tool we like best is the one that uses pony beads on a pipe cleaner.  They're so easy and inexpensive that I can easily make one for each child.  

Introducing the Tool

At first, we just work with words that have 2 sounds and I specifically use a green and red bead.  We slide the green bead (GO) for the 1st sound in the word and then the red bead (STOP) for the last sound in the word.  Then we slide them back together to blend both sounds as we say the whole word fluently.  

When they're ready, you can introduce words with 3 sounds. When I do this, I add a yellow bead to represent the middle sound in the word.  We usually start with basic CVC words, but I eventually want them to understand that sometimes it takes 2 letters to make 1 sound.  That's when we start segmenting words like:


Each of these words contain 3 sounds, but have more than 3 letters.  This helps create a foundation I can build upon when I'm ready to add the phonics instruction to their growing understanding of phonemes.  

Want to practice segmenting words with more sounds?  Just add more beads. 

We use the pipe cleaner beads often, but you could also use blocks, snap cubes, counters, or bingo chips... anything they can see and touch.  Whenever you engage more than one sense at a time, the opportunity to understand and remember increases. 

Do you have another way of teaching segmenting sounds that works?  This is so hard for some children.  Leave an idea in the comments below, if you do.  

Happy teaching!

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