What are on the walls in your classroom? Do you have visuals that help drive home lessons, foster a growth mindset, promote positive behaviors, or create students’ sense of ownership in their work? Because, yes, some types of classroom wall decor can do this. Keep reading to hear from some TpT Teacher-Authors about how being purposeful with wall decor choices (including their position in the classroom) can help support student growth and truly deepen learning experiences.
6 Big Benefits of Purposeful Wall Decor
The Teacher-Authors we talked to shared insight about the wall decor in their individual teaching environments. They also talked about the key advantages of some specific visuals and why they’re so important for the learning process. Here’s what classroom wall decor with a deeper purpose can help do:
1. It can inspire academic talk. “Encouraging academic talk is at the heart of student learning,” says Andrew from The Delighted Teacher. He uses resources such as his reading comprehension interactive posters to promote this valuable type of talk. “Students should be able to read, write, and talk about the texts they’re reading in order to develop metacognition, deepen reading skills, and strengthen their speaking and listening abilities.” He believes that the highest potential for learning occurs when students are able to interact with text and with each other — and he feels strongly about purposefully crafting opportunities for academic talk to occur regularly and often, and in a way that works for them. “Interactive wall visuals that offer scaffolded support, such as sentence starters and clear, explicit, student-centered explanations, are ideal for increasing the usability for students.”
2. It can help foster a growth mindset. Megan from Confetti and Creativity’s favorite type of classroom decor is growth mindset posters — that use growth mindset messages to silently conquer a student’s negative cycle of thought patterns. “Every student needs to be reminded to dream big and take risks,” she says. “Growth mindset posters are a big step in creating a class-wide culture where it’s safe to get it wrong, and love is not performance-based. Learning thrives in this type of environment, and growth mindset posters go a long way toward reinforcing what I tell my students every day: I love them, I believe in them, and there’s power in the process.” She stresses the importance, though, of teachers being proactive about referring often to these posters and making sure they’re part of the classroom conversation. “Having motivational quotes and growth mindset posters displayed on the walls is effective, but they solidify even more in our students’ hearts and minds when the message is verbalized,” she says. “I often refer to these posters during a difficult math lesson and remind the class that we have the power to change our mindset. As teachers, we have the greatest opportunity to create a safe classroom culture filled with optimism and grit.”
3. It can encourage peer-to-peer teaching. Kadeen from Kadeen Teaches recalls how her sight word readers went beyond helping her students recall the words of the week and learn how to use the words in context; the visual wall display also doubled as a learning station for peer teaching. “Not only were students learning the content, but they were learning it from each other,” she says. “The students enjoyed role-playing teacher and student. I’d often catch students using the pointer to point out the words on the wall during their free time. This told me that the visual aids were both effective and engaging because students were using them even during a time that they didn’t have to. The value these types of visual aids provided was insurmountable.”
4. It can help anchor lessons. Andrew from The Delighted Teacher believes that wall visuals should purposefully document and anchor learning, and encourage personal student ownership of learning – whether that be before, during, or after instruction takes place. “Not only does this benefit the students, but it also provides the teacher with a visual reminder of learning, then giving many opportunities to model how to interact with the wall visuals and make connections to previous and future learning.” On this note, Nicole Hernandez – A Teacher’s Idea suggests changing up posters throughout the school year. “Relevance to learning is key,” she says.
5. It can help students regulate emotions. As a social worker with a smaller space, functional decor is a necessary must for Kylie The Creative Social Worker. “I’ve always believed that everything on my walls should be interactive, and I think my students really enjoy it. We can move around my office to learn and not just stay in one place, which can increase engagement if we’ve been in one spot for a while.” Kylie has a set of interactive wall posters that she uses with her students weekly — and sometimes even more often than that. The poster set, she explains, is meant to be used to help students regulate by matching their problem and reaction size. The visuals are set up in a way that helps them understand where they’re at and where they should be, instead of trying to sort it out in their head. “Once they’re able to manipulate the pieces and see it visually, it’s much easier to get back to a regulated state and process what is going on and making them upset. Utilizing posters on my walls also becomes routine for my students, making their regulation or use of those materials easier and faster.”
6. It can promote students’ pride and investment in their work. Christina from Hanging Around in Primary is all about posters and charts that are created with students. “When students take ownership of creating a reference for the walls, they’re more likely to refer to that piece later on independently,” she explains. She caveats by explaining that pieces of these charts can certainly be premade by teachers “but the content the students add to it is what gives it its true value.” Sam Nowak seconds this and says, “Only when I introduce or review multiplication tables does my reference poster go up on the wall — and ideally it’s one we’ve made together.”
Location Location Location
The Teacher-Authors we spoke with all agreed that wall decor’s location in the classroom has a large impact on how effective it will be for the student — or whether he or she will even refer to in the first place. Christina from Hanging Around in Primary believes it’s important to consider how high (or low) you place items, explaining that materials you want your students to access and refer to should ideally be at their height or just above. “I feel strongly that placing decor way up high makes it less accessible to kids if the decor is to function as a reference. Many young students don’t have the ability to look up and find what they’re looking for, and then look down and transfer that information to the page. They lose their place. If they can come right up to the chart and see it, they’re more likely to be able to use it effectively.” She also notes to be mindful of laminating posters and other visuals as this can result in a glare if they’re placed in proximity to overhead lights.
Megan from Confetti and Creativity strongly agrees about putting visuals at students’ eye level. “In my mind, the goal for using classroom decor (especially positive messages) in a formational way is to position it in places that students naturally look. I always encourage new teachers to put encouraging messages or classroom expectations at eye level, right underneath the whiteboard. Even if students aren’t fully paying attention during carpet time, they’re absorbing deeper formational truths that I want them to leave my classroom with. Other good places for positive messages are around classroom mirrors and beside classroom sinks.”
Empty Wall Space: There’s Value in It
A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that young students spent more time off-task when classroom walls were highly decorated. There was an overwhelming sentiment among the Teacher-Authors we spoke with, too, that “more” certainly isn’t always “better.” The reasons for leaving some wall space empty seemed to fall into two buckets: to prevent too much visual “noise” and to leave space open for future student work. Nicole Hernandez – A Teacher’s Idea strongly believes in the value of blank wall space, saying it “helps with visual ease and breaks up the learning space into manageable parts so that students aren’t bombarded with crowdedness.” Regarding leaving room for student work, Christina from Hanging Around in Primary says students need to take ownership of their classroom and that there should be space to display their work, too. “Seeing work of their own on the walls instills a sense of pride as well as validation of themselves as a student.”
Ultimately, you know your students best and will have the clearest idea of how to set up an environment where they’re poised to learn, thrive, and grow. That being said, we hope these recommendations serve as guides as you make choices about what types of visuals to display, where to place them, how to use them — and even how much space to leave open.