Assuming that you don’t teach your class underneath trees (although that sounds amazing), your classroom probably has four walls around your students during class hours.
A well-designed classroom, from the way the desks are arranged to what is put up on the walls, makes a huge difference in the amount of learning that takes place. A safe and inviting space will improve both learning and behaviour, while bare cement walls can prove detrimental.
Numerous studies have shown that effectively utilising classroom space can increase productivity by as much as 16%. Many teaching methods use this as the forefront of their pedagogy, such as the Montessori method.
Your Third Teacher
Reggio Emilia, an educational philosophy developed in Italy after World War II, describes the classroom as the ‘Third Teacher’ alongside adults and other students.
That’s a lot of importance to give to four walls! But think about it – your children spend at least 6 hours a day within the confines of those walls. Why not make use of it?
Designing your Classroom Walls
Is there a right or wrong way to design your classroom? Think about the following points:
What information do you want your children to take from the wall? Do you want them to learn new words or concepts? Or do you want to encourage student participation by displaying great work? Thinking about the purpose will help you design and utilise every available space in your classroom.
The purpose will be different in each class and in every grade. Constant reinforcement of the topics is needed for development in kindergarten.
Primary grades can include more student participation such as projects and research.
Once you figure out the purpose of each wall, placing it will become easier. For instance, if the students are expected to interact with certain material, then make sure it’s at their eye level. If you’re displaying your students’ work, then you can place it in a way that’s visible to everyone.
It’s a good idea to dedicate different areas of the wall to certain themes. For example, one corner of the classroom can be your ‘reading wall’, where students can put up book reviews and recommendations.
If space permits, arrange a reading corner next to your reading wall.
Make sure you use all available space. Classroom materials can be hung behind the door. The space on the cupboard doors can be covered with posters and students’ artwork.
Divide your content into a few categories in order to make it easier to curate. Some examples are
Make sure to reward good work by displaying it prominently in your classroom. Your kids will be inspired to perform better and will make sure to complete projects if it could get them up on the wall. But don’t display grades which might demoralise struggling students.
Spark your students’ creativity by giving them a space to put up whatever they want to. Whatever it is, try not to curate or limit the amount of work they want to display. Encourage them to talk about it before putting it on the board.
Dedicate a wall to reinforce the concepts that are being discussed in class. For instance, in our KG curriculum (LiLBI), each theme comes with a wordlist that can be put up on the theme wall. The theme wall is redone every six weeks, at the beginning of a new theme. Posters relating to the theme are displayed along with artwork done by the students during class. Make sure to include posters that reinforce the theme rather than distract from it. You can also display anchor charts, graphic organisers and diagrams.
There will be some items that you want year-round. Dedicate the top of your classroom to permanent displays. Depending on the grade you teach, think about the key concepts you want your children to master by the end of the year. Display that prominently and do not take it down. For example, in kindergarten classrooms, the alphabet can be displayed throughout the year.
Display aspirational posters that reflect diversity and inclusion. While a poster of some random inspirational saying might look great, you can display the story of woman scientist or an underdog achiever instead. It will make a world of difference to your kids.
Check out this great list of wall displays that can be done on cement walls.
How much is too much?
It’s common knowledge that students have short attention spans. So won’t the colourful walls prove to be distracting?
A study was done to find the answer to this question. Researchers performed simple memory and attention tests on two groups of children. One group was made to sit in a room with bare walls and the other was made to sit in a room with walls that overflowed with colourful material. The outcome is predictable – The students in the bare room performed much better on the tests.
While the results of the study might not paint a full picture of effective classroom design, it is worth keeping in mind that too much visual stimuli will be overwhelming for a lot of kids.
In order for the material on the wall to be effective, make sure it’s not too crowded. A good rule of thumb is to keep 20 – 30% of the walls bare. It’s good practice to swap out the materials every 6 weeks instead of adding more, in order to keep the materials relevant to the top that is currently being discussed in class.
The most important thing to remember here is that the walls do not have to look aesthetically pleasing. Education is messy and the walls can reflect that!
If you’re very particular about what goes on the walls but fail to call attention to it, then it could be a waste of time and effort. Be sure to involve your students in the setting up of the classroom space so that they feel motivated to take care of it throughout the year.
With very young children, you can play games like ‘I-Spy’ to find items around the classroom. With older children, create activities that they can complete on the walls, like this list of interactive math displays. It will be a good change from the monotonous daily grind and will automatically increase student participation.
Designing your classroom might seem like a lot of work, but the effort is definitely worth the reward. Not only will colourful walls improve learning, but it will also make your kids want to come to class every day.
If you’re finding it hard to come up with creative ideas, Pinterest is a veritable goldmine of resources.
Tell us what’s on your walls! Share pictures in the comments and let us know what your walls look like.