Harnessing the Power of Working Walls

When I started out in teaching, it was easy to confuse pinterest-perfect classrooms with those that actually had an impact on learning. As well as being vibrant and welcoming, the classroom environment can also be a valuable learning tool, a way of engaging and supporting children. With careful thought and planning, an effective classroom environment is used as an interactive support to engage children in discussion and promote independent learning through the use of accessible tools and scaffolding. It can create a sense of ownership, celebration and pride in your classroom community.

An ever-evolving working wall is a fantastic way to model great writing, amazing vocabulary and to celebrate children’s writing journey. It’s not simply a static display that celebrates children’s finished work (although celebration of writing and learning is important). Working walls are a public display of the learning process – or the writing process – and they should change daily.

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If, at this point, you’re thinking ‘how am I going to find the time to change my display daily?’ then fear not. A working wall is not intended to be a tidy display of finished work, it is a perpetual ‘work in progress’ that adapts and grows as the unit of work unfolds. It should not eat into your time. Instead, you should simply add one or two things at the end of each lesson (or during the lesson) that supports whole class and group teaching – any modelling of writing you’ve written, images used, key vocabulary and useful prompts can quickly be pinned onto the board as you go. They can then be referred to, helping those who become stuck.

In my classroom, I also encourage everybody to contribute to the working wall. This saves me time whilst also giving more ownership to the children. If we need new vocabulary to support our learning, we might complete a short vocab task that gets whisked onto the board immediately. We might create posters to remind us of tricky spellings or homophones we keep getting mixed up. Post it notes or strips of coloured card are great for this.

Anything that goes up on the wall should support children’s learning and remind them of what is expected. Examples of successful words for the word bank, great writing and photographs of children working successfully can also add to the display. This helps to raise standards by reminding children of what is expected and what good writing looks like, it also shows them that their contributions are valued.

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Sometimes, if our learning is focussed on a text, I might add the next illustration in the book (although we’ve not read this page yet) which always creates a buzz of chatter around what might happen within the next chapter. It really is that simple and that effective.

As you head back to school in September, don’t fill up your Literacy display just yet. Make sure you start with a blank canvas that can be built upon. You could include learning objectives (I usually include some mention of LOs on green arrows to remind children of the writing journey we’ve been on), Literacy targets, steps to success or key criteria to be included in the writing (often generated by the children themselves to be added to the wall – see picture below), models and images linked to the learning, key vocabulary or mind maps, photographs of visits/visitors or work in the classroom, practical resources linked to writing – for example I have 3 key commonly used words on my wall with lots of alternatives for the children to choose from, as well as VCOP mats that the children can take away and use independently – and examples of children’s work building up to eventual completion.

You might also include an opportunity for children to interact with the display e.g. through responding to a learning question related to the learning, or by requesting great opening lines which can be added with post it notes. I’ve also stuck a whiteboard to the wall before and encouraged different children to add a ‘word of the day’ complete with explanation and the word used within a sentence.

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The important thing is that you do what works for you and your class. For me, this means a working wall that is; situated close to where I teach so that things can quickly be added throughout the lesson; a place where children can find useful resources and stimulus to support, inspire and engage them in the learning; added to throughout a unit of work to show the different stages of the writing process; a place that is contributed to by everyone; a place to display targets and show clear expectations; a place to display targets for children or to support whole class targets with reminders and resources; a place for acknowledgement and celebration of children’s contributions and hard work. Ultimately, it is a teaching tool that reinforces the teaching points you are making during whole class input and is an invaluable resource for building confidence, independence and interest in a subject.

Persuaded yet? If you are planning on creating a working wall when you get back to school in September (hoorah!), here are my essentials for creating a wall that works:

  1. Vocabulary – Children need to be completely immersed in vocabulary relevant to their topic. Introduce new words, avoid clichés and praise the children when they use original words and phrases. Top tip – topic word banks and vocabulary word mats on Twinkl are great. I laminate these so that I can re-use them every year.
  2. Examples of what good writing looks like – Displaying examples from teacher modelling, quality texts and children’s own writing is a great way of showing what you are looking for. Children love it if their work is added but don’t forget to label why it’s a good piece of writing – add a couple of post-it notes highlighting the best features. It’s a real confidence-builder and helps others to understand what makes it good writing. I also have a handwriting scale on the right hand side to show what neat, joined cursive looks like too.
  3. Learning Objectives – Make sure objectives are progressive and the children can see this. It might be a ladder, it might be arrows on the display showing the journey and the progress. This allows children to see how far they’ve come and motivates them to reach for the next step.
  4. Purpose and Audience – Children need to understand what and who their writing is for. It needs to be purposeful and meaningful with clear goals (both short term goals and end of unit goals).  Here you might also include success criteria generated by the children (what do I need to include in my writing to make it effective?) and targets.
  5. Useful resources and scaffolding – Providing useful resources on the working wall encourages greater independence. It could be word banks, synonyms, or sentence starters that they can take away from the wall to help them. In my classroom, there is always movement around the room as children independently seek resources – be that dictionaries and thesauruses from the book corner or words from the working wall.

Here is an example of one of my working walls that clearly shows our writing journey. This photograph was also included in the Guardian’s round up of Creative ideas for teaching children to read and write, which you can read here.

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It is based around King of the Sky by Nicola Davies – a text we used to inspire a series of writing. This is one week’s worth of learning and would have evolved and been added to as the unit progressed, including photographs of a visitor and finished writing at the end of the unit.

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Has this blog post inspired you to do something different in your own classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts – simply add a comment below. Thanks for reading! 

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