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Literacy and Language Blog

The Ins and Outs of Using Anchor Charts as Teaching Tools

When I first began teaching, my colleagues told me something that stayed with me, “Your walls are teaching even when you are not.” I took this to mean that what I put on my walls should be significant and easily remembered by students. Although I certainly improved my ability to create quality charts that align with skills and concepts, I still continue to discover effective ways to convey information to students through this teaching tool. Posters display information for students to remember, and they remain constant. However, anchor charts are created in-the-moment based on the day’s learning. Creating anchor charts with students is a great way to invite them into the learning.
What is an anchor chart? What is it not?
An anchor chart provides an anchor for thinking. It will support the lesson’s objective. Anchor charts are created as teachers are presenting a lesson. As teachers present the lesson, they can provide information to support a process or a skill. For example, to explain how the setting influences plot in literary text, students might co-create an anchor chart with the teacher depicting a diagram of sequenced plot elements for a specific literary text, including conflict and resolution. In a separate anchor chart, students can identify the setting and place it in a circle. Bubbles extending from the circle will include text evidence to support the identified setting. After analyzing the plot and setting, students can complete the following sentence frame (TEKS, Grade 3, Strand 4).
The setting in this story is __________, and it influences the plot by __________.
This type of chart is a strategy anchor chart because it can be used over and over again to practice a skill with various literary texts.
Anchor charts are a bit different than posters. Posters are typically created before a lesson. Although the teacher might have a pre-determined idea for an anchor chart, the content is not created until students are sitting with the teacher and able to contribute. Sometimes posters are used year after year, and they do not change. Anchor charts are created with students as the learning occurs, so they are fresh and relevant. Effective anchor charts are not only room décor, but they are actually used as a teaching tool, revisited often as students are learning. 
Types of Anchor Charts
  • Process Charts
Process charts provide students with a concept and then a list of steps or strategies to follow. For example, in the following anchor chart, teachers can facilitate an understanding of the process with student input (TEKS Strand 2).
Making an Inference
Choose meaningful text evidence
“When Jeena opened the letter, she smiled, jumped, shouted, and ran to show her friend, Isabella.”
Determine what you already know
When someone gets excited or happy about something, the  person smiles, jumps, or shouts. It is nice to share good news with a friend.
Draw a conclusion about the
meaning of the text
Jeena has just learned that she will be playing the lead part in the school play.
text evidence + background knowledge = inference
Process charts generally have a manageable number of steps to follow and can be easily remembered. Sometimes when students encounter problems when going through a process, a step-by-step chart can help them have a reference for support. At some point, most students will no longer need the process anchor chart because they have a deep understanding of how to complete the steps. Additionally, visual representations can often be included as well. It is important to keep challenging students with additional process charts as new concepts are learned. After concepts are learned by most students, the anchor chart can be re-visited for re-teaching or working with small groups.
  • Interactive Charts
Interactive charts take many forms. An interactive chart allows for students to categorize information or make decisions about their learning. For example, if students are learning the meaning of synonym and antonym, the interactive chart includes two columns, and pairs of students might provide synonyms and antonyms for a word provided by the teacher. Students can write their responses on sticky notes and post them on the anchor chart for the class to discuss.
Synonym (same)
Antonym (opposite)
Interactive anchor charts can include graphic organizers that can be memorable and reproducible.
Displaying Charts
Determining how students will have access to charts is an important consideration. Some teachers house the anchor charts in categories throughout the classroom. For example, one part of the room might be labeled Charts for Writing Skills or Charts for Thinking Skills. Anchor charts can then be revisited and used as a reference when needed, or sometimes additional information can be added. A simple clothesline can keep anchor charts in great shape and visible. When anchor charts are being used or revisited, it is easy to unclip them and move them to an easel or white board as a lesson focus. Charts that contain previously learned material can be kept for use in small groups as needed. A clothes hangar can also be used to persevere an anchor chart until it is re-visited.
As the school year ends, capturing the charts in pictures or creating smaller versions of the charts for an Anchor Chart Binder might help spark ideas for the next year when new charts will be created.
Making Charts Come Alive
There are ways to make anchor charts come alive for students. Although content is the focus, providing charts that appeal to students and how their brains categorize information is an important consideration.
  • Create a clear heading or title so that the anchor chart’s purpose is clear
  • Use multiple, vibrant colors to differentiate information/ideas; monochromatic anchor charts make it more difficult for some students to separate categories and concepts
  • Lettering can also be changed to separate ideas or categories. Here are some easy ways to create a different look for different steps or categories.
    • Use bright colors around black letters to make them “glow”.
    • Add dashes of different colors to one side of the letters.
    • Add dots to the end of each letter.
    • Thicken the down stroke of each letter.
    • Use borders that brighten and accentuate separate ideas or categories.
  • Use different shapes to categorize information (circle, square, hexagon).
  • Use shapes that align with the chart’s information; for example, a chart depicting metacognition might include the shape of a brain.
  • If you have use of technology that displays text on a screen, place paper on the screen and pull up the title with a font and size that fits onto the paper; trace and fill in letters to create an eye-catching title for your chart.
  • Change the shape of the chart itself to create eye-catching interest.
Include Time for Anchor Chart Creation in the Lesson Design
Anchor chart creation should be a consideration in designing a lesson so that it is aligned with the objective. Although charts are co-created with students, a chart’s graphic organizer, frame, or design can already be created. Time should be allowed to co-create a chart’s content during the lesson.
Anchor charts should align and support a lesson’s objective, adding an illustrative and demonstrative component to students’ learning. The visual enhancement that anchor charts bring to your students’ learning will help make the lesson’s content engaging and memorable!
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