You don’t have to be an artist to make a great anchor chart. I mean, you can be an artist; it’s just not a requirement. It would be helpful if you are a teacher, though. Are you in?
We’re about to start our intervention now. If your anxiety level just ticked up, take a deep breath and repeat after me… “I am not creating a masterpiece. I am creating a tool.” And this one… “This piece of paper need not last forever.” One more… “I can make this chart be effective AND look good.” If you start getting worked up again later on, just come back to this paragraph and repeat those mantras. Here, I’ll put a star by it so you can reference it easily: *Rather than showing you a bunch of anchor charts about different comprehension strategies, I want to show you just one, and really dissect it. Below is an anchor chart I made for the strategy: “Inferring a Character’s Feelings.” It’s the one we’ll use.
Use Space Strategically
Think about the chart in sections. Mentally breaking the space into thirds can help you organize the chart, and thirds are naturally pleasing to the eye. But no measuring! Exactness is not necessary and will just stress you out. You won’t know how much space you’ll really need in each section until you are waist deep anyway.
Let’s look at what might fit inside each third.
In the bottom third of the chart, I think it’s really important to have a record of a strong example. I model the strategy aloud with students, and record my thinking in the SAME FORMAT in which I’m going to want students to respond. Whether it’s a reader’s notebook, a graphic organizer, or a sticky note, I draw an enlarged version on the chart to use for my example.
But don’t stop there! Notice the cues and tips on the left side of the notebook page. During the lesson, in addition to modeling the thinking behind using the reading strategy, I also want to capture my thinking about the response itself. I want to anchor it down so that when a student gets stuck on his own response, these cues can be a bridge to get on track.
Step back now and look at the whole chart again. You can see our “thirds” and even smaller sections within.
Use Color and Line Strategically
I normally pick out three colors to make an anchor chart, not including a black or gray marker that I keep on hand. I want two of these colors to be similar: I’ll use them for the majority of the chart. Picking similar colors, or different shades of the same color, is easier if you have a wide range from which to choose. Every year I buy a pack of Classic, Assorted, and Bold Crayola® markers for this reason. The subtle difference between your two main colors will help distinguish parts from each other without pulling attention in too many directions. Then, I want the third marker to be an accent color that I’ll use less often. It will contrast nicely to make certain sections stand out.
Just like with color, your lines matter, too! This is the other reason I like normal, conical-tip Crayola® markers so much. I can use the point for smaller lettering or thin lines, press a little harder to make something bold, or turn the marker sideways to get full-on thick. This applies not only when I’m writing actual words but also with lines that divide up sections of the chart or that frame certain chunks of text.
What to Do with Anchor Charts Before, During, and After the Lesson
I’m a proponent of creating the majority of an anchor chart right there with the students during the lesson. The power of an anchor chart multiplies when students actually see it being built. They make connections from what you are saying to what you are making permanent on the chart. I do like to have the “top third” information (strategy title and learning target) already written prior to the lesson. This saves a couple of minutes of lesson time, but more importantly, it gives students a little taste of what’s coming, and it helps me get off to a focused start to the lesson.
Sometimes a strategy lesson might be pretty involved, or maybe it’s the first time I’m teaching it, and I want to be a little more planned out. If that’s the case, I might sketch out some of the “middle third” beforehand, but I’ll flip the chart up and clip it so I can reveal exactly what I want at the appropriate moments of my lesson.
But at the very least, I always want to add the most vital parts to my anchor chart during the lesson. That would include most of the “middle third” and all of the “bottom third.”
In my experience, two reasons cause a student to refer to an anchor chart: (1) because they remember being part of its creation and (2) because I refer to it. So, for a reading strategy, I try to keep the anchor chart displayed in order to reference it during follow-up lessons or small group teaching. But after my kids have had practice with the strategy, I take the chart down. I may hold onto it for individual students struggling with the strategy, but I rarely keep a strategy anchor chart displayed permanently. If I did, the sheer number of them would make them fade into wallpaper.