5 Tips for Making Anchor Charts Like a Pro

It breaks my heart when I hear elementary teachers shamefully tell me that they were “never good at math”, hated math or just don’t feel confident. The truth is, if this is you, it is a GIFT. If you never felt confident in math, then you know exactly how your students feel. Not only that, it will make you an anchor chart machine.

Anchor charts are the missing link between our instruction and students practicing mathematics. We as teachers may have taught a concept 5 years in a row or more, but for students it could be their first time hearing it. They also may have holes missing in previous years instruction for a variety of reasons. Giving students what they need right up on their wall is the first step in helping them make connections, remember complicated processes or learn brand new vocabulary. You have English Language Learning students? Special Education students? It doesn’t matter who is in your classroom, anchor charts are good for ALL of your students.

Take this anchor chart for a grade 2 unit on number lines for example:

There are things on that anchor chart that every single adult takes for granted. We know what a tick mark is, we know what a point is, and we know what to do when numbers are missing. These are things that the majority of our students have never experienced. This anchor chart is especially important because number lines come up in so many concepts for many years to come.

Anchor charts are best made when you think about the following 5 things:

  1. How can we make it together? This is critical. When learning is synthesized at the end of a lesson, that’s the perfect time to add to your anchor chart, and as much as possible written in student friendly language.
  2. What new math specific vocabulary needs to be explained on the chart? Act like a new learner, like you’ve never heard some of these words before. Which belong on the anchor chart? How can words be written with precision, but still student friendly? Anchor charts explain that we can use math words like point instead of dot or tick mark instead of line.
  3. What misconceptions do students have? What is important to remember, and what errors are you are seeing your students make in the lessons?
  4. What is the least amount of words I can put on it? Visuals are KEY. The more visuals you have the better! They are both engaging and beautiful. Some of the anchor charts I’ve seen are absolute works of art.
  5. How new is this material to my students? If they haven’t had prior exposure to the concept, it MOST definitely belongs on your wall.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a place to start. The more you work on anchor charts the better you will get at them. As you walk around helping, you’ll notice a lot of the same questions keep on getting asked. This is an instant signal that you need to get that up on the wall to help mass amounts of students.

I wish this is something that I would have known when I was a first year teacher, when I thought I was bad at teaching math. It would have been an incredible thing to really think through all those things that I struggled with as a student, learn along side them and provide the proper supports.


Classifying Shapes Using Tangrams

Since our geometry unit is so full of vocabulary, I am always looking for ways to have students apply the vocabulary to new situations. After learning how to make our own tangrams yesterday, we took it to another level today. We decided to sort and classify the shapes that make up the tangrams. Because we’ve spent a few days describing two types of polygons: triangles and quadrilaterals, we had some really nice anchor charts up on the wall.

Their task today was to classify and describe the shapes from their tangrams using sides and angles. This meant that some of their shapes could be described in more than one way. This was a really cool opportunity for students to participate in math talk, and it was even better to see them using the anchor charts we made together:

Classifying Triangles

The student on the right is trying to classify his triangle by looking at angles.  The student on the left quickly realized that he was holding a shape with four sides.

Classifying Quadrilaterals

This student is checking to see if all four of her sides are equal, as well as if there are four right angles in her shape.

There is nothing better in a math class than hearing students argue over whether something is a right angle or not. Hearing words being used authentically was really cool, especially since they could actually touch and manipulate the shapes! I’ve really taken geometry a long way since I started teaching (ahem…I used to use worksheets only…please don’t judge me!), and the terms and vocabulary has started to stick because of it.

The Fishbowl: A Peer Modeling Strategy

Whenever I notice problems in the classroom, I pull out one of my favorite instructional strategies, the fishbowl.

The fishbowl strategy is an awesome way to showcase model behaviors in ANY subject. I particularly like to use it when I notice students are skipping steps or struggling with a certain activity. I have used it to model word work strategies, reading behaviors, problem solving, computation and even science class behaviors.

Here is an example of how I used a fishbowl last week to help model effective problem solving and group work behavior.

We are working on some collaborative problem solving, which requires an intense amount of group work.  The problems are differentiated so they are just right for the groups, but that means they require some really tough thinking.  Often, I’ve noticed that the behaviors of group work can get in the way when they are pushed like this. In an effort to prevent this, I set up the fishbowl before even beginning to problem solve collaboratively.

1.  First I put up a t-chart that had 2 columns. We filled in the left column as a whole group activity. I recorded their answers on the board as they shared them with the group, and they recorded them on their paper.  I purposefully left the right column covered until the next part of the activity.

T-Chart: Things Good Problem Solvers Do

2.  I asked my strongest problem solvers (I know they are strong problem solvers, the other students do not) to go into the middle of the circle, while the rest of us surrounded them. I told them that they were going to be solving a very difficult level four problem, and that the rest of us were going to take notes on their behaviors. The students taking notes had their t-charts in front of them, ready to go.

Fishbowl Instructional Strategy

3.  As the students in the middle began to problem solve, the observers on the outside of the fishbowl started writing down everything they did. They wrote what they did with their bodies, how they sat, what they said, the voice levels they used, etc.

4.  Then, after a few minutes, we debriefed and shared what we noticed up on the t-chart.

Anchor Chart for Problem Solving Tips and Behaviors

5.  The rest of the students were now dismissed to work on their problem, with the expectations all laid out for them.  I explained that if a group encountered problems working together, they could call a “timeout” and recheck the board to see how they were doing.

As they began working, it started out great. Students were problem solving, everyone was engaged.  Then, like usual, I noticed in a few groups a couple of students starting to drift off and let the others do the work. In other groups the voice level was rising. That is when I called a timeout and asked them to look at the board. They quickly adjusted their voice levels, how they were sitting and re-engaged themselves in the activity.  They very badly wanted to be just like those students they watched in the fishbowl. Peer accountability is huge!

I love this technique, and the best part is that it becomes an anchor chart for the wall whenever we do any collaborative problem solving!

Anchor Charts = Google for Kids

Anchor Charts = Google for Kids

If I were to count how many times I use my Smart Phone to look something up every day, it would be at least a dozen…maybe more! I use it to find out random facts, convert numbers, convert languages, remind myself of an interesting article I read 3 months ago…I could go on and on.

Anchor charts are truly “Google” for our students. I’ve seen it time and time again. The students are sitting at their desk, drawing out something for their latest project. When they can’t remember what an equilateral triangle is they simply look on the wall where the lesson they just learned about (but haven’t memorized yet) is hanging nicely there. Whenever I have massive amounts of students coming up to me to ask me what something is, it never fails, I’ve forgotten to hang the anchor chart.

So hang those anchor charts! Give them the tools they need so that they can use and remember these important concepts.