July 23, 2014

Bulletin Boards: 12 Ideas for Older Classrooms

Educators of older students ask me all the time for ideas that are low on “cutesy” and high on sophistication. This request holds true for bulletin boards and classroom décor as much as curriculum and lesson structure. Want some ideas on how to pull this off? Read on.

Let’s face it. All students eventually get to the point where they are basically “over” teddy bears and apples. So what do you do from fourth-twelfth grades when it comes to producing quality bulletin boards for the classroom? Here are some tricks to get the job done.

Cover Images from Books and News Magazines.

Color xeroxed ( and possibly enlarged, depending on the original size) copies of book covers and news magazines are great for literature studies, theme units or current event projects. Even book covers for younger readers will provide a more grown up feel than snowman cutouts. So if it’s mid year and your third graders are starting to request more sophisticated bulletin boards in the classroom, this idea is a great way to start.

An Editorial Collection.

If you have a hot topic in the news that’s discussed quite a bit in your classroom, post a newspaper article from the local paper on the board and surround it with brief op-ed pieces from your students written on large index cards. This is a fantastic opportunity to introduce that type of work, as well as work in a critical thinking assignment.

Distribution Center.

Overwhelmed by all those notices, book club handouts and forms from the office? Consider making at least one of your bulletin boards an information distribution center. Choose a title such as “Command Center” or “Central Command” if you are teaching at a DODDS school. Include a sedate classroom calendar in the center and perhaps a news clipping or two regarding the school. Then attach some acrylic document holders for handouts, returned documents with signatures, a homework slot, attendance and lunch count. This takes at least one bulletin board slot from a full time chore and puts it firmly in the category of classroom management tools, leaving you with a smoother running classroom. You can even use some of the space for reinforcement charts and other low-cost student reward programs.

Humboldt Penguins by digitalART2

Photos.

Instead of animated cartoon-style drawings, consider photographs or color prints as your graphic illustrative element. Some examples could include travel and nature images for geography and science studies, volcano shots, Hubble images, mountain range photos, tribal action shots from remote villages, etc. Another great way to go is with action shots of your students themselves involved with various stages of the writing process, math games, lab experiments, etc. Post cards also rock as a way to get professional quality bulletin board images on the cheap. Tried all of that and still can’t find what you need? Check out online image databases of postage stamps from around the world. If you have a color printer, these can make great download solutions. Remember, national governments pay artists big bucks to come up with fantastic stamps. This is professional quality work you are able to snag for less than a song.

Post Its.

These things come in about as many size and color options as index cards, and are great for adding bold color and graphic elements if you don’t have access to a large supply of construction paper. My favorite use for them is as a replacement for the primary grade level calendar pieces. Instead of cutesy tree ornament pieces in December, go with green and red squares from peel off desk pads. Not only will this look more appropriate for the older grades, it’ll also make for a cheaper classroom calendar. Just make sure you match the Post It size to the calendar squares.

Lose the Baby Borders.

Snowmen and school buses just don’t cut it after third grade. Consider cloth borders such as belt webbing or woven tribal trims used for funky DIY sewing projects. Nautical themed rope, wide ribbon and solid colored trims are also more than usable as ideas for your bulletin boards. Also, call me crazy but I think straighter edges look a bit more grown up as well. They also reduce the visual chaos present on so many bulletin boards. This is important for older grades where the bulletin board information can be more diverse, or relating to a more complex scientific or math concept. It’s also helpful for any grade level where you may be trying to provide successful inclusion time for students who may be sensitive to overwhelming amounts of visual stimulation. A good source for materials like sentence and cursive strip borders would be Dollar Tree.

On the other hand, if you really want something unexpected or three dimensional, consider play money from a board game, playing cards, colored pencils or some sort of chopstick / tongue depressor border for a natural look. Just attach the items in an overlapping or side by side pattern, depending on the look you are going for. If you attach the items to the outside frame of the board and make sure they overlap to the inside a bit, you could technically skip needing a formal paper border for the rest of the year. Score!

My first Teen Bulletin Board by becflies2001

Shadowing.

This looks great for lettering as well as for white paper printouts of textual information that might otherwise look dull. When doing it with letters, you simply cut out a second set of letters to attach to the back of the brighter ones, taking care to position them slightly up and to the left. This allows for them to still appear as one letter, and yet be highlighted visually. My favorite three looks are black shadows with newsprint lettering, black shadow letters with any other bright color and holographic letters with black shadows. The newsprint combo is great for current events or information distribution bulletin boards, and the holographic shadow letters look smashing for themes like meteorology or mathematics. Black background with front color combo lettering works for nearly anything else you want to look more grown up and serious such as author studies or geography.

Using the shadowing technique for printed text is equally simple. Whether it’s a paragraph with dated historical data, a game schedule for the school basketball team, or contest entry details for a grade level poster competition, all you need to do is cut a colored piece of background paper and attach it to the clipping or printout the same way you would with lettering. Up, and to the left.

News Headlines.

Whether for current events, school coverage in the local paper or recreated news headlines from a particular date or period in history, including visual headlines (shadowed or otherwise) just makes for a more sophisticated look overall. You could also modify this idea for informational resource bulletin boards as well. Just be sure to make the topic or category titles are “newsy” enough to catch the attention of students, teachers, parents or whoever else you are creating the bulletin board for.

Inserts, Foldouts and Maps.

Many traditional periodicals have freebies that come along with the monthly copies. Nat Geo is known for their killer maps, and various news magazines have charts and fold out center articles that make fantastic fodder for bulletin board themes. Bonus? Professionally published materials always look more grown up than basic kiddy charts.

Darker Background Colors.

Whether you back your bulletin board with cloth or use traditional butcher paper, darker colors ground the room, have a more serious feel and provide a fantastic backdrop for colored elements like post cards, geographical imagery and travel photos. Also, if you are planning on using busier looking elements like detailed maps and charts as primary objects in your bulletin board design, you’ll need all of the visual grounding support you can get.

One year in Kuwait I arrived to find that all of the colored butcher paper had been used. Black was the only color that remained until the overseas supply delivery arrived a few months down the road. Those of you who follow my Wise Bread blog know how highly I value black elements as a stylish and affordable decorating strategy. Since I had fifth grade that year, I decided to experiment.

The result? I ended up with some of my most smashing bulletin boards ever and the students loved them. In fact, several of them commented the very first day to children in other rooms that they were in the “cool” room with the “grown up” decorations. Yup. Black’s a hit. It’s also extremely neutral, providing a transitional background to use on year-long bulletin boards.

Fields of Science by Image Editor

Graphic Organizers.

Charts, graphs, diagrams and tables are all professional ways to integrate curriculum into the bulletin board space in a way that will appeal to older students. Even yarn or twine pieces stretched from labeled push pins to tinier chart details still looks streamlined and serious while providing extra organizational support for readers. Think period tables, KWL charts, etc.

Topic Choice.

This is particularly helpful if you are teaching in a resource room where the material is geared for younger or lower ability levels. Consider a biographical study board of an important historical figure such as Columbus where the information is written for the ability level but presented in one of the ways suggested in this article. Leave the four-six line elementary songs and chants for the primary grades. Another example would be a basic scientific method board versus one on teddy bear math.

These are my top twelve solutions for better bulletin boards. Some other helpful resources from around the web? This link has one of the better breakdowns I’ve seen on elementary versus high school design choices. You can also look here for some fantastic illustrated examples of bulletin boards for higher level math concepts, or here to read about an idea for using DVD cover images to jazz up a Shakespearean literature study. Last but not least, this resource page has an excellent write up on student-created middle school literature study bulletins. Got another great tip for educators in the upper grades? Share the love in the comment section below.

Photo Credits: Dull Hunk, Digital Art 2, Becflies 2001, Image Editor.

This article was included in Carnival of Education #225.

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