Anchor Charts: Powerful Learning Tools

The headers and graphics were prepared before meeting with students. The teachable content was added with student input.

I’m often asked how I create anchor charts and what materials are my favorite. So let’s talk anchor charts! Below, I’ve organized my thoughts and beliefs on using anchor charts in the classroom.  This is my personal philosophy. It’s not the “right way” or the “better way.” It’s just my way.

The first thing to consider is why are you implementing an anchor chart into your teaching practices? Next, how do you do it? What is the most efficient way to prepare and create anchor charts in YOUR classroom?

ANCHOR CHARTS ARE POWERFUL LEARNING AND TEACHING TOOLS FOR BOTH STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

For students, anchor charts are a powerful tool for academic support, especially for visual learners. They help students recognize learning goals, review concepts, and establish learning expectations. They are displayed based on students’ needs, or they can be displayed throughout the year to help students connect new learning to previously taught skills.

Anchor charts are an effective visual tool that allows for higher degrees of student input and engagement, while also serving as a vehicle for self-discovery.

Before completing each number line and answering the questions, my students made observations and shared their discoveries.

For teachers, anchor charts can serve as a lesson/discussion outline. For me, implementing an anchor chart during my lessons helped me ensure that I addressed all of the topics, key points, and content vocabulary I wanted to teach or demonstrate.

STUDENT BENEFITS

Student Engagement
When students have an active role in creating an anchor chart, they engage in the learning process because they have an opportunity to share their thinking and observations. For my students and me, anchor charts were the catalyst for excellent discussions and peer-to-peer dialogue. They were excellent tools to activate my students’ thinking and motivate more student input. I provided the question stems or discussion topics and their task was to think and respond. After using this practice consistently, it became part of the culture of my lessons. My students anticipated that their voice was an important component of the lesson and their ideas would be used and demonstrated on the chart for all to see.

My second graders and I created this chart together during a lesson about selecting “just right” books. All of the responses were provided by my students. We referred to this chart often throughout the year, so it remained on our reading focus wall until the last day of school.

Student Input
As engagement increased, the degree and quality of my students’ input increased. One of the best ways my spelling instruction transformed was using interactive anchor charts. These charts developed throughout the week, so it was an ongoing activity. At the beginning of the week, I modeled and facilitated this process during a whole group lesson. I would introduce a spelling pattern and provide examples. Students were then invited to share additional words that followed the pattern and I added them to the chart. Then, during the same lesson, students independently brainstormed and completed a word sort in their spelling notebooks. I usually gave them 3 to 5 minutes to generate as many words as they could. Then, students shared out and we discussed if the word followed the pattern. If so, students would write their word on the anchor chart. This process continued throughout the week. When students discovered additional words, they added them to our anchor chart. My students really enjoyed using these kinds of anchor charts because they were proud to add spelling words they had discovered on their own AND they were eager to write directly on the chart in their own handwriting.

Scaffold Learning
For my students, anchor charts served as a tool for academic support without direct input from me. Once a lesson had been taught, the chart remained in a specific place in our classroom so students were able to reference those skillsets when working independently or in cooperative groups. Students were able to locate an anchor chart that would visually assist and/or confirm their thinking, help develop content vocabulary, or scaffold their understanding.

TEACHER BENEFITS

Lesson Outline
I always prepped portions of my charts to save time during my lesson. By having portions of an anchor chart prepared ahead of time, I was able to create the framework of the chart, which helped me ensure that I addressed all of the content I wanted to teach and demonstrate during the lesson.

I preferred to prepare the headers and graphics before I met with students so we could focus on discussing and adding the teachable content to our chart together. I’ll discuss more on how I prepped my charts in the “Anchor Charts Before and During A Lesson” section below.

This is what our anchor chart looked like at the beginning of our lesson. I prepared the headers and graphic organizer before I met with students.
Students brainstormed and shared characteristics of area and perimeter that are alike and different. Then, with student input, we crafted statements to express the information we recorded in the Venn Diagram.

ANCHOR CHARTS BEFORE AND DURING A LESSON

Preparing Anchor Charts BEFORE a Lesson
Your students should be involved in the creation of your anchor chart in some way. Since they’re designed to support instruction and “anchor” a student’s learning, anchor charts can be most effective when created with your students. For me, that didn’t necessarily mean we started a lesson with a blank chart tablet though. That method just didn’t work for me. I would typically make the chart again after school so it was more attractive and organized, so it wasn’t an efficient use of my time.

For time management purposes, I started preparing portions of our anchor charts in advance. I would prewrite the headers, graphics, and questions. At times, I would also prewrite procedural steps or “helpful hints,” but only if the focus of the lesson was to perform the steps and model them on the chart. The instructional content was ALWAYS added to the chart in my students’ presence with their input.

Before meeting with students.
After meeting with students.

If I was teaching standards that were phrased or shown in a specific way, I sometimes lightly wrote the information in pencil and then went over it in marker during the lesson. This way, my students were involved, a discussion took place, and they connected meaning and context when referring back in future lessons. Drafting in pencil can also ensure that you phrase and/or format the information the way you want it to appear on the chart.   

Using an Anchor Charts DURING a Lesson
During a lesson, we added content to our charts in one of three ways: I recorded our ideas, my students recorded their ideas, or my students’ ideas were written on a sticky note. Using sticky notes is an effective way to make your chart interactive and prolong its use. An anchor chart can be used interactively multiple times just by removing the current sticky notes and adding new ones.

Using sticky notes allowed me to display responses from several students, rather than displaying one example.

Another example of an interactive chart I’ve created with my third and second graders was for main idea. We used the same chart several times throughout the week. I premade the blue headers, “Main Idea”, “Tips to Find Main Idea”, and “Supporting Details Tell.” I also premade a table graphic, which I used to help students conceptualize the purpose of supporting details. During the initial lesson, we discussed the meaning of main idea, and with my students’ input, we generated a definition and recorded it on the chart. Then, students brainstormed ways to identify it in a text and I recorded their ideas on the chart. Last, we discussed and added that supporting details tell who, what, where, when, why, and how. All the information that was added with students was written in the color green. The next day, we used the chart along with a mentor text to identify supporting details and the main idea using sticky notes. Students identified important details and I wrote them on a sticky note and attached them to the chart on the table graphic. Combined with the information we discussed the previous day, students determined the main idea, which was also added to the chart on a sticky note. Throughout the week, we referred to the chart and repeated this activity with new mentor texts and new sticky notes.

Using sticky notes allowed my class and I to reuse this anchor chart several times throughout the week. When we reviewed, I read a new mentor text and replaced the previous sticky notes with new ones.

TYPES OF ANCHOR CHARTST

1. Process or Strategy Charts – Support instruction and commonly provide steps, strategies, worked examples, etc. that help scaffold students’ understanding.

2. Interactive Charts – Support instruction and can be used several times throughout a unit. Information can be added to the chart throughout the learning process or an activity can be repeated several times using sticky notes.

3. Vocabulary Charts – Showcase content area vocabulary, definitions, and examples.

4. Procedural Charts – Provide a list of routines and procedures or classroom expectations.

5. Performance Tracking Charts – Track goal setting or academic performance progress.

MY TOP FIVE ANCHOR CHART TIPS

1.Your students should be involved in the creation of your anchor chart in some way. When students are a part of the creation of the anchor chart, their engagement increases and they are more likely to reference the anchor chart in the future if their ideas are displayed.

As we prepared for state testing in third grade, we reviewed the four mathematical operations. Students started by sharing their knowledge on anchor charts labeled with each operation. Then, we met in whole group to discuss.
In whole group, we discussed each individual operation anchor chart students completed together. Then, we created a new anchor chart that included all of the students’ responses.

2. You can keep adding information to your chart. As students make discoveries that support learning, add their ideas to the anchor chart. If there isn’t room to add additional information, use sticky notes.

As my students began to inquire more about the moon, they used sticky notes to add their questions to our K-W-L chart.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you notice an anchor chart that you think will benefit your students as well, borrow the idea! Of course, compliment the anchor chart and ask your fellow teacher if you may use his or her idea. Always credit the original designer when applicable. Most teachers, like myself, are so willing to share their ideas on social media platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest, because it’s an immediate way to collaborate and educate other teachers on strategies that have been successful for them. Take advantage of these kinds of resources!

4. Anchor charts don’t need to be a work of art. They need to be content-rich. Above all else, anchor charts need to be informative. They can be simple, or they include fun fonts and clipart. It’s YOUR prerogative. For me, I’ve always been artistically inclined, so my anchor charts will often reflect that. It’s been a way for me to demonstrate my propensity for creativity, which I have always hoped would translate to my students. Legibility and organization are definitely important for young learners as well. I you feel your chart looks messy, or you want to add some artistry, you can remake your chart after the lesson. This way, students are referencing a more organized chart that still demonstrates the ideas they provided. If you want to add eye-catching elements to your charts before your lesson, but you aren’t a confident artist, find clipart or fonts you like and trace it! Create an aesthetic that works for you and your students.

While both anchor charts above are vibrant and eye-catching, they maintain a simplistic format and still support the content without the use of clipart.

5. Make ALL of your charts accessible. Anchor charts can help students make connections between new content and previously learned content, so your charts should be accessible throughout the unit. Once you move on to new skills, store the anchor chart in a place where students can refer back to it if needed. I would always layer many of our charts on hooks attached to the wall. This way, students and I could flip through them like a giant flip book. Depending on the skill, some of our anchor charts were displayed in the same place all year long. Also, teach your students how to refer back to anchor charts so they are able to self-monitor their learning. Don’t automatically assume your students will know how and when to reference anchor charts. Take time to train your students to refer back to the charts when they need assistance. If you move your charts, make your students aware.

I displayed all of our spelling charts on hooks. As each chart was added, it created a giant spelling pattern flip book.

DISPLAYING AND STORING ANCHOR CHARTS

Display
During the year, all of our anchor charts remained on display. Depending on the subject, I displayed our charts differently. For subjects like spelling and writing, I displayed our charts like a giant flip book. The anchor chart with the current content was on top, while previously taught skills were underneath. This way, students could flip through the stack to the chart they needed. If necessary, a chart could be relocated to the front of the stack. For math, we typically created several charts within the same unit, so I displayed these charts on a long, clothesline-style display and attached the charts with clothes pins. When we moved on to a new unit, those charts were moved to our math focus wall and displayed like our spelling charts. I displayed most of our reading anchor charts along the wall above the whiteboard. These charts were rarely moved because we often referred to each of them throughout the year. I also displayed charts on our whole group easel using large binder clips, or on our whiteboard using heavy duty magnets or a magnetic curtain rod.

I displayed our most recent charts on magnetic curtain rods. I attached the charts using curtain rod clips.
I used heavy duty magnets to attach anchor charts to the whiteboard.
We always created anchor charts on the easel in the whole group area of our classroom. I attached the chart tablet or individual charts using giant binder clips.
My classroom had two large bulletin boards, so I was able to attach anchor charts using push pins/thumb tacks.

Storage
At the end of the year, I stored my charts in a large plastic storage bin. I rolled them up by subject and secured them with a rubber band. I rarely threw a chart away. This is because I ALWAYS remade my charts each year, so to reduce prep time, I often referred back to previous charts when designing an updated version.

FAVORITE ANCHOR CHART TOOLS

Besides the chart tablet itself, the three tools I always use are Crayola markers, black Sharpie markers, and Post-It notes.

Crayola is my go-to brand of markers because there are tons of color options, including a variety of colors for skin tones! I use Sharpie markers to outline chunky letters and graphics.

I’m also often asked what kind of charts I use and where I can find them. I use a chart tablet by Pacon in size 24″ x 32″. I was blessed to work at a campus that provided chart tablets for all the teachers, but if you have to provide your own, they can be found at education supply stores and most office supply stores.

Feeling like you’re ready to implement more anchor charts, but not sure where to begin?! I have anchor chart planograms! These templates are designed to help you find that starting point for a content-rich anchor chart.

Click the image to preview each volume in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Like I’ve suggested, lightly trace the template onto your chart tablet using a pencil. You can print the pages and use a document camera, or project the image onto your wall or board. Trace and color ONLY the portions you want to prepare before you meet with your students, like the headers, graphics, or questions. Trace the teachable content lightly in pencil so that it appears very faint on the chart paper and use a marker to complete the chart with your students. Or, only trace the portions you want to prepare before your lesson and create your own worked examples. The template is designed to be a guide. Use parts of it or all of it. Whatever works for you!

Currently, six volumes of math anchor chart planograms are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The skills cover Place Value, Addition and Subtraction, Multiplication and Division, Geometry, Fractions, and Time/Elapsed Time. The skills are aligned to 2nd and 3rd grade standards. If using the templates as a guide, numbers and worked examples can be tweaked to meet the needs of other grades.

READING/ELA ANCHOR CHARTS ARE COMING SOON! STAY TUNED!

3 thoughts on “Anchor Charts: Powerful Learning Tools

  1. Jamie says:

    Hey, there! I actually found this post because of your mention of planograms, but I love these anchor charts as visual learning tools–as well as the planograms!

  2. Hameedah says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from this article. Your anchor charts are so lovely ; thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

Leave a Reply