An anchor chart is a tool that is used to support instruction (i.e. “anchor” the learning for students). As you teach a lesson, you create a chart, together with your students, that captures the most important content and relevant strategies. Anchor charts build a culture of literacy in the classroom by making thinking—both the teacher’s and students’—visible.
The first thing you need to know about creating them is that you do not need any special materials or artistic skills—just chart paper and a colorful assortment of markers. It’s easy to incorporate anchor charts into your lesson plans. All it takes is a clear purpose and some pre-planning.
Most of the time you will prepare the framework of your chart ahead of time, giving it a title, including the learning objective, and creating headers for the main points or strategies you want to highlight. It’s very important not to create the whole poster ahead of time. Anchor charts are best used as an interactive tool.
As you model a lesson or learning strategy and interact with your students through discussion, you fill in the blank spaces of the anchor chart. For an awesome tutorial, check out this blog and template from third grade teacher Michael Friermood.
After your chart is created, it can be displayed as needed—for a short unit, as a one-time reference tool, as something you add to over time, or as something that stays up all year, like your classroom procedures or behavior expectations.
Posting anchor charts keeps relevant and current learning accessible to students, reminding them of prior learning and enabling them to make connections as new learning happens. Students can refer to them and use them as tools as they think or to question, to expand ideas, and to contribute to discussions and solving problems in class.
Make your anchor charts colorful and print-rich. Use different colors and bullet points to help students discriminate between strategies and quickly access information.
Keep them simple and neat. Use easy-to-read graphics and clear organization. Don’t allow distracting, irrelevant details or stray marks, such as arrows or overemphatic use of underlining.
Draw simple pictures to complement the words. The more ways students can access information about a subject, the better.
While anchor charts are a super useful tool, don’t feel as if you need to create one for every single lesson. Choose carefully so that the ones you create will have the greatest impact.
Don’t be afraid to steal! Teachers always get their best ideas from other teachers. If your teammate has already tackled a topic, use the same format. Just make sure you create your own version from scratch so your students experience the learning as you go. You’ll find tons of examples in the links included below.
Now that you know the how, you may be wondering about the when and why. Here are a few ways to get the most bang for your buck.
Use them to engage students. When students are involved in the process of creating learning tools, they are more likely to comprehend more deeply and remember more of what they learn. Anchor charts trigger connections with the initial lesson.
Bring lessons to life. If you are studying a topic that lends itself particularly well to a visual aid, create an anchor chart! If you are studying plants, draw a giant philodendron and label all of the parts while you teach about them.
Use them for introducing new skills. Anchor charts are great for laying the foundation for a new unit of study and giving an overview of concepts.
Break complex concepts down into bite-size pieces. If you are teaching U.S. government, creating a diagram of the three branches, along with the primary responsibilities of each, will help simplify the concept.
Keep track of vocabulary. Every time you make an anchor chart, you can include a box with vocabulary words as an easy reference for students.
Support independent work. Anchor charts provide students with a source to reference when working on their own. This not only supports students but saves teachers from having to spend classroom time going over concepts many times.
Create a library of reference materials. To help students keep information straight in math, you could create anchor charts of geometric shapes, the difference between perimeter and area, how to multiply and divide fractions, etc.
Reinforce classroom procedures. Provide students with a visual to remind them of routines that make your classroom run smoothly. Some examples: how to use centers, how to line up, how to check books out of your classroom library.
Use them in shared writing. Model how to write an introduction, the parts of a letter, and the proper use of grammar such, as quotation marks, commas, etc.
Use them as a companion to read-alouds. Create an anchor chart as you stop to make observations, ask questions, take note of story elements, or make predictions.