Maybe you’re the type of person who moves into a new classroom and just leaves the previous teacher’s posters on the wall. Or perhaps you’re one of those people who has to make a classroom completely your own. Whatever your decorating preferences, wall art is a great way to engage your students in your subject matter—almost subconsciously. This post will give you some tips for making your classroom pop!
- More and more students are visual learners: Love it or hate it, media is taking over most young people’s lives. Pictures send subconscious messages, so take advantage of the four blank canvases available to you: your four blank walls. Make walking into your classroom a “Whoa…” moment.
- Decorating your classroom isn’t just an elementary thing. Decorating your classroom may seem “elementary,” but even if you are a secondary teacher, your classroom still needs to be interesting. I deal with high-schoolers (the age group that gets labeled as cynical and jaded), but I still have students coming into my room just to gawk. Sometimes they say things like, “Wow. I wish I had your class!” I usually reply with something sardonic like, “You say that now…” (Pictured below: A shot of the whiteboard in my wife's classroom.)
- Your classroom can very easily send an unwanted message. Blank walls, hanging cords, broken ceiling tiles all send a message: “I don’t care.” Likewise, having posters hanging up from 1992 can also send a negative message. Just imagine if your students could walk into a room covered with bright posters that excitedly announce the items they are going to be learning throughout the year. Do you think that would make a difference? I get that not every teacher is artistic, and I understand that not all students are visual learners, but is it is a truth universally acknowledged that blank walls are not Blank walls send the wrong message, so fill them—preferably with something colorful.
- Quality posters and decorations build anticipation. I teach grades 10-12, and when 10th grade students come into my room, they immediately start asking about the posters. They see the Seven Commandments from Animal Farm and ask, "What is that?" I answer cryptically, "You'll know by the end of the year." If I have that student as a junior, these same posters serve as a reminder of what we learned last year. They say things like, "I remember that book!" By the end of their senior year, they "get" almost all of the posters because they have experienced the literature associated with them. It's a neat rite-of-passage that's fun to witness.
- Fill as much of that white space as possible. In art class my art teacher told us to not leave any white space in our artwork as it makes things look unfinished. The same should be said for your walls. It’s impossible not to leave any blank space, but minimize that space and make it as visually appealing as possible. (Pictured below: My wife's wall of quotes in her classroom. Her students love to memorize these!)
- Make it neat or messy. You choose. When my wife hangs up posters in her room, she goes for precision. Her posters are going to be straight up and down with the right amount of space between them. It looks amazing! For me, however, I am just not going to put that much precision into it, so I prefer the collage effect. I put up as many posters as possible and overlap them. It takes more posters, and it looks more jumbled, but it’s the style that suits me. Find your style and go with it. Some students will be drawn to the messy approach and others to the neat approach, so whichever you choose is great.
- Make your posters as on-theme as possible. When I became a teacher, I wanted to break a lot of the teacher clichés as possible, and one of those clichés was boring, content-related posters on the wall. So I filled my walls with film posters, which seemed much more exciting to me. After all, The Lord of the Rings was a book first, Star Wars is told in the same style as centuries-old myths, and Marvel superheroes are basically Greek heroes in disguise, right? So it was no problem for me to decorate my room with posters depicting these characters. However, during parent-teacher conferences, one pithy parent (yes, you read that right) asked me, “Is watching movies the only thing you do in this class?” “No,” I replied defensively, but then I realized since I had included no content-related material, my room did send the message that my class was going to be a constant movie marathon. So I started the hunt for content-related posters that were still eye-catching and exciting. (I still throw in a few movie posters, too. They’re too cool not to!) (Pictured below: My American Literature posters.)
- Use your resources. I ended up creating most of the content-related posters for my classroom. I made a set of the Greek gods for teaching Greek mythology, a set of the Norse gods for teaching Norse mythology, and a set of classic American novels for my American Literature class. But anything that can fit into a laminator can be glued up onto a wall. My wife and I have used old Barnes and Noble bags that have excerpts from literature on them. We also love to laminate student projects and use them as decorations as well. Currently, I have the Seven Commandments from Animal Farm hanging up—courtesy of a project my students did seven years ago. I also took an old chessboard, glued the pieces into their correct starting places, and then glued them to the wall. It’s a great conversation starter.
- Use a hot glue gun. Many of you may be working with concrete block walls, and that may seem like the worst situation for hanging up posters. Half of my classroom walls are not even concrete walls. They’re metallic, and if I use tape, even good tape, it will eventually begin to fall down. That is, until my wife figured out that using a glue gun is the way to go. You can get your posters to stick to any surface, and then removing the glue when you pull them down is a cinch. Just make sure everything is laminated first. (Pictured below: My wife's "monster" collage. She used images of classic movie monsters and terms describing them.)
- Go 3-D with your decorations. To line the tops of our shelves, we like to procure old knick-knacks and oddities that are somewhat related to our content. Most of them we pick up at yard sales or thrift stores and, after a quick fumigation, add them to our shelves. On my shelf right now I have a Mythology board game, a porcelain knight on horseback, a magic eight ball, a model of the Sword in the Stone, and an ancient Greek vase (slightly fake, of course). My wife has a classical looking bust, a Shakespeare action figure, a model ship, Funko Pop figurines from The Lord of the Rings, and (the ultimate prize) the mounted head of a stuffed unicorn. (I’m still upset that she saw that one first.) These are all things that make the classroom more interesting to students. (Pictured below: The find of the century.)
- Accept donations. If you decorate your classroom correctly, students will get in on the action, too. Over the years, many of my best decorations have come from donations. Many students have donated posters to me. Some students brought me a homemade stein with a King-Arthur-related white stag on it. One student made me a square of chain mail out of old coat hangers. Since I have Star Wars posters up, I have received coffee cups, lightsabers, and a life-sized, cardboard R2-D2. All of these are treasures I can add to my room, and they serve as reminders of my students as well. (Pictured below: My messy back wall.)
I hope these hints help you in your own classroom! If you would like to see our selections of classroom posters, we have several sets available with free shipping within the U.S. Click here to see the posters!