Why do displays matter for children learning English?

Photographs by Linda Hartley

Displays make a tremendous difference to children learning English as an additional language. They are a key source of support when working on a learning task and can offer crucial opportunities for reinforcing recent learning. Ideally your displays should be empowering pupils and supporting their growing independence.

Where classroom displays often go wrong is that the writing is too small for children to access from a distance (or even when standing quite near); the displays are left up too long meaning that they become like wallpaper with the children not taking much notice of them; they are static and uninteresting and finally they are not used to reinforce a positive message about inclusivity and diversity. So, with the problems out the way lets look at how displays can be effective supporters of learning.

Consider these TIPS for creating wall displays to support pupils learning English. Wall displays should be ....

TOOLS FOR LEARNING  Good wall displays should support the process of learning. Pupils should refer to the display to support them in aquiring new conceptual knowledge, carrying out learning tasks or consolidating prior learning. Consider the height and position for easy access for pupils.

INTERACTIVE  Displays where children can engage, respond and contribute hold their attention and are therefore more effectively reinforce the key points. Static presentations run the risk of blending into the background and becoming invisible, whereas interactive displays draw in children's attention. Making these displays can be fun and there are limitless ways of creating interaction - involve the children in thinking of innovative ideas.

PROMOTERS OF INCLUSION  To ensure that your wall displays are inclusive consider the following points:

  • use a range of images that reflect the ethnic diversity of the pupils
  • use the home languages for vocabulary labels or pupils' writing where relevant and usefulavoid stereotypesevaluate the content of your topics: have you used Literacy texts from a variety of ethnic groups? Have you included references to other cultures in mathematics,e.g. through tesselating patterns, number systems, acknowledging the roots of our number system. The use of dual language posters can save time when preparing wall displays and resources, however make sure that the displays are relevant to current learning and meaningful to the pupils. Asking pupils to contribute their own dual language labels, captions or dual language texts can be an exciting and manageable way of including pupils.

SUPPORTIVE OF PRIOR LEARNING  Wall displays can be effective in reinforcing concepts and skills from prior lessons. For these types of displays consider making them interactive so that children actively engage in the revision through answering questions, matching items, creating sentences/phrases, or adding ideas, solving problems etc. This will make the learning memorable and fun and lead to more 'stickiness' in terms of long term recall.

What types of displays are there?

Working walls support current learning

Working walls support learning of concepts, skills and vocabulary

Working Walls are effective in displaying key aspects of the current or recent lesson, for example;

  • brainstorms mindmaps
  • objectives
  • success criteria
  • language structures
  • key vocabulary

Working walls are dynamic and ever-changing to reflect work in progress. They may show a process such as 'our brainstorm' or 'our story draft' or 'our reworking or finished product'. They are designed to remind pupils of recent concepts and skills covered, allowing them to consolidate key points. Pupils may even add to some displays with ideas or vocabulary on sticky notes.

These examples of literacy working walls show a range of features such as clear targets or learnging intentions, key features of genre, key vocabulary and sentence structures used. They are also visually stimulating and some provide opportunities for pupil participation.

Working walls should display work in progress or evolving rather than neat finished products. The working wall should provide useful tools to support chidlren in their own writing. This numeracy working wall shows key componenets such as step by step guides, learning intention, demonstration sheets, key vocabulary and visual support.

This numeracy working wall shows key componenets such as step by step guides, learning intention, demonstration sheets, key vocabulary and visual support.

Interactive displays engage pupils

Interactive displays are an excellent way to enable pupils to consolidate key points by actively taking part in the display. Interactive displays could include;

  • arranging or sorting key parts (e.g. skeleton parts or labels)
  • answering questions (e.g. flaps to lift to check answers)
  • contributing (e.g. writing ideas, vocabulary etc on post-its)
  • language structure prompts (e.g. sentence started to support dialogue or writing)
  • 3D elements to touch or hold

Displays of completed work inspire and encourage pride in achievements

Displays of completed work can also provide opportunities for consolidatiion. Including the following elements can maximise their usefulness;

  • learning intentions
  • success criteria
  • key vocabulary - in English and where appropriate the home language

Evaluate your displays to maximise effectiveness

Carrying out a self-evaluation of your displays can be a useful way of finding out what aspects are included and what aspects pupils find useful. Points to consider:

  • Do children refer to the displays to suppor their independent learning?
  • Are the displays accessible for chidlren learning English or pupils with special needs?
  • Do pupils contribute to the displays?
  • Are the displays related to current learning?
  • Do some displays show a process of learning such as the writing process?
  • Are visuals used to enhance conceptual understanding?
  • Are children's home languages integrated into 'real learning' displays?
  • Are learning intentions and success criteria clearly displayed to explain the learning?

Pupil questionnaires can elicit valuable feedback which can be used to enhance your wall displays. Points to consider for questions for the children to answer:

  • Which displays in the classroom do you look at to help you with your learning?
  • Which displays to you not use?
  • Which displays do you like the most? Why?
  • Is you work displayed? How do you feel about this?
  • How could the displays be improved?
  • How could the displays be more useful for you?
  • Do you speak another language? If yes, is your language included in some displays?