When Cecily, my youngest daughter, was learning to cook, we spent time making a chart of the terms, conversions, and tools she kept reading in recipes and asking me about. While I still had to supervise some of her kitchen projects, this chart allowed her to do more with greater independence, and she appreciated that–so did I! As Cecily cooked more, she needed the chart less and less. Eventually, we took it down because she knew the information without having to look.
In classrooms, charts are an important element within the environment because, if students understand and utilize them, charts have the power to build independence across academic disciplines, including writing. So how do we increase the likelihood of students using charts with intention and regularity?
Charts can serve several purposes: They can explain the expectations of a type of writing, provide steps of the process, or offer various strategies for a specific skill. However, in order for students to understand any kind of chart, they need to be involved in its creation. Laminating and keeping charts from year to year is tempting, but this practice does not have the same impact as when students watch or participate in the creation of the chart.
Once a chart has been created, there are three ways to increase students’ use of it, thereby fostering independence, building repertoire, and nudging students’ growth as writers.
Create a bulletin board of “Charts for the Taking.”
Once we make a chart, it’s relatively easy to make a smaller version of it. You can do this either of two ways:
- Take a photo of it and print a copy of the photo
- Copy the chart onto a piece of paper
Either way, you can then duplicate copies of the chart on cardstock and then create pockets on a bulletin board for students to access as they need. Students can decide and determine their own need, or you can direct them to a specific chart. In the classroom shown in the photo below, students had access to individually sized charts for planning, elaboration, paragraphing, and finding the heart of the story. Because the small charts were different colors, we could even suggest to students that they help themselves to a specifically colored chart.
Use portable plastic frames for “Traveling Charts”
One other way I’ve coached teachers to provide individual charts is through the use of plastic frames. Teachers or students can decide what charts should go into their frame, and again, having that reminder standing right in front of a student keeps the goal, intention, and production going. Frames work well for management, too, because students are more likely to return them when they’ve used them, unlike the individually sized charts from the bulletin board. I highly recommend the plastic frames that stand straight up, like what restaurants use to display menus, instead of slanted frames, too, because these can display two charts at the same time, back to back, supporting a learner across strategies or supporting another learner who sits nearby.
Digitize charts and encourage students to use “Split Screen Charts”
When we teach students to use Google Classroom and a split screen, we have another way to encourage students to use and interact with classroom charts. We can create digital bins of available charts and share those with students. From there we can load them into our Google Classrooms so that students can access them.
Charts have great power to foster independence for writers of all levels. Advanced writers may use charts in place of lessons; sometimes they only need reminders of expectations or strategies in order to incorporate them into writing, and they may lean on those charts for only a short period of time before internalizing the lessons. On the other hand, striving writers might not be as productive as some of their classmates. Therefore, they may not be ready for some of the strategies that we teach on a particular day, but they may be ready for them a few days later. In that case, a chart can review, remind, and reinforce developing skills.