This post will show you how to create an anchor chart that your students will actually use consistently until they’ve mastered whatever learning objective the chart targets!
I’ve done this process more times than I can count, and it has spelled academic success for learners of all ages and abilities!
Here’s the breakdown…
Table of Contents
- Definition of Anchor Charts
- How to Create An Anchor Chart
- Anchor Chart Tips & Tricks
- Research on Anchor Charts
In a nutshell, here are 7 simple steps for creating an anchor chart:
- Choose a Learning Objective.
- Gather the Appropriate Materials.
- Do a Little Research for Inspiration.
- Make an Outline or Frame.
- Collaborate with Students to Fill in Information.
- Add a Little Pizzazz.
- Strategically Place Completed Anchor Chart.
We’ll dig into the details of each step, but first…
What are Anchor Charts?
Anchor charts are student/teacher-made, poster-sized visuals that highlight essential content from a lesson or specific unit of study. Usually placed in highly visible, accessible places, anchor charts serve as visual references for students (and teachers) to use during teaching and learning time.
Anchor charts reinforce skills, strategies, or procedures that students need to master.
If a student is working on adding fractions and forgets some of the steps, he or she can refer to an anchor chart about adding fractions for help.
Think about this for a moment…
Have you ever had that student that keeps asking the same question over and over even though you have said the answer or covered the topic A MILLION TIMES!?
Geez, little one, really?!
Are how about that kid who always second guesses himself even though he really knows the right answer? (smarty pants, uh?)
Well, my teacher friends, I’ve got a little magic potion to zap that problem away!
Anchor charts! They’re your new co-pilot. They help drive instruction and teach your little sweetie pies to be more independent in their learning.
This mini guide shows you how to create an anchor chart that students will really use!
You’ll get all the anchor chart tips, tricks and tried-and-true strategies.
How to Create an Anchor Chart
1. Choose a Learning Objective.
The first step in how to create an anchor chart is to think about your learning objectives, teaching standards, and/or overall lesson ideas.
What exactly do you want students to master?
Side note: Only create anchor charts for objectives that are part of your school’s mandated curriculum.
At the beginning of the school year, you may have anchor charts about classroom procedures and rules. Those are skills and concepts you’ll most likely keep posted all year long.
Academic content is a little different.
Because anchor charts are tools used to remind learners of essential content, I only create charts focused on concepts/skills that I’ve already taught and for which students need additional support.
For example, if I’m beginning a unit on the planets, I probably won’t create an anchor chart for the very first lesson with all the planets listed along with their characteristics.
Because I don’t yet know what prior knowledge students about that concept.
It’s best to do a few lessons to discover what your kiddos already know. You may realize that they know a lot more than expected, and therefore an anchor chart for that specific learning objective isn’t much needed.
After you’ve had an opportunity to observe what students already know, determine what underlying objectives you may need to explore further.
Maybe the students need reinforcement about the order of the planets or the characteristics of just the outer planets.
It could be that they need an anchor chart with steps showing them how to find their age and weight on other planets.
Once you’ve decided on a learning objective, you’re ready for the next step!
2. Gather the Appropriate Materials.
The second step in how to create an anchor chart is to get the supplies you’ll need. Of course you want your anchor charts to be visually appealing and most importantly, practical!
Keep these materials on hand because you’ll be creating a bunch of anchor charts throughout the school year:
- White Anchor Chart Paper (with or without lines)– The main ingredient! Lined chart paper yields a neater product, but if you’ve got a sharp eye and a calm hand, sans lines works just as well. If you don’t have “anchor chart” paper available, you can use butcher paper cut it in poster-sized pieces, poster-sized drawing paper, or poster boards.
- Permanent Markers– Kids love those fruit-smelling markers for creating anchor charts! Whichever you choose, get wide tip along with a variety of bright, beautiful colors.
- Odds and Ends– Keep close at hand a ruler, scissors, sticky notes, and a pencil. You’ll most likely reach for these at some point during your anchor chart creation.
3. Do a Little Research for Inspiration.
No need to reinvent the wheel!
Whatever your targeted objective is, I’m sure an educator somewhere in cyberspace has already created an anchor chart for it.
So take a look around Pinterest to get some ideas.
If you’re anything like me, you may not what to copy another anchor chart detail-for-detail but instead get a zing of inspiration from other creations in order to help you move forward in your vision of what you’d ideally want your chart to look like once it’s done.
Also take a look inside your colleagues’ classrooms to see what charts they’ve got hanging around.
If your search online and within classrooms leave you inspirationless (Is that even a word?!), be creative and just let things flow as you and your kiddos collaborate to create the anchor chart!
4. Make an Outline or Frame.
Here’s the next step in how to create an anchor chart~ make an outline or frame.
While it’s perfectly fine to begin an anchor chart with just a blank slate, sometimes a simple outline or frame adds meaningful context to the lesson objective and even saves you a bit of time during the actual creation process.
This is how I use frames and outlines…
If, for example, an anchor chart will focus on students knowing characteristics of the planets, then I’ll maybe have pictures of the planets already on the chart and then just focus on adding information about characteristics of the planets with the students.
That’s the most important thing anyway, right?
Let’s think of students working with the reading skill of cause and effect (or any reading skill for that matter).
You can have the graphic organizer already drawn on the chart.
Studying fractions in math?
Go ahead and print out a few (or have students draw them a head of time) pizzas, pies, or round objects that represent fractions.
Then during the anchor chart creation process, you’ll work with students to record what fraction part each picture represents. They can sketch additional pictures with numerical representations if you wish.
What about science? Students haven’t quite got the hang of the scientific process?
Draw an outline that represents steps and then have students fill in the steps of the scientific process during the lesson.
A simple frame or outline really saves time and adds context. Along with a frame, include a big, clear title along the top of the chart.
Teachers have so much to teach in a day so every spare minute is significant!
5. Create Anchor Charts with Students.
Now here’s where the magic happens. This is, in my opinion, the most important step of how to create an anchor chart!
Anchor charts are meant to be teaching and learning tools that help students internalize learning concepts, so include them as part of your lesson.
If you’re doing a mini-lesson on one of the six traits of writing, let’s say… how to write a good lead, you could have students brainstorm different types of leads that they have prior knowledge of.
Write this information on an anchor chart. Do this preferably during guided practice or the end-of-lesson summary.
This way, students work collaboratively with their peers and the teacher, and as a result they have more ownership of the chart.
Students being part of the creation of the anchor chart in some significant way is SUPER IMPORTANT for their learning process.
Have them do the thinking and brainstorming while you record their responses, guiding them and adding your “suggestions” for the chart here and there.
Quick Tip: If you really can’t bear the thought of an obviously “kids-done” anchor chart with all of its beautiful imperfections, then make a frame/skeleton, and have students use sticky notes to add their responses and ideas. Voila!
Let’s look at another example…
Lesson Topic: Determining Cause & Effect
Beginning of Lesson: Model for students how to find cause & effect when reading a non-fiction text. On an anchor chart (which has a cause and effect graphic organizer outline), show students how to record a cause & effect scenario from the text.
During the Lesson: During this guided practice time, students have their own individual copies of the text. As a class, discuss other cause and effect scenarios presented in the text. Record student responses on the anchor chart.
Closing of the Lesson: What have readers “taken away” from the lesson?
Gather on the carpet (or wherever your meeting area is located), and review what responses have been written on the anchor chart so far. There should be space left for a few more examples.
Call individual students to record additional cause and effect scenarios they found in the text. Peers chime in and assist as needed.
Observe how well the kids work together to complete the anchor chart.
Quick Tip: For younger students (1st or 2nd grade), you may have to do more of the writing unless you purposefully do interactive writing which research has shown to be great for kids!
Once the anchor chart is complete, review all the information as a class!
This above lesson scenario is just an example; there are many ways to use anchor charts within your lesson plan.
The main ingredient of creating anchor charts is to collaborate with students to make them!
Quick Tip: A great tool for use with anchor charts is an anchor chart easel. Unfortunately, thought, they’re very expensive! No worries. Here’s an anchor chart easel that won’t break the bank! Just use two binder clippers to hold the anchor chart pad in place. A teacher’s gotta hustle!
How to Create an Anchor Chart: A Common Mistake When Creating Anchor Charts
Are you using anchor charts the wrong way?
Don’t make the following mistake when making your charts.
You make a beautiful anchor chart at home or during your planning time, and then when teaching, you tell students, “Look, here’s the information. Remember it.”
Afterwards, you place it on the wall (or worse, tuck it away somewhere) where it rests in peace to never again be used.
Look, I’ll be honest.
I’ve done exactly what I just suggested you not do. And yes, some of my students did learn that way.
BUT I discovered that creating anchor charts with learners is way more effective and produces better results.
That’s the main secret to effective anchor charts!
6. Add a Little Pizzazz.
Want to know how to create an anchor chart that also doubles as classroom decor?
Just add a dash of pizzazz!
Before placing an anchor chart on the wall, pizzazz it up a little just to give it a little more flair and energy.
Don’t go overboard though!
While plain black and white is dull for this purpose, too many colors can be overwhelming for some kids.
Add just enough color to make the chart “pop”, and leave a good amount of white space.
Keep in mind that the anchor chart is for students’ use.
Ask yourself: “How can I add to the anchor chart so that the information remains clear, relevant, and easy to understand for students?”
A little bit goes a long way.
7. Strategically Place Completed Anchor Chart.
After creating a chart, put it in a visible place where students can refer to it as needed.
The chart (including all the others the class has created) should become a regular resource used within the components of reader’s and writer’s workshop.
I organize my anchor charts by subject area.
All the reading anchor charts go on one wall, the science ones on another, and so forth. Writing charts usually go near the writer’s workshop work station, and if there’s some sort of science lab available, I’ll stick related charts in that area.
Strategically organizing anchor charts this way minimizes the amount of time students use when searching for the exact chart they need.
Keep charts posted until every student has mastered the concept, and remind students often to refer to them as needed.
This step is SO IMPORTANT!
Many students have to be taught to refer back to reference materials, even if those resources are on the wall!
If you begin using anchor charts from the first week of school and discuss with students the expectations of using them, within time, your students will understand how they work and use them effortlessly! SCORE!
But you have to be consistent with reminding them. Many of them will not do so automatically, and some will even think it’s cheating (LOL!).
If after some weeks or months you still have one or two students having a hard time mastering a concept, take a photo of the anchor chart, print it, and place the printout in the students’ notebook as a reference.
Works great! (this method also works well if you have limited wall space).
Quick Tip: For students struggling to master certain concepts, make sure you’re documenting their progress in some way. Once it’s time to share their progress with parents, this list of meaningful reading and writing report card comments will help you express what you need to say to them.
For you visual learners, check out this great video by Educational Consultant Debbie Diller giving great tips about for anchor charts effectively!
Types of Anchor Charts
- Anchor charts are perfect for all grade levels (elementary to high school) and subject areas! Integrating literacy with the content areas is much easier when you use anchor charts with instruction.
- Some anchor charts serve a year-round purpose such as classroom procedures and reading strategies. Add, delete, or modify information as needed. No need to create a brand new chart each time.
- Graphic organizers make great anchor charts! Create templates and use post-its to add and delete information. This way, you can use them repeatedly throughout the year.
Anchor Chart Tips & Tricks
- Keep your charts simple. They’re for students’ use first and foremost. “Cuteness” falls behind that.
- Be creative in how you use anchor charts with students. Have them add content to the charts throughout a unit, create charts in small groups or centers, or do reciprocal teaching to model using one with a new teaching objective!
- Anchor charts are great for interactive writing. Interactive writing is students “sharing the pen” with the teacher. This writing method improves students’ penmanship, grammar, spelling, and overall writing skills.
- Don’t recycle the same charts from year to year. The charts you use each year should depend on the needs of your class. If your class is strong in a particular concept, you may not have a chart for that skill. Remember, anchor charts are meant to reinforce needed skills.
- Once students have mastered a concept, take the anchor chart down, but don’t throw it away. Use it as a center activity or keep all of them in a space in the classroom to be used by students for special projects or activities.
- Anchor charts are usually chart-paper sized, but they don’t have to be. Depending on the information, a half-sheet of chart paper can work just fine. Just make sure that the writing is legible, clear, and easily seen wherever it is placed in the classroom.
- If you teach elementary school, organize your charts on the wall by subject areas. If you teach middle or secondary, categorize them by units or concepts. This way, students can easily locate what they need. This tip is just one of many clever classroom organization ideas!
- Anchor charts can be used for any part of your lesson. Use them as a mini-lesson, guided practice, or informal assessment.
Where To Get More Anchor Chart Tips
1. My number one go-to is other teachers! I bet your colleagues have some really great ideas.
2. If you’re creative and have time to spare, materialize your own original anchor chart ideas! Just think about your teaching objectives and what specific skills your kiddos need in order to master them. Go from there.
Research on Anchor Charts
As educators, we instinctively know what good teaching and learning looks like.
But we’re also aware that we may at times be called to defend our instructional methods (such as anchor charts) with the help of research.
As I was brainstorming the key points for how to create an anchor chart, I began to research was available to support how effective they are for getting kids to retain information.
There isn’t a ton of research available for anchor charts specifically, but I do want to share with you what I found.
Research Study #1
The article Hook and Hold, by Jennifer Brown, is available for those with a subscription to Teaching Children Mathematics.
Through her research, Ms. Brown highlights evidence which showcases the effectiveness of anchor charts within math instruction similar to how well they work with reading and writing tasks.
Results of her research show that anchor charts serve as powerful visual references for learners, assist them in making real-world plus interdisciplinary connections, and create an engaging classroom environment.
Reference: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. https://www.nctm.org/Publications/Teaching-Children-Mathematics/2014/Vol21/Issue1/Hook-and-Hold/
Research Study #2
Marco Ramirez and Chris Confer are two educators who view anchor charts as powerful tools for taking math lessons to the next level!
Their video series, Math Tools in Action: Anchor Charts, demonstrate to what heights students can become higher-order thinking mathematicians by marrying the power of anchor charts and the Common Core standards.
“Anchor Charts describe the essence of a lesson; they help teachers to focus on—and students to remember—the most important mathematical concepts and skills being taught. Anchor charts not only compel teachers to be clear about their instruction, they also improve student comprehension.”
Research Study #3
Anchor Charts: My Personal Anecdotes
This post on how to create an anchor chart wouldn’t be complete with me sharing with you my professional experiences using these great tools:
- When taught how to use anchor charts effectively, with time, students will refer to them during assignments without prompting. As a result, they become strategic problem solvers who are able to confidently answer questions and seek clarification as needed.
- As the number of anchor charts you and your students create grows, your kiddos will begin to make connections, deep connections among content areas and concepts. Those are moments of celebration for sure!
- You know how important environmental print is very emergent literacy in the younger grades, right? Well, from my perspective, anchor charts are an extension of environmental print (that’s contained in the classroom!). Anchor charts create a literacy-rich environment and serve as souvenirs of the wide range of students’ learning.
Research and professional experience agree that anchor charts do indeed have a positive impact on students’ learning!
I’m hoping that now you feel more confident about how to create an anchor chart!
As you can tell by my anchor charts shown in this article, I’m no artist.
BUT I’ve had great success using them with my elementary students to improve their learning experiences!
The effectiveness of anchor charts is in how you use them with students. How you present anchor charts to students will determine how well they interact with and learn from them throughout the year.
Anchor charts facilitate learners in becoming independent learners and problem solvers. And the cherry on top is that you may see an increase on your standardized test scores, too! (cabbage patch dance!!).
Good luck with your anchor chart creation journey!