displays advice

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Displays Checklist for NQTs

Displays Checklist for NQTs

So you got the job! Well done! Now the panic starts.   I know you will be full of excited enthusiasm and raring to sort out ‘your’ new classroom. Breathe, and read this Displays checklist for NQTs  before you do anything rash.These are the things you need to consider now:

  • Check school displays policy (should be in Welcome pack or on website)
  • Try to have a chat with your NQT mentor before the end of term about what the school expects and if you will have displays help
  • Ask if the school uses specific fonts and colours
  • Find out what, if any, displays outside your classroom will be your responsibility.
  • Once you have a class list make several sets of labels. Save time and stress by using editable ones from sites like Teachers Pet or Twinkle.
  • Try not to spend your own money on display materials. They will be provided. See the Display Makers Toolbox for useful things you might want to buy.
  • Use the transition day to generate some sort of quick ‘getting to know you’ display that you can have up on the first day.
  • If you are in the UK avoid US based classroom design sites. Display here is more education than decoration.
  • Read this post about Display Basics
  • Join the Classroom Displays Monthly mailing list (see sidebar to sign up)
NQT displays checklist

NQT displays checklist

NQTchecklist – a printable version of the checklist for you to download.

Works for newly appointed teaching assistants too!

Oh and you might like to join the self-study Classroom Displays Starter Course, if you really want to go on studying rather than just enjoying the summer!


Classroom Displays Learn The Basics 5

If you are new to making classroom displays or you are not even working in a school yet there are some basic points about classroom displays that can be a bit confusing. Once you have grasped these basic things you might want to explore a bit further and join me in the 4 week online Classroom Displays Starter Course

As with most aspects of school life the first thing to check is whether your school has a displays policy. If it does then much of how you make displays in the classroom will be laid out for you there.

Classroom Displays – Boards

Display boards are usually backed with ‘fade-less’ poster paper which is more fade resistant than ordinary papers. Occasionally sugar paper might be used but it can fade very badly.  Other materials can be used but they have to meet the fire regulations. Teachers sometimes use fabric but it should be fire retardant. There are sprays available to help with this.
The backing paper is either in rolls or sometimes A3 sheets.

Classroom displays basic supplies

See more rolls and borders in the Classroom displays Book shop

These rolls might look rather bright and that can be an issue. I go into more depth about choosing suitable colours for backing and mounting in Week 3 of the course.

Make sure you know the school etiquette before you help yourself to the displays store cupboard.  In the coming months everyone will be looking for black and dark blue for bonfire night displays. Try to be a bit more original with colours and you will find display making easier and your displays might be more interesting!

Display basics- edges of display backing paper

Display basics, showing the edges of A3 display backing paper

Some schools use A3 sheets rather than rolls. Schools vary in their paper buying policies and you just have to be adaptable. When using sheets they are placed next to each other and attached to the board with staples. You can  see it if you look closely here, from a distance the edges are not visible.
Sometimes school use rolls of plasticised paper to provide a more lasting background. These can last a whole term or even longer. Colour choices can be a bit limited but it is easy to use.

Backing paper is usually stapled into place and can often be re-used for two or three displays depending on how well it has survived.

Round the edge of the display board we usually also add a border of contrasting plain paper. It comes ready cut on a roll. Sometimes borders are scalloped or have designs on them. Plain is usually preferable as it distracts from the work less.

Mounting Work

Children’s work is usually fixed to another sheet of paper to ‘mount’ . We usually attach work by using a glue stick. If you do it carefully round the edge and a dab in the middle then it won’t wrinkle.Work can be mounted on poster paper, sugar paper or sometimes on pre-cut mounts like the ones in the photo. Mounting can be single, double or triple depending on the look of the display.

A4 Mounting Paper

A4 Mounting Paper

When the display comes down work is often given back to the children but it often remains mounted. It can be carefully removed from pre-cut mounts but it is fiddly and work can be damaged.

When mounting work it is important to note the child’s name in pencil on the back of the mounting paper before you glue it down! Best practice suggests we should unobtrusively include a small name label on each piece of work displayed but that is not always possible.
Work is usually attached to the board by stapling the mount at the corners, ideally just catching it rather than piercing the mount. This is even more important with pre-cut mounts which are too expensive not to re-use. Use the stapler at an angle to make it easy to remove staples afterwards. Drawing pins are not ideal in the classroom for health and safety reasons. Blu Tack is sometimes used but it can leave sticky marks on the backing paper and sometimes falls off after an extended period.

Occasionally double sided sticky tape can be used on displays, but I usually had to provide my own! It’s too expensive to use for displaying work. I also found stick velcro pads very useful for attaching 3d items. Spray mount isn’t often used, partly because of issues with asthmatic children. I have used it myself sometimes on display items, but only when working outside school hours.

I hope this has given you a quick insight into some classroom displays basics. If you want to know more then why not have a look at the Classroom Displays Starter Course?

If you are a seasoned display maker, thank you for reading this far! Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comments section. What do you wish someone had told you about making classroom displays when you started?


Remove Sparklebox Toolbar, how and why 3

Are you worried about how to remove the Sparklebox tool bar?

Remove Sparklebox toolbar – via @mikemcsharry

Do you have the Sparklebox toolbar on your school laptop? I know lots of teachers still do despite all the warnings about the site. I also know that removing toolbars can be a bit daunting. I found a resource via  a Twitter conversation the other day that makes it much easier and explains just why you should.

You can download this pdf file (sparklebox notes march2011) mentioned in this tweet and use it to help you (or your technician) remove it. Mike includes quotes from several LEAs who are blocking the site in his blog post Sparklebox Removal

I hope most teachers now understand just why the site is banned by so many local authorities but if you are not sure then have a look at this from the BBC. There seems to be no evidence that the ownership of the site has changed recently, despite several rumours to that effect.

Of course we all get tempted to install things we probably shouldn’t, especially when they offer us incentives. It is worth remembering that if something seems to be free then access to your information is often the hidden price. That is why I think it is important to use trustworthy sites for free resources. This PDF will help you, or your technician if you are lucky enough to have one, to fully remove the toolbar.

As for where to find good quality free resources from trustworthy CRB checked sites have a look at the rest of the articles in this series Alternatives to Sparklebox and if there are some you’d like to add just leave them in the comments and I’ll link to them here:

Alternatives to Sparklebox wiki page


Get Ready for Your New Class 5

Get Ready for Your New Class

Welcome. The acrostic elements were generated by Year 6 right at the start of the year. Ownership of the room was thus subtly established as being shared with the teacher.

A big question when you finally get to the holidays is the extent to which you get ready for your new class before the term starts. I want to look at how you can prepare your classroom for the new school year and still have some time for yourself.

I’ve written about this before (Leaving Room for Your Class) but I think it is worth re-visiting . Recently we have been having an interesting chat about this on our Facebook page following on from reading a post on Lessons from My Classroom. I know that many teachers like to feel their classroom is a welcoming, exciting place for the new class to come into. I just worry that they can spend far to much time and energy during the holidays on achieving that impressive effect.

Get Ready for Your New Class – Things to consider

Teacher Time

During the holidays you do not  have your TA to help you get ready for your new class with the displays so everything is down to them. Usually. Once, long ago I was that daft TA who came in during the holidays unpaid (!) to help sort out displays! As a teacher you can feel that the classroom environment is something you are judged on, and not just by the children. In a school with that sort of culture it can be very hard to be the person who does not do everything in advance.

In the UK this is less prevalent than it is in the US. Themed classrooms and matching everything to your theme is much more common there. A few hours (days, weeks, you have been warned!) on Pinterest will quickly show you the extremes to which this can be taken. There teachers seem far more likely to spend quite considerable amounts of their own time and money decorating their classrooms. It is almost as though they see it as an extension of home decorating. All that effort can create some really impressive results, classrooms that sometimes really make you green with envy and that you can see it would be a joy to be a child in. Other times the results are so fussy and feminine I can’t help but wonder how any child with ADHD or for that matter many boys (!) would cope.

Schools have holidays not just for the children.You do need to spend part of your ‘time off’ preparing for next term but I seriously question if you should be spending a large part of it on displays.

The  other thing I’d question is whether all of this teacher work is actually adding anything to the children’s learning.



I want to consider the idea of  ownership of the classroom. If children come into a room that feels totally finished, maybe with just a few gaps for their work, then it is hard for them to feel it is their classroom. I think this is especially the case when teachers re-cycle important elements of a display and bring them out every year. I remember coming into a Year 4 ‘rainforest’ themed classroom with a visiting Year 8 child and having him remark “Wow! We made all those parrots when we were in this class”. Chatting to him further it became clear that it was not that the lesson had been repeated. These really were the same parrots and he quickly identified his one, still with his name on it. To the current Year 4 this impressive rainforest display was likely to be little more than pretty wallpaper as they had no real involvement with it.  This sort of classroom display undermines the use of displays for learning.

Part of the move towards ‘working walls‘ has come from a rejection of this kind of display. In particular books and courses about ALPS and Assessment for Learning have led some schools away from themed classrooms even to the extent of not having any displays in the classroom.  If you are teaching in that sort of setting then your approach to your classroom set up will be very different. I’d love to hear more about that so do leave a comment.

Creating Interest

There is an argument for some display preparation though. It’s good to have boards backed and borders up if possible. Maybe even just some rough plans of what will go on each one. I quite like the idea of creating a bit of mystery and interest for the new class. Here are some ways of doing this to start you off:

  • Ask a question in the centre of a board and provide an area for post-it notes guesses. Great for establishing what they already know about a topic. Turn the question into a statement & use as the board title once the topic work starts.
  • Prepare a board to display a class charter or Golden Rules maybe in a form that relates to your overall theme for the term or your class name. The point about this board is that it is ‘child led’. The work of filling it then becomes in part their responsibility and forms part of your first PSHE lessons.
  • A target board (again themed if you like) for group or individual targets. Personalise it as quickly as possible by adding photos of the children to moveable elements. Make sure you get the children to make these! eg peg butterflies or similar
  • If you really do want to have a ‘Wow!’ display already in place then give the class the  topic title, cover the main element with brown parcel paper and have the class guess what might be underneath. This will works well with role play areas and things like the giant legs from Jack and the Beanstalk or a pirate ship corner. The reveal involves ripping off the paper to create real excitement which you then quickly follow up with getting them involved in creating other display elements.

I am sure you can come up with lots of other ideas to create that excited buzz but just remember the magic does not last long. I believe it is the displays that they create themselves with your help and guidance that have lasting meaning for most children. What do you think?


Spaces and Places

Spaces and Places in the bookshop (Amazon)

Debbie Diller is a bit of a star at classroom organisation in the US. I’ve been looking at her book Spaces and Places recently and I’m quite impressed. It takes a very practical approach to organising the classroom. Although not all of the ideas easily translate to a UK setting I’m sure there is a lot here that can be adapted.

Spaces and Places is available through the Classroom Displays Bookshop as a US import for around £22 at the moment. It is full of advice that could be useful for UK teachers too.

Here she is talking about the book: