One activity that supports our community building and literacy development all year is the “All About Us” bulletin board. In preparation I divide my largest bulletin board into as many sections as there are people in the class using yarn to make the squares. I make sure there is a space for me, and I several empty squares in case a new student is added to our class, or for a student teacher to use. Each child is assigned a square to decorate with objects that will help the class learn more about him or her. I give everyone a week to fill their space, and each day the board grows more colorful and intriguing.
On the first day I introduce the board, I use my space as an example of what people might include. I have photographs of my family, a magazine cut-out of Martha Stewart (she’s still my domestic idol), a small earring in the shape of a watermelon, some coins from European countries I’ve visited (stored in a plastic baggie and attached to the board using a push pin), a poem by Milton, and a ticket stub from a Broadway show. Each morning afterward, several students take a couple of minutes to talk about their squares.
The All About Us board is a place where everyone celebrates the individuals in the class, but it is also a showcase for revealing how interesting the group is. The board is well known around school. Teachers, the principal and former students always take time to pop in and see what the current year’s class has designed. The board is a favorite at the fall Open House, too, when parents are treated to a gallery viewing of our class at a glance.
As the year goes on, the All About Us board evolves to meet the changing class identity. By Thanksgiving, the collage items have gone home and each person’s space is filled with a Thanksgiving turkey designed by the student with his/her family. In the middle of the year, we use the squares as mailboxes where students can pass notes to each other in a sanctioned space. Later in the year the class displays fine writing examples, healthy food advertisements, anatomically correct drawings of insects, and garden blueprints.
When a student teacher joins the class, she fills her space with objects that help us learn about her. At the end of the year, each person writes a tribute to someone in the class who has been special and posts the writing in his/her square. So, the year begins with us using the board as individual collections of work, and finishes using it as a way to honor each other’s contributions. The All About Us board is a wonderful community builder that grows throughout the year.
Tips for the Many Uses of the All About Us Board
1. During the first weeks of use, invite students to fill in their assigned space with items that tell us more about them. Why should we wait to find out about their interests and personalities?
2. At mid-year, clear out the spaces and create a wall of mailboxes. Kids are invited to use the All About Us board to pass notes to each other (written during sanctioned times, of course). Push pins allow kids to stick notes in the appropriate spot. I try to make sure each kid gets a piece of mail from me at least once each week for the first few weeks of this phase. Sometimes I post a funny joke in a student’s box, a clipping from the newspaper about the child’s particular interest or a note telling the child that I enjoyed his opening moment that week. Kids e-mail each other constantly, but I don’t want them to lose the joy of traditional letter writing. Everyone loves receiving “real” mail as much as virtual mail.
3. One way I encourage kids to spread communication around the room is by giving everyone three construction paper stars at the beginning of the week. I ask the kids to give the stars out throughout the week to three different classmates who deserved recognition for a kind act. On the star they were expected to write why they awarded it. For example, “You helped Kyra pick up her books after her backpack fell.” or “I saw you let Mrs. Kaback cut in front of you in the lunch line so she could have longer to eat yesterday.” These little “points of praise” are excellent community builders as everyone tries to catch someone else being helpful or considerate. Kids looked forward to finding stuff in their “boxes” and the fact that sixty or more stars are circulating each week guarantees that everyone will get mail at least once a week.
4. Display content area projects in each square. In science, when we studied the anatomy of a flower, we dissected different blooms, glued each anatomical part on a piece of black construction paper, and labeled each section. Kids then posted their “autopsies” in their squares. The class also diagrammed worms, fish, hearts, reproductive systems, and cells and put them in our boxes. When kids finished final copies of writing they were especially proud of, they posted them. Illustrations of famous people from history or diagrams of battle sites were also hung in students’ squares. Some chose to post challenging math problems, tongue twisters, jokes or riddles in their boxes. The expectation to post work often inspired kids to put more effort into their finished projects, and seeing the variety of work on display add vibrancy to the room. Another project the kids enjoyed was studying propaganda in advertising then trying to create an advertisement for a healthy food using one of the strategies. When these were posted in the All About Us spaces, the class had quite a billboard supporting healthy eating habits.
5. Keep a couple of spaces free in the All About Us board for visitors. The class usually has at least one student teacher each year. I also usually welcome a new child into our community each year and one of his/her first jobs is to tell the class about himself/herself using the assigned board space. The class also has a featured person of the week chosen from the faculty/staff in the school. These people are invited to share their interests by filling in the space designated for the special person . Everyone learns fascinating facts about the principal, the cafeteria workers, the school’s administrative assistant, the nurse, guidance counselor and select teachers from other grade levels and curricular specialties. The class chose twelve people throughout the school year which allowed each special person to display their work for two weeks of the year. (One year the principal asked for a permanent space and joined the class for each new phase of the board, from turkey decorating to mail service to propaganda posters!)
6. At the end of the year, we use the spaces in more personal ways to write tributes to peers in our class who have been important during the year. Students can post pictures of these honored people or write a special message about them. Some students choose to write about several friends, others about only one. I also ask that each person choose a favorite poem to dedicate to at least one of their recognized peers. This allows me to integrate their year-long academic study of poetry with the affective goals of the tribute project. The class designs the tributes on pieces of oaktag cut to fit the spaces on the board so that on the last day of school students could deliver their tributes to the featured person if desired, or take the oaktag home for posterity.