A language educator’s work never ends.
As our students’ competency grows, there’s always more we can provide them.
More vocabulary, more authentic materials, more activities.
It’s rewarding, but it can be exhausting, too.
So why not take the weight off a little?
With classroom displays, you can let the walls do some of your work for you.
Whether your aim is to teach grammar effectively, lock down vocabulary or explore a literary text, you and your students can have fun getting creative and design displays that will keep target language essentials at the forefront of their minds.
Below, you’ll find tips for creating classroom displays that remain interactive and fresh throughout the entire academic year, plus five dynamic displays that can be adapted to your classroom.
Why Use Classroom Displays in MFL Education?
Classroom displays reinforce your lessons through creative engagement. As most MFL teachers know anecdotally, thinking creatively in a foreign language allows students to absorb that language as a form of communication rather than as a boring and arbitrary set of rules.
Classroom displays also particularly benefit visual and spatial learners, who may struggle with more traditional memorization techniques.
In a broader sense, these displays uplift your classroom environment; they brighten and add personality to the walls. Even more importantly, because these displays are created with students’ direct participation, they foster a sense of ownership in the classroom itself, which can increase their motivation to learn the language. With their hard work on the walls, your class is not just some room they sit in for a few hours a week to listen to the target language; it’s a shared space that they’re invested in.
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How to Foster Continued Engagement with Classroom Displays
If you put up a display in September and leave it static on the wall until June, it will lose its educational value and become like wallpaper. As educators, we need to keep these displays fresh and meaningful in order for them to remain effective teaching tools.
The displays covered in this post are specifically designed for repeated student engagement—that’s why they’re “dynamic.” After you’ve chosen which display(s) to incorporate into your classroom space, make sure to keep “when and where” in the forefront of your planning:
- When: How often will you return to the display? How much time can you devote in your lesson plans for daily, weekly or biweekly engagement? Are your students mature enough to be given unsupervised time to interact with the displays while you do small group or individual work?
- Where: This can be a tricky element for teachers working with non-traditional spaces or overcrowded classes. Ideally, you want to put a classroom display in plain view of all your students so that they can glance at it for reference and reinforcement. You can also take a photo of your display and print it out as a worksheet for students to reference at home while they study or do homework. Keep in mind that you may want to hide some or all of the displays during tests, so you should have a plan for easy removal or a curtain to pin over them.
Displays That Keep On Giving: 5 Dynamic MFL Classroom Displays for Year-round Use
Calendar displays are a staple of MFL classrooms, likely because they require daily engagement with essential target language vocabulary.
The display itself is simple: a calendar that allows your students to identify the year, month, date and day of the week.
I like to add a weather component as well to maximize target language vocabulary use.
How you choose to visualize these elements depends on your artistic abilities and your classroom space.
The benefits of this classroom display extend beyond basic foreign language acquisition. The daily task of updating the calendar gives a sense of formality and routine to your classroom environment.
I like to update the calendar at the start of each class, passing the responsibility to one new student each day and then having the whole class recite what was posted. Once that’s done, we’re focused, in tune with one another and ready for that day’s lesson.
This classroom display is specifically designed to teach beginner MFL students essential vocabulary. You’ll be highlighting colors, body parts and clothes.
Think of your classroom mannequin as a giant paper doll that your students will dress up. Set up this blank paper doll on your wall and provide a box full of cutout clothes, wigs and accessories in different colors that your students will use to dress up the doll. You can find basic templates here that you can recreate on a life-size scale.
The mannequin display allows you to assess verbal and reading comprehension in a few ways. You can let students dig into the bin of clothes and dress the mannequin freely, and then have your class describe what it’s wearing either out loud or in writing.
“The mannequin has brown hair and is wearing a blue shirt, a watch on its left hand, earrings on both ears…”
Alternatively, you can give oral instructions or printed assignments for how the mannequin should look, for students to fulfill in small groups.
Especially for younger students, it’s helpful to include some wacky clothes or accessories (think funny hat, monocle, patterned suspenders) to challenge their strategic competence and to make the activity more fun and memorable.
I’ve found that the mannequin becomes a meaningful, interactive element of the classroom. Students typically want to give it a name and refer to it throughout the year or speak to it jokingly. As long as they’re talking respectfully and in the target language, as an educator I’m happy for the communication the mannequin sparks.
3. Giant Magnetic Poetry
As a language lover, you may have a magnetic poetry set at home or may recognize it from friends’ refrigerators. It’s a word game that allows you to build your own sentences from a set of words, and it’s just as big a hit in MFL classrooms as it is at dinner parties. As a classroom display, it emphasizes creative communication and allows for free engagement with target language vocabulary.
To create this classroom display, you’ll be imitating the original Magnetic Poetry kit by displaying target language words on a white background.
First, decide what words you’ll want to include. You can focus on new words you’ve been teaching, and make sure to include a solid mix of nouns, verbs, articles and prepositions. Depending on the proficiency level of your class, it may be useful to stick with regular verbs so you can print out multi-purpose verb endings.
For instance, French students can tack on e, es, e, ons, ez or ent to any regular –er verb that you’ve included in your magnetic poetry set to conjugate it for the sentence they’re building.
If you have a magnetic white board, you can either print out your words and tack them to the board with magnets, or if you’re feeling crafty, get a magnetic sheet to write on (something like this). You can also tack words to a bulletin board, poster board or wall.
Once you’ve got your words displayed, let your students have at it. The goal here is not to rigorously drill vocabulary, but rather to provide a free space for students to engage creatively with the target language. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity here for solidifying target language grammar and spelling. Read out the sentences that your class created and ask your students to identify/correct any mistakes.
You can return to the magnetic poetry display whenever class time allows—it works particularly well as a warm up before a lesson or a cool down after a test.
4. Verb Garden
Language educators know that verb conjugations can be one of the most stress- and frustration-inducing aspects of our curricula. That’s probably why so many of us are committed to finding new tools to make verb lessons easier; here’s another one to add to your box.
A verb garden has a row of plants that are sprouting leaves and a watering can pouring down water. Write the stem of the verb on (you guessed it) the stem of the plant and the verb tense you’re teaching on the watering can.
Then call up students individually or in small groups to fill in the verb endings on the leaves. (If you’re working with stem-changing verbs, the infinitive goes on the plant stem and full conjugations on the leaves.)
For example, let’s say I wanted to teach the present tense of the verb chanter (to sing) to my French class. I’d write présent on the watering can and chant on the stem. Students would then fill in e, es, e, ons, ez and ent on the leaves for each grammatical person. With intermediate to advanced students, you can add excitement to this activity by assigning different stems to students or groups and making it a race to fill them in correctly.
When constructing your garden, it’s easiest to create a static garden that has a dry erase space on the stems, leaves and watering can, rather than printing out every verb stem and ending to pin on the display.
5. Book Display
The process of putting together this display is longer and more discussion-based than other ones I’ve covered here. In essence, your goal is to reinforce the plot, characters, tone and themes of a book that your class is reading—think of it as a collaborative book report.
Because each display will be geared towards a specific text, your class’s display might look completely different from your colleague’s down the hall, but both should require students to think collaboratively and critically about what they’ve read.
Construct your display based on the following:
- Tone: This is the look and feel of a book display—its background color, font and imagery. Encourage students to think about how their book display can inspire the same emotions that they felt while reading. A book display on “The Little Prince,” for example, will look entirely different from one on a Fred Vargas crime novel.
- Conflict and Solution: Have your students discuss the major conflicts that different characters face throughout the book and how they’re addressed. Provide space on your display for “plot boxes” to illustrate/describe these conflicts and solutions. Obviously, for many texts, conflicts and solutions do not arrive in a strictly linear or chronological fashion; let your students debate how best to arrange the plot boxes. You can also fill in these boxes with major plot points that aren’t necessarily a strict conflict and/or solution for the characters.
- Characters: Here’s the most fun one. Print out character descriptions from the book as handouts and have students illustrate what they read. You can make space on the display for all the illustrations, display them on a secondary poster or have students vote for their favorites to include on the display.
This is a living display that you can develop over the course of reading a text. By the end, your class will not only have actively engaged with MFL literature, they’ll have a shared accomplishment that they can look to together with pride.
These dynamic MFL displays will harness your students’ creative energy and help you immerse them in their target language, so go all out!
Don’t hesitate to put up multiple classroom displays, rotate them throughout the year or design your own.
And One More Thing…
To give your students an even more immersive, interactive learning experience, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. It’s designed to get students familiar with foreign vocabulary in a fun, friendly, totally approachable way. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news, inspiring talks, cartoons and more.
With FluentU, your students will learn the real language—the same way that natives speak it. They’ll hear their new vocabulary words in context, spoken naturally and casually. Every student is guaranteed to find videos they love to watch, and you’re guaranteed to find videos that meet your teaching needs. FluentU has a very wide variety of videos (browsable by category and level), as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to instantly pause the video and see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s unique Learn Mode, which asks questions based on what each student already knows. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
Plus, FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that your students are learning. It uses that information to give students a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples just for them.
You can organize chosen videos into “courses,” name your courses and assign them to your students for homework or in-class activities. They can each sign in using nothing but a secret password that we bestow to you, the teacher.
Then you can track their progress individually and as a group. How many videos and activities have they progressed through? What percentage of the exercise questions are they getting right? You’ll be able to see all this information and more.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store to access material on your Android and iOS devices.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach languages with real-world videos.