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Creating Interactive Bulletin Boards

(This article appeared in similar form in the Summer 1997 issue of the TESOL Journal, 3(3), 32.

Often, in our rush to provide excitement within the four walls of our classrooms, we neglect to take full advantage of the walls and bulletin boards waiting for us just outside our doors. Every school usually has at least one bulletin board, but making the most out of an empty board goes far beyond posting a few pictures and English slogans up from time to time. Rather, teachers should create bulletin boards that are not only attractive, but invite students to interact and actively participate in some sort of hands-on activity or game. In other words, the average bulletin board can actually become a "student activity center" where students can learn too.

Some of the more interesting boards have to do with some aspect of foreign culture including holidays, sports, and music. During the Christmas season, for instance, I decorate the board with scenes of trees and snow and provide a large space for students to leave a Christmas message for others in the program. Next to these student messages, I sometimes paste up a seasonal comic strip that has been arranged in a different order. Then, I attach a small box to the board under the comic strip. Students are encouraged to guess the correct order of the comic strip and place their guesses in the box. Just before Christmas break, I open the box and write down the names of the students who got the sequence right and award them a special Christmas prize.

Along the same theme of Christmas, the ordinary bulletin board can turn into miniature light show with a little simple wiring, a few batteries, and a flashlight bulb. A board that always is a hit during the holidays is one that lights up when students match the correct vocabulary word to its definition. All teachers need to do is attach wires behind the paper to the corresponding vocabulary word and its answer. Then, you connect these wires to D-size batteries which can fasten using tape to the wall above the bulletin board. Teachers then put up a Christmas tree made of construction paper and attach a small flashlight bulb at the top of the tree as the star. Students know they have the right answer if the star lights up when they touch the word and definition together with a separate wire.

In addition to seasonal boards, I also focus on specific language skills. One interesting project I have come up with is the use of panels that open and close on the board to review proverbs. The first part of the proverbs is written behind small paper doors or panels on the left side of the board; the last part of the proverbs is written on the right side of the board. Students then try to match the beginning and ending together. The answers are written behind a separate panel on the board. If you are working with a homogeneous group of students who share the same language, the teacher might consider writing the equivalent expression in the first language. This still makes the activity challenging while still within the linguistic reach of the students.

Of course, the most popular boards are those that are student-centered. After any vacation, I have students bring a picture they took during the break and have them write a short paragraph about it. I have them write about where they went and what they were doing in the picture. We then put these pictures and the paragraphs on the board. An exciting variation to this activity would be to have students cut their faces out of the picture in order to disguise their identities, and then have the other students guess who is who based on what they write. Once again, I make a game out of the whole process. The student to discover the identity of the most students wins a price. In the case of a draw, the winner will be chosen at random. Teachers shouldn't be exempt from this activity either. The picture of me cliff diving last summer sparked life into class conversation during the following week.

Sometimes bulletin boards becomes cluttered with advertisements rather than serving as a tool to promote additional learning. However, creating interactive bulletin boards exposes students to other learning activities outside of the classroom in a non-threatening way. Students don't feel pressure to read or answer all ofthe questions at once. They can do the exercises at they own pace. Not only do students benefit, but teachers as well. Designing a new bulletin board provides teachers with opportunities to be creative and experiment with a new medium or instruction. Both you and your students will be winners in the end.

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