Effective Anchor Charts that Support Multilingual Learners

by Valentina Gonzalez

Effective anchor charts can leave a lasting imprint of a lesson, helping multilingual learners while they work independently. Multilingual learners can refer to anchor charts and use them as scaffolds toward independence. 

Two broad categories of anchor charts are content and process. Content anchor charts contain information about a topic or idea (story map, parts of a flower, life cycle of a frog, etc.). On the other hand, the lesser-seen but equally useful anchor charts, process charts, outline steps for how to do something (think of an idea, visualize, write a narrative story, subtract fractions, etc.). Process charts are particularly helpful for multilingual learners to complete tasks that require many steps. The co-created anchor chart helps as they work toward completion of a task for several reasons, including those listed below.

  • To touch base with the goals of the learning task 
  • To become metacognitive about the process 
  • As a guide to move them forward

Making Anchor Charts Accessible for Multilingual Learners

Not all anchor charts are created equally. Making anchor charts that are effective and support multilingual learners is essential. We can gauge the effectiveness of anchor charts by asking students when, how, and if they can use the anchor charts in the classroom. If students don’t know how to use the charts in our classrooms, we should consider their accessibility.  

Think about advertising in magazines and on billboards. What’s appealing? What do you actually stop and read? We can apply similar elements to the anchor charts we create through inspiration from the words of the famous British graphic designer Abram Games, whose motto was “maximum meaning, minimum means.”

In essence, our goal is to provide students with the clearest path to get to the desired “location.” Effective anchor charts can help us do that in elementary and secondary classrooms, no matter the content area. Let’s examine the criteria for anchor charts that are accessible and support multilingual learners. 

Elements of Effective Anchor Charts

This…Not this…
Created in front of students
Less wordy 
More visuals
Easy-to-read handwriting
Color-chunked ideas
Placed in prime real estate
Too many words
Little visual aid
Lettering that is difficult to read 
Written all in one color 
Placed where few students can see it

Think of an anchor chart like large notes of the lesson you are teaching. One of the most important aspects of making these large notes (the anchor chart) accessible for multilingual students is the strategic and intentional use of visuals to aid understanding. Adding visuals can increase recall of information by 65% (Medina 2014). 

How to Use Anchor Charts 

  1. Take notes on chart paper or a large poster as you teach a lesson in front of the class. These notes are your anchor chart. They anchor the learning. (See elements of effective anchor charts for tips). 
  2. Place the anchor chart in prime real estate. A highly visible and physically accessible location is the perfect spot for the anchor chart. 
  3. Remind students to refer back to the anchor chart as they work independently. 

Here’s a glimpse of what instruction might sound like in each of the steps above. 

Example Script
Step 1I’m going to take some visual notes during our lesson. You can use them as you write on your own. 
Step 2I’m going to leave our notes right here so you can see them while you write.
Step 3As you write your essay, check back with the notes we took. 
Step 4Let’s look back at our notes from the lesson. Think about where you are and your next step.

Just like billboards and advertisements, anchor charts need updating and refreshing too. As the units and learning objectives change, move out old anchor charts and add new ones to the walls. There are many creative ways to “store” old anchor charts while still making them available to students when they need them. Some teachers print small color photos of anchor charts before removing them from the walls, and then they place the pictures in an album or binder for students to use. Other teachers like to hang old anchor charts on skirt hangers and store them conveniently on a rack for students to browse through at their leisure.

No matter your preference for storage, multilingual learners will surely benefit from the visual and written support provided by the anchor charts you share and create together. 

Want to read more from Valentina about supporting English learners? Check out Reading and Writing with English Learners, co-written by Valentina Gonzalez and Dr. Melinda Miller.

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