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Six Ways To Make Charts More Student-Centered

If you were to open my classroom closet a few years ago, you’d find a collection of laminated anchor charts for writing, adorned with velcro and laminated Post-it notes which I’d simply stick on while teaching. Having all of my charts ready to use, year after year, felt like a big time-saver.

There were several problems, however, with this system:

  • Charts were made for writers, in general, not my writers, uniquely. Each year, I found, kids needed different kinds of charts, different strategies on each chart, but the laminated Post-its made the charts inflexible.
  • I relied heavily on pre-made charts, so I didn’t know how to make my own.
  • Kids were not engaging with the charts, which felt more like wallpaper than a tool.

I realized that was the one doing all of the thinking work that went into constructing charts. Kids weren’t actively involved in making them, so they weren’t actively using them.

Letting go of my laminated charts meant letting go of some control, letting go of perfection. It meant persisting through the uncomfortable — drawing and writing in front of kids, not always having a model chart.

But, as with many risks, there were rewards. As we began co-constructing charts, we began co-constructing learning. Students, rather than the curriculum, became the heart of instruction. I spent longer studying student work and observing writers in action than I spent studying lessons and preparing tools. As we began spotlighting and involving kids from our class in each component of writing workshop, engagement and investment in learning soared.

Six Ways to Make Charts More Student-Centered

Chart adapted from TCRWP Units of Study in Kindergarten

1. Begin with a shared purpose

The curriculum guides we use may provide sample charts, but it’s up to us to decide which components of those charts are relevant to our writers and how they will be displayed. It’s also likely that there will be additional charts that are needed.

To ensure that a chart will be used, we can start with its purpose, by asking:

  • What do writers need right now? What are they least independent with?
  • What are the biggest challenges writers are facing? What strategies will help them overcome these challenges?
  • What reminders would writers benefit from?
  • What processes do writers need illustrated?

2. Use photos and videos

Why: Not only will kids begin to see themselves in the classroom environment, they will also see themselves in the learning and teaching process. Not to mention, it’s super exciting to see yourself or a friend on a chart! (Added bonus: not having to draw anything!)

How: If we know where our teaching is going, we can constantly be on the lookout for kids trying strategies that we will soon be focusing on as a class. We can capture those moments with a photograph or video (and even nudge into these moments with a conference). We’ll be left with artifacts to use in a share or mini lesson and will have a kid teacher or two to help!


After watching a video of two students partner writing, the class helped name the steps of partner writing. Pictures were captured from the video and used to make the chart.
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Kids took pictures of important items in the classroom to build the alphabet chart.

3. Highlight student writing

Why: When we use student writing (our students), not only is it a huge confidence booster to our writers, it also says: We are a community that learns from one another.  Additionally, kids will see skills exemplified by other kids, making those skills feel more tangible and accessible.

How: Any student writing that is used in the share or mini lesson can be photocopied (and reduced in size) and added to a chart. If done ahead of time, and projected on a document camera, the class can mark up the writing with arrows or highlighter tape.


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4. Label together

Why: Kids will have an easier time reading charts that they helped label or name. It doubles as an opportunity for interactive writing or shared writing.

How: With pictures already added to the chart, use the chart to support teaching. While naming each component, ask kids to help add the words. Make this quick, by sharing the pen only on parts of each word that kids need practice with (interactive writing). Or, label the chart with a small group of writers who would benefit from an additional practice of what the chart is supporting (and/or an additional interactive writing session). They can help teach it to the class when they are done!

Alternatively, we can involve kids with the process of creating a chart and its components, which might follow an inquiry or guided practice approach to learning a strategy. In this case, it makes sense to create the chart as a shared writing experience (teacher will transcribe, while kids are engaging in oral rehearsal).


A chart created with interactive writing
A chart created with shared writing

5. Draw together

Why: A shared drawing experience will make it easier for kids to remember components of a chart. It also provides an opportunity to practice representational drawing skills.

How: Pre-print the words on the chart as well as empty boxes where the pictures will go. Use the chart to support teaching. For each component, ask kids, “What picture can we add here to help us remember this?” Then, either draw the picture with their instructions, similar to shared writing, or share the pen in strategic places, based on what kids need (interactive drawing).


Kids shared the pen for the picture of “body listening” to transfer drawing strategies from a narrative writing unit.
A chart made by a small group of writers working on a shared goal

6. Revise as a community

Why: Revising across the day, and in other places besides books, will foster a culture of revision. We can think of predictable components of a chart, while also staying responsive to our kids by noticing and naming their own ideas (i.e. new phrases or terms, additional steps or strategies). Charts can grow and change as writers do.

How: Revisit a previously made chart during share or the mini lesson and name the new component that a student or the class has thought of. The class can also elaborate upon a previously learned strategy or component of the chart by adding post its or sentence strips.


The chart originally had “pictures” and “words”. Some writers began adding more pages to their books, so the class added an additional strategy to the chart.

If you’re diving into the work of creating charts with kids, I strongly recommend having Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli by your side, by digging into their blog, Chartchums and their book, Smarter Charts K-2.

You’ll also find a wealth of information on chart-making by clicking on the category “Charts” on the TWT home page.


4 thoughts on “Six Ways To Make Charts More Student-Centered

  1. The hows and whys you included are helpful for understanding why each of these points matter.
    BTW: I adore the idea of putting kids photos on the charts. I am a terrible artist. Had I thought of this when I was in the classroom, I bet my charts would’ve looked a whole lot better (AND would’ve been a lot more engaging)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear! I feel the same way about drawing. I’m getting better, but it takes me a LONG time and MANY tries. It makes such a difference when kids see the real thing, not just an illustration. I try to balance who is in the pictures so that each kid sees themself somewhere in our classroom!


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