Using Bulletin Boards to Differentiate the Classroom Environment

by Jessica Mazone

Whether we are fifteen-year veterans or novice teachers to the profession, the start of a new school year carries with it a myriad of emotions, feelings, and tasks in need of completion.  Questions such as: (a) What types of learners will I have in my classroom? (b) How can I integrate the Common Core State Standards into my current practice? (c) How can I arrange my classroom (tables, schedule, workspace) to maximize student learning? and (d) How can I differentiate instruction to meet the needs, interests, and abilities of my students? consume our thoughts during the first few weeks of school.  There are no easy answers to these questions.  However, we can begin to think about using bulletin boards as a means of providing both differentiated and individualized learning experiences for all students.

In our work with pre-service teachers at the University of Southern California, we have discovered that bulletin boards are an under utilized resource for differentiating classroom instruction.  Many of our teacher candidates believed that bulletin boards were simply a means of making the walls of a classroom look “cute” or “welcoming,” and that bulletin boards were only a technique suitable for primary (K-3) grades.  We, however, believe that bulletin boards are much more than decorations; they are essential and instructional tools for creating a differentiated classroom environment.

Bulletin boards function as the perfect vehicle for integrating the four tenets of gifted instruction: Acceleration, Depth, Complexity, and Novelty into the core content standards.  Bulletin boards created around a universal concept (acceleration) can help students see the connections that exist between and across the various disciplines.  The prompts of depth and complexity can be integrated into the construction of a bulletin board to further focus students’ study of the core content materials.  Bulletin boards can also serve as the catalyst to independent study projects based on student interest, choice, and aptitude (novelty).


This article presents four different types of bulletin boards that can be used individually or in various combinations to create stimulating and differentiated classroom environments across the grade levels. When most educators think of bulletin boards, they envision those that are aesthetic in nature. Images of the fall harvest, famous works by Claude Monet, and the national parks as seen through the hauntingly beautiful lens of Ansel Adams epitomize this design. Aesthetic bulletin boards serve two very important purposes: (a) they help students develop an appreciation for the world in which they live, and (b) they provide opportunities for students to “dabble” into unfamiliar topic areas and to develop interests they did not even know they had.

Informational bulletin boards, as the name suggests, provide students with key pieces of information that can be narrow (specific classroom events) or broad (current events happening in various parts of the country or world) in scope. Informational bulletin boards serve as a means of communication between several different classroom stakeholders: teacher, students, school administration, parents, and community members. Back to school night, school fundraisers, PTA meetings, and community events can be continuously updated using an informational bulletin board. Informational bulletin boards also provide directions to students and can act as a place where previously taught information can be retrieved for use on current and future tasks.
Sharing bulletin boards provide a communal space for students to display their work generated from the lessons, units, and projects of the core curriculum. This type of bulletin board helps to reinforce a classroom culture that values individual differences, multiple perspectives, and the idea that “personal best” does not mean “the same.” Sharing bulletin boards enable students to become aware of the talents, aptitudes, and successes of their colleagues and help facilitate the development of common interests and new friendships among peers. It is important to remember that all students, regardless of behavior or ability, be granted the right to have their work displayed on the sharing bulletin board.
Interactive bulletin boards function as an instructional tool that can be built into existing learning experiences or lesson plans. This type of bulletin board is closely related to a learning center in that it contains specific task cards for students to complete. The task cards relate to the lesson, unit, or theme under study and demand an individual or group output from the students. Student-constructed responses (as seen below) are then displayed on the bulletin board to be used to share and summarize information throughout the lesson. In this way, interactive bulletin boards act as a “secondary” or additional teacher in the classroom by facilitating intellectual engagement without direct teacher instruction.
The four different types of bulletin boards do not exist in separate and distinctive realms. Their areas of overlap are nuanced and they are many. For example, you can construct a bulleting board that can be both informative AND interactive, a board that can be aesthetic in nature but also used to share students’ work. It is not important which board you create, how perfectly cut your letters are, or how close your rendition of a covered wagon comes to the original. What is important is WHY you chose to create the board and HOW you utilize its contents to create differentiated learning experience for your students. Be creative, be inventive, and make it your goal to design and implement a differentiated bulletin board during the fall semester.

Jessica Manzone, University of Southern California, has been a Research Assistant on two Department of Education grants to assist in the collection and analysis of data. Dr. Manzone currently teaches at USC in the MAT program. She also has been instrumental in managing the grant resources and disseminating curriculum materials through direct interactions with grant affiliated administrators and teachers. Dr. Manzone has been recognized for her abilities to develop and present in school districts and conferences the principles of differentiated curriculum to educators. Her primary professional responsibilities throughout her career have been in Title I schools working with students of diversity. Dr. Manzone has co-authored three publications related to differentiated curriculum for gifted students. Currently, she is the co-author of a publication targeting the implementation of the Common Core State Standards of mathematical practice.

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