Affirming Visuals: Classroom Decoration to Support SEL

Design classroom visuals that communicate community values and norms, celebrate student work, and affirm student identities to support SEL
69 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

Classroom visuals such as bulletin boards, posters, anchor charts, and whiteboards can be used to deliberately support social-emotional learning as well as student-centered classroom culture. This strategy provides tips to create classroom visuals that affirm students by communicating classroom values and norms, celebrating student work and growth, affirming student identities, and providing a reference for key content or terms. This strategy also includes tips for making any bulletin board look beautiful - even if you're not very artistic!

Implementation Steps

60 minutes
  1. Take stock of your classroom and opportunities for visuals.

    • How many bulletin boards do you have? What other blank wall space do you want to use for specific decoration?

    • What materials will you need?

      • What does your school provide, and what will you need to procure?

      • If your school doesn't provide any supplies, consider using a website like to request funding for classroom decoration supplies.

  2. Brainstorm and decide what types of visuals you would like to have in your classroom. Make a plan for each of your bulletin boards or any other displays you will create. Here are some ideas student-affirming classroom visuals:  

    • Communicate classroom values and norms

      • Class expectations: Create visuals that remind students of expectations and procedures. For example, you might create posters that remind students of partner work expectations, what to do when they're stuck, or peer communication norms.

      • Growth Mindset: See the "Growth Mindset Rephrasing" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab for examples of Growth Mindset visuals to support students in using growth mindset-oriented language.

      • Self-regulation Strategies: Consider providing students with a visual "menu" of self-regulation options that they can use if they are struggling to focus. See the "Self-Regulation Strategies" strategy for examples.

    • Celebrate student work and growth

      • Student work: Displaying student work sends the message that you value what students do and that students can learn from one another.

        • Display both in-process and finished pieces. For example, consider posting draft writing with cross-outs and highlighter marks to show students that mistakes and revision are part of learning.

        • Display work from all students, not just the top performers!

        • Give students opportunities to choose which of their own work they would like displayed. For example, have them select a piece of work that shows growth, a piece that shows hard work, a piece that shows teamwork, etc.

      • Mastery/progress trackers: See the "Progress and Mastery Tracking" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab for examples of how to display student progress and mastery.

    • Affirm student identities

      • Awards and shout-outs: Use a bulletin board as a spot to highlight amazing student work, growth, or participation. Consider using a simple template to add shout-outs and awards as you see them.

      • Positive news board: See the "Positive News Board" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab for examples of how students can publicly recognize the contributions of their peers.

      • Gratitude board: See the "Gratitude Reflections" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab for examples of how students can display gratitude for their peers publicly.

    • Reference key content and terms

      • Unit-specific reference: Use an anchor chart or other visual to represent key terms.

        • See the "Anchor Charts," "Concept Mapping," and "Collect and Display" strategies in the BetterLesson Lab for examples of how to visually represent content-specific material.

        • Consider displaying key unit vocabulary on the walls so that students can use those words in their academic talk.

      • Consider adding visuals to your classroom that enrich the content in a given unit. For example, you might create a "Conservation in the News" bulletin board during a unit on biodiversity, or a "Leaders for Change" bulletin board during a unit

  3. Make it beautiful! Even if you're not usually an artistic person, consider these tips for keeping your bulletin boards looking clear and clean:

    • Add a background to your bulletin board. Chart paper or large rolls of cloth works well. If you have a large bulletin board, you might want to ask someone for a second set of hands to help you cut and staple the paper/cloth on the board.

    • Add a border to your bulletin board.

    • Avoid jagged edges. Use full sheets of paper or use a paper cutter to cut smaller pieces.

    • Print out letters (or use pre-made  cut-out letters) if your handwriting isn't great

    • Avoid clutter. Leave space around anything you display.

    • Refresh often. Over time, paper will curl, rip, or fade, and students will lose interest in outdated bulletin boards. Consider building time into your calendar at the end of every unit to refresh any ragged bulletin boards.

    • Consider your students' eye level. If you teach younger students, add visual references on the lower half of your walls so that they meet your students' eye levels.

    • Ask students for help!

      • Students love helping out with bulletin boards and other visuals. Give students an opportunity, even during a free block or after school, to help you decorate the classroom.

      • Giving students a voice in your decorations ensures the decorations will be interesting to students and creates a feeling of community.

    • If you're stuck, turn to the wisdom and creativity of other teachers! There are tons of great bulletin board examples online. Try searching google or Pinterest for a specific type of bulletin board to spark your inspiration!

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Using affirming visuals to communicate classroom values and norms, celebrate student work and growth, affirm student identities, and provide a reference for key content or terms is a foundational tool teachers can use to better support all students with disabilities to become more engaged participants in their learning.    In order to plan effectively to use visuals to support students with disabilities, teachers should consider the following modifications:


  1. Before deciding on a specific plan for affirming visuals in the classroom, teachers should consult with special education department administrators or specialized teachers.  They should use information on specific disability types and how those needs would present in the classroom setting to determine which visuals would be best used.  

  2. For students who struggle with transitions or procedures, providing visual references with reminders of what to do can help them navigate difficult moments. For example, you might add a "What to have on your desk at the start of class" poster or a "What to do when you're stuck" anchor chart. See the resource in the resource section below for more information.


EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

This strategy encourages the use of classroom decorations that have a purpose and are supportive of learning. Learners are set up to use visuals as references and/or reminders of growth and success. 

English learners are required to read when teachers use this strategy. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Give learners a classroom wall tour. Find time outside of class to orient learners 1:1 or in a small group to the various supports found on the walls. Encourage questions and model how a learner may use the decoration as a reference or to remind themselves of progress and/or successes. 

  2. Anchor the written word with graphic support. When possible, and especially with everyday references like schedules and procedures or discussion frames, include a visual, e.g., food for lunch, a hand signal for quiet time, two faces talking to each other for discussion frames, etc. Consider using home language for daily schedules. Consider adding labels to common classroom items or realia like whiteboards, pencil sharpeners, etc. to reinforce this vocabulary for learners at lower levels of proficiency. See the "How to Display Words to Support ELLs" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Seek English learner input. When posting learner work, ensure English learners, especially those at lower levels of proficiency approve particular pieces of work to be made public, as learners may be self-conscious of their language skills and/or differentiated assignments. 

  4. Make Word Walls purposeful. English learners benefit from language-rich classrooms, including the use of word walls, which provide an excellent opportunity for learners to be self-reliant in their use of vocabulary, and a means for learning facilitators to remind learners where to turn. Ensure word walls are well organized, e.g., words are in understandable categories like alphabetically, by tier, by content area, etc. Ensure learners know the purpose of the word wall and when to use it by taking time to explicitly connect the word wall to their learning. Consider making word walls interactive by adding learner-generated words or definitions. See the "If Word Walls Could Talk, They Would Ask For More Student Interaction" resource in the resource section below for more information.

Culturally Affirming Classroom Visuals

When creating classroom visuals, it is important to ensure that the images and examples you use are culturally affirming. Ensure your images, quotes, and examples are reflective of diverse communities, non-stereotypical, and inclusive of multicultural examples as much as possible. Even if there is not much diversity among your students, images can stand in for excluded voices or groups that would otherwise remain invisible. Teachers can recognize the students' world outside the classroom by posting a poem, quote, or picture that demonstrates awareness of and respect for students' racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.


To learn more about affirming student identities, explore the Windows and Mirrors strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.

Additional Reading