The gallery walk was probably one of my most used teaching strategies. If fact, it was rare that my classroom walls weren’t full of posters my students had created during a group discussion that ended with a gallery walk.
Why did I love it so much? Because the preparation for it – as well as the activity itself – incorporates so many important skills students need, and it results in all kinds of visible learning.
In this post, I’ll give you five reasons why the gallery walk is a super-charged strategy, then I’ll give you the how-tos for doing one in your classroom (and a free activity for any text!)
But first you will need a few simple things to get started: chart paper (or any oversized paper – 11 x 14 or 11 x 17 works too), markers, sticky notes, and masking tape (or whatever you use to adhere things to your walls).
Five Reasons Why Gallery Walks = Lots of Learning
Collaboration: Most students love group work because it changes things up, gives them a chance for more active learning, and allows them to get ideas from each other.
When students work together to figure out a complex text or a problem, deep learning can occur. When students are taught how to listen to and question each other, they learn skills that they can use long after they leave our classrooms.
Movement: It’s hard to sit still for long periods of time, no matter how old you are. (one reason most of us aren’t huge fans of staff meetings). Giving students the chance to stand up and move around during your class with a gallery walk can make a huge difference for their engagement level (If you’re worried about maintaining “order,” check out this post).
Idea development: The gallery walk pushes students to support their ideas. First, they work together to support the assertions they may be making, or the writing task they are working on. Then, during the gallery walk, they are encouraged to add more detail to their peers’ work. My students would make huge gains in their own writing after several gallery walk activities.
Visual learning (and teaching): If you follow this blog, you know I am a big proponent of visible learning and teaching. Students need to see how learning happens and we need to see what they are doing so we can provide them with effective feedback. This process does both in spades (Read more about making thinking and learning visible here.)
And because of all this visible learning and teaching during gallery walks, your students get a ton of formative assessment during the process. If, for example, the groups are trying to come up with the theme of a text, as you circulate, you can correct any errors they are making or steer them off any wrong paths on which they are travelling. You can give students feedback via written work, of course, but this is a quick way for them to find out if what they are doing is correct without you spending a weekend at your desk!
Student responsibility: Gallery walks put the responsibility for learning in the students’ hands – where it should be. Instead of you giving them chapter questions that guide their thinking, you give them a task where they have to do it themselves. And because they are creating work for other students to learn from, they need to take on the responsibility to do it well.
So in case you’ve never done a gallery walk, here’s how it works:
❶ Before the gallery walk, give your students a task to do where they need to discuss a topic, practice a skill, analyze a passage, etc. This part of the process is important, as students are discussing and learning – so give it time. I often spent a class on this part and then the gallery walk portion of the activity was the next day.
❷ Students will record their work on chart paper in a neat, easy-to-read fashion, so their classmates can read it. They will need some training on this. Demonstrate what to do/what not to do.
❸ Once they are finished, groups will adhere their work to a wall in the classroom – or out in the hall if that works. Spread the posters out so there is room for movement.
❹ Each group moves clockwise to the right to another group’s poster. There, they will read and discuss what they wrote, deciding if they agree or disagree. They can write on the poster using a different color marker or sticky notes.
What do they write? They may add a new point or piece of evidence. They might write a counter point that they support with evidence. Or, they may write a question they need answered to understand what the group wrote.
❺ After visiting each group’s poster, groups will end up back at their own. Then, they read and discuss what the other groups wrote.
❻ There are several ways you can follow up after a gallery walk. You can have a full class discussion where each group answers questions posed by others, or defends what they wrote based on any dissenting points. The class could also discuss and/or vote for the best points made. The whole process can be a skill building opportunity with no follow up assessment, or it can be the basis of a notebook response or full piece of writing.
NOTE: if groups were discussing information that all students needed for future assessments, I would leave the posters up for awhile so students could revisit them – or even take a photo. I would also read over them and correct any misinformation.
👉🏻 If you’d like more detail on the process – and a free exercise you can use with any text, click here.
And, if you’d like to read more about gallery walk activities, check out these posts: