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Making Chapter Charts: Useful for Outlining—and for Decorating Your Classroom

 | May 28, 2013
May 28, 2013
When I think back on my early education, social studies was my least favorite subject. The information was presented in a very unkid-friendly format and was as dry as the twigs outside my classroom in Arizona. Unfortunately, not much has changed in textbooks over the years, but as a teacher I can improve upon how my students experience them.

Making chapter charts is a hands-on activity that will engage all of your students, promote teamwork, and offer opportunities to practice everything from critical thinking to handwriting. The preparation required is minimal and the supply list is short—but the end result will go a long way.


p: Chris Campbell via photopin cc
Butcher Paper: The number of chapters in the unit you are studying will determine the number of pieces of paper you will need. For example, one unit I taught had three chapters which meant I had three pieces of butcher paper. Each piece was three-feet long. I used orange because it was not a typical color for writing. It also brightened up the classroom. In addition, you’ll need one smaller piece in a different color that’s approximately half the length of the first.

Wide-tip Markers: I used black because of the strong contrast on my orange paper, but don’t be afraid to stray from tradition. Along with using orange paper I could have easily used a different colored marker, like purple.

Yarn, string, or clothesline: I used yarn because I also taught my students how to crochet (which is another post entirely). I secured a piece of yarn across one side of the room, a couple of feet down from the ceiling.

Clothespins: At first I thought, “Does anyone still make clothespins? If so, where can I buy them?” But yes, my local hardware store, drug store and even grocery store sell them.


This is a wonderful opportunity to take full advantage of differentiated instruction. Group your students according to their reading abilities. If you are like most teachers, you will not have the benefit of a paraprofessional to help you lead your group lessons. But don’t despair. The higher learners can work independently to read the chapter and write down their own notes. The next group you can approach as you would for a guided reading lesson, but with the students taking turns leading the group. A third group you can lead as a read aloud in much the same way as the second group, but with you doing the majority of the reading while your students follow along with their eyes.

If you have more than three groups, don’t worry. I often had five groupings to manage on my own. It is doable and definitely worth the extra effort and time to get your groups organized. Once your students know what is expected of them, the foundation is set, the groups will run themselves, and you’ll have the foundation set for future lessons in social studies and other subjects.

Before your students begin to read the text, you will want to have a minilesson on the difference between “facts” and “fun facts.” The facts are the solid, foundational information. They are the pieces of information you want your students to take note of, such as, “George Washington was the first president of the United States.” The fun facts are the pieces we like to share with our parents and friends at the dinner table or at recess: “George Washington wore a size 13 shoe.”

Now your groups are ready to begin reading the text. Here is your checklist that you can give to each group to use as they read the chapters:

  • Read the pictures
  • Read the captions
  • Read the text
  • Write down the facts
  • Write down fun facts
  • New vocabulary words
Once your groups have finished reading the chapter and have written down some facts, fun facts, and new vocabulary words, then it is time to bring the groups together to share their notes.


Now the real fun begins! For the first piece of butcher paper, write Chapter 1 across the top (or whatever chapter number you are starting with). Start with one of your groups and ask for them to share one or two of their facts. They can take turns dictating their facts to you while you write them on the butcher paper. Each fact can have a star or big dot for bullet points. Then move on to the next group and ask them to share one or two of their facts and to dictate to you as you write.

Continue in the same way with each group. Your students will likely have duplicate information to share, but that’s okay. Take that as a teaching moment to identify the same information presented in a new way. Neither way is right or wrong, but one might be better suited for this project. After each group has shared their facts you will have a poster full of six to eight facts from the text.

On the smaller piece of butcher paper, label across the top, New Vocabulary Words. Ask your students to share the words they wrote down. This is a good time to start with your groups sharing in the reverse order of the first share.


If timing works such that your students are excused to recess or perhaps a walk-to class, then this is your opportunity to display the artwork. Simply take one end of the butcher paper and secure the corner on the yarn or string with a clothespin. Add a few more clothespins across the top length of the paper. Do the same with the new vocabulary words next to the large piece. When your students return to the classroom, you will relish in their oohs and ahhs when they see the large pieces of colorful paper displayed in their room with their notes. They will certainly have a feeling of ownership of their work and pride in what they have accomplished.

By having the charts displayed for everyone to see, their learning will be reinforced daily. As you add more charts for the subsequent chapters, they will seamlessly build on their learning, too.

Speaking of which, you are now ready to begin work on the next chapter in the unit.


When you are ready to take these Chapter Charts down, cut the pieces into halves or fourths. Then, randomly select students to share information they learned from the unit. I had popsicle sticks with a student’s name written on each stick. If the student whose name I selected could give a fact, fun fact, or vocabulary word, then they earned a piece of paper to take home. My students loved taking home the colorful paper to use the back side for drawing at home. Bonus: it provided a wonderful way to recycle!

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at

© 2013 Kathleen Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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