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Tips for an Effective Gallery Walk in your Social Studies Class

Are you looking for a new way to get your students out of their seats and engaged with your social studies content? Gallery Walks are a great inquiry-based activity that is easy to set up and implement. Check out some of my tips for holding an effective Gallery Walk in your social studies class.

What is a Gallery Walk?

A gallery walk is a classroom-based activity where students silently walk around the classroom to view images that are placed on the wall, just like an art gallery or museum. Typically, the gallery walk images are focused on a specific topic or theme and an inquiry-based question. The goal is for students to analyze and reflect on the individual images and then use the images collectively to make an interpretation or conclusion.

For example, when we were studying World War I, I had my students complete a gallery walk that focused on the inquiry-based question: "What was life like for a soldier on the front lines of World War I?" Students viewed 30+ primary source images which each featured text descriptions and then answered the question based on everything they viewed and learned.

Get Rid of Distractions and Create Your Classroom Gallery:

The great thing about Galley Walks is that you can easily transform your classroom and get your students up and moving without spending a bunch of time or money.

With a gallery walk, it’s important to rid the room of distractions. Since images are placed on the wall, it’s helpful to cover up any posters or wall décor that might become a distraction or take away the focus from the images you want your students to analyze. No one has time to take everything off the walls, so I like to do a quick room transformation.

If I'm short on time I purchase cheap plastic black tablecloths from the party section to cover my walls and create a solid-colored backdrop. I prefer to check a thrift store first for vinyl table clothes, solid-colored fabric bolts, or large table cloths because they last longer and can be used again, but it really depends on your classroom wall and what will hold more easily. You could also opt for black butcher paper if your school provides this, but I prefer tablecloths because they are much wider than butcher paper and it's easier to quickly cover more area this way.

If using the plastic tablecloths, they can be attached to the wall using painter's tape. Fabric can be stapled to the wall but is more of a chore to take down. If your classroom has the dreaded cinder or bricks, you might need to use painter's tape and hot glue.

Create the Ambiance:

At an art museum or gallery, the ambiance is an important aspect in allowing one to focus on the images. I like to hang twinkle lights (just some cheap Christmas lights) around the images as well as dim the overhead lights. If you have small lamps with adjustable heads, these can be used as “spotlights” to illuminate the image.

Create Calm with Music:

It is critical to go over guidelines before the gallery walk, and that includes explaining that there is absolutely NO talking during this period. Silence. I explain that it should be so quiet that we can hear the music only.

The music selection that I use is typically soft nature sounds. A rainforest or lullabies selection works well. Now, if you are learning about the Roaring Twenties, then you might want some jazz music instead. Using music is a great way to convey a specific mood or feeling.

How Do I Organize the Images for a Gallery Walk?

There are so many possibilities with a gallery walk. You could use photographs, political cartoons, artistic works, journal entries, and more. You could use only images, or a combination of many things. Images could be organized in chronological order or by topic.

Chronological Order Gallery Walks:

Organizing your images in chronological order works well if you want to focus on a specific event. For example, in my March on Washington gallery walk, students walk around the room and view images that move students through the specific events of the day. This means that students will need to move through the gallery in a specific order. I will release a small group to move through the gallery while the rest of my students are working on another task.

A Gallery Walk with Stations:

If you are focusing on a specific topic, you can easily set up small gallery walk stations. With this setup, it doesn’t matter the order in which your students view the images.

I typically arrange the images from one category in a specific gallery section. For example, in my World War I Trench Warfare gallery walk, images are all categorized, such as chemical warfare, trench warfare, tank warfare, and stormtroopers and flamethrowers. Images from each station are placed in a designated area, but it doesn’t matter which gallery station the students view first.

What Do Students Do During the Gallery Walk?

During the gallery walk, students complete an analysis sheet as they reflect on the images presented. I prefer to provide some guidance, such as in the form of specific questions to answer, but I also like to ask students to write down their thoughts, or any questions that they have that the images did not answer. These can be used for class discussion.

In my Roaring Twenties gallery walk, students are analyzing the differences between rural and city life. The analysis questions lead students to think critically about the images in order to understand that life on the farm wasn’t exactly “roaring” like in the city. Many times, the images I present in a gallery walk have students answer an overarching question, which I have students complete at the end of the gallery walk.

How Do I Grade a Gallery Walk?

When assessing a gallery walk, I prefer to grade for thoroughness and accuracy. It is important to remember that there may be more than one interpretation of history, however, one can reach the wrong conclusion if they are not careful. I usually provide my students with a final reflection sheet that includes answering an overarching or inquiry-based question. When grading, I am specifically determining if students were accurate in their analysis, and were thorough in providing proof to validate their conclusion.

Want to try a gallery walk in your classroom?

These ready-to-go Gallery Walks include historical images, student response pages, and more!


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