Tips for 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 around a specific topic or theme. 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.

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

I’d like to share some tips based on what I have found works well.

Transforming Your Classroom:

Cover the walls

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.

I simply purchase the cheap plastic black table cloths from the party section to cover my walls and create a solid colored backdrop. I hang the backdrop with painters tape (keep your school maintenance happy). I prefer dark colored tablecloths simply because it’s less distracting than bright colored walls. The great thing is you can use these tablecloths again, and if for some reason you need to replace them, it’s not going to break the bank. You could use black butcher paper if your school provides this, but I prefer black tablecloths because they are much wider than butcher paper and you can quickly cover more area this way.


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.

gallery walk- middle school social studies

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.

Setting Up Your Gallery:

Chronological Order vs. Categories

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.

gallery walk-middle school social studies civil rights

I have done gallery walks in my classroom several different ways. Sometimes I have primary source images set up in chronological order which means that my students rotate around the room in a specific manner. This 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. They view images of the people gathering, the buses, the check-ins, and then the different concert performances and speeches, to the final speech, given by Martin Luther King Jr. The speech then ends with a viewing of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Other times, I have my gallery walk set up in categories. This works well if your gallery walk focuses on a specific topic. With this set up, it doesn’t matter the order in which your students view the images. However, what I typically do, is set up the images from one category is a specific “area.” For example, in my World War I Trench Warfare gallery walk, my students are answering the overall question of “what was life like for a soldier on the front lines of WWI?” Images are all categorized, such as chemical warfare, trench warfare, tank warfare, and stormtroopers and flamethrowers. Images from each category are placed in a designated area, but it doesn’t matter which category the students view first.

Analysis & Interpretation:

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 are answering an over-arching question, which I have students complete at the end of the gallery walk.

How to Assess 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 he or she is not careful. I usually provide my students with a final reflection sheet that includes answering an over-arching question. For instance, in my World War I Trench Warfare gallery walk, students are answering the over-arching question of “what was life like for a solider on the front lines?” 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?

Check out some popular social studies gallery walks perfect for upper elementary and middle school!

Civil Rights Movement: March on Washington Gallery Walk & Primary Source Analysis

Roaring Twenties Gallery Walk: City Life vs. Rural America

World War One Gallery Walk: What was life like for a soldier on the front line?