Why I think table top mats are better than wall displays

//Why I think table top mats are better than wall displays

A couple of days ago I posted an article exploring why I’m not keen on teaching being expected to spend time putting on displays in their classrooms. This made some people happy 🙂 but a few people were sad 🙁  . One criticism was that some displays contain important information that can be covered up so that students can be tested to see whether they’ve memorised it. This is the Bananarama Principle: It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. Wall displays can be used well and table top mats can be used badly.

So, of course displays can be used this way (although they rarely are) but I reckon covering up sections of the classroom wall on a regular basis is an inefficient way to go if this is your aim. I find laminated table top mats work better, despite the time it might take to hand them out. Here’s why:

It would be a struggle to fit everything students needed to remember on the wall. This requires a compromise; you either have to make the information so small that the vast majority of students would be unable to see it or only put up a few displays and require that students memorise less. I can make as many table top mats as I want and fill them with as much stuff as I deem appropriate.

Covering up wall displays makes differentiation hard. If all students have their own mini-display I can take it away as I feel they can do without it. If they struggle too much I can easily give it make for a short while. This is one of fundamentals of effective scaffolding. Covering and uncovering large sections of wall displays would quickly become impractical.

The advantages of table top mats are:

  • The can contain a lot of readable information
  • They can be used more flexibly
  • They can be reused as often as required
  • Over the long term they will save time.

One potential disadvantage over wall displays is that you have to give them out every time you want to use them. This could be annoying if every students needed their own individual resource , but in that case it might be more practical to make students responsible for their own resource. But usually I find one mat for table works well so handing them out is the work of a moment.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t use wall displays if you prefer. Be my guest. I’m merely pointing out the merits of the alternative.




  1. Kris May 29, 2016 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    What about the kind of interactive display from working walls that characterise a language and vocabulary rich talk 4 writing learning environment in a primary classroom?

    • David Didau May 30, 2016 at 10:06 am - Reply

      Yeah. Not sure how much they add beyond looking ‘nice’.

  2. Bradford Clark May 31, 2016 at 10:20 am - Reply

    I think that there is a good argument to be made for both. I’ve found that I tend to use mats more for aspects of good academic writing – sophisticated sentence starters, noun phrases, paragraph structures, topic sentences, etc. – while using displays for more of the hard ‘content’ of that term’s topic. So, for example, when we did Othello, I would print out an A3 paper with just a few key points on the treatment of women in Elizabethan era, who the Moors were, and so on. I generally describe my displays to colleagues as being more ‘utilitarian’ – my classroom has a lot of black and white A3 sheets. I think it’s been very effective, however. I think this is so in that it associates the key points – context of the American Dream in OMAM, uses of imagery in Hounds of the Baskervilles, and so on – with a physical space in a way that helps the students remember, not unlike the ‘mind palace’ technique for improving memory.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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