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The Shakerite

The award-winning Shaker Heights High School student news organization

The Shakerite

The award-winning Shaker Heights High School student news organization

The Shakerite

Teachers, Please, Tri-Fold No More

Technology has outdated these cumbersome cardboard displays, which tri students’ patience threefold.
Josh Levin
Abandoned tri-fold boards from years past can be found stashed behind filing cabinets in high school classrooms.

I’d like to start by making it clear that, no matter how satirical it may sound, this piece is entirely serious. Teachers, I urge, nay, I beg you, to stop forcing your students to make pointless tri-fold boards.

Between microscopic typed text and our unreadable handwriting, I have never once seen a tri-fold that I actually wanted to read.

They’re also a waste of our already limited class time. Last year, one of my classes spent three 80-minute class periods working on a tri-fold board. Think of all the learning we could’ve accomplished if we had used that time productively!

Even worse, a tri-fold could be assigned for homework, forcing students to take half an hour out of their evening — or worse, a parent’s evening — to drive to a store and buy a piece of folded cardboard instead of doing other homework. Not to mention that a full-size foam tri-fold board can cost $20. 

If you’re going to assign them anyway, remember that they’re not the whole project. For example, if a tri-fold is being used to display how a student designed a product, grade the process they used and the product they created, not just how they displayed it.

On the other hand, if you’re assigning a research project in which the whole point is for students to create a tri-fold based on their findings, consider other options. Such projects can’t be justified as teaching us a skill that will help later in life. While PowerPoints are a staple of corporate boardrooms, you would be hard pressed to find a tri-fold in use outside an academic setting. They’re simply the wrong tool for nearly any job.

A good visual aid for a presentation will engage you and keep you interested. A tri-fold just sits there, largely ignored, until the presenter occasionally gestures at an image that isn’t nearly large enough to be effective.

There are plenty of great presentation tools out there that do the job so much better. PowerPoint, Google Slides, Canva, Prezi — really, anything. We’ve all got Chromebooks; why are we still using cardboard and glue?

For my fellow students, if you do get stuck making a tri-fold, first of all, my condolences. I’ve got some advice for you, too. 

  • Large font sizes are your friends. People should be able to read your writing from at least three feet away. For reference, 72-point type is about 1 inch tall.
  • Avoid paragraphs. Well-spaced bullet points will convey information much more efficiently and invitingly. A single sentence here or there is also OK, if used sparingly.
  • Use color. And pictures. As much as you possibly can. For photos, 5 inches by 7 inches is the absolute minimum. Anything with numbers or graphs should be even larger than that.
  • OK, maybe not that color. It shouldn’t be eye-searing. Anything you would describe as “neon,” “hot” or “electric” should be avoided, as should any color you would find in a pack of highlighters.
  • Please, and this is a big one, do not under any circumstances write anything by hand. I get it: Going to the library and figuring out how to use the printer is annoying. But five years of full-time Chromebook use and a year of remote school have not been kind to our handwriting skills.

As funny as it is to write about my sincere hatred of these projects, there are some more serious reasons, too: They’re awkward and difficult to transport. For students like me, who are licensed drivers, or who can easily get a ride to school, that’s just a minor inconvenience. For students who walk because they don’t have another way to get to school, it’s a much more significant hurdle that disproportionately affects students who live further away from the high school. 

So, teachers, what do you say? Can we agree to display our learning without cardboard and glue?

A version of this article appears in print on page 7 of Volume 94, Issue 1, published Aug. 28, 2023.

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