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How to be effective with your whiteboard

Working with Whiteboards

How to be effective with your whiteboard

Working with Whiteboards

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For more than 60% of language teachers, a whiteboard or even a chalkboard is still a main focus of written information as it unfolds in the classroom. For teachers, it's a working space to solve problems, give feedback, illustrate examples and give instructions. For the learner, it's an important visual record of what's going on in the class. If you put no thought into how you're organising that large cascade of information, or even how your write on the board, you'll make things tough for yourself and your learners.

Mark the board out in sections

Be consistent. Learners will become familiar with the hierarchy or priority order and function of each space.
Keep an area as your dynamic workspace for nutting things out and another area for objectives, aims, essential vocabulary and or grammar. Naturally this will change according to the needs of your lesson.

Just as learning is not a constant curve, but one with peaks and troughs, our reading ability also shifts.

Our ability to read comfortably and with comprehension depends on the task, context and motivation. If we are multi-tasking, rushed or tired, we read below our grade level. Consider this when you are asking learners to refer to the board while doing other things or your lesson is the last part of the day after a long day at work.

Don't clutter. Studies show that it's hard for us to deal with more than four variables at one time.

Use headings, harness colour and image

Importance based structure: Create a clear, consistent structure that you use to indicate the importance of content.

Technology is impacting on reading and how we are taking in information. This affects our reading of a whiteboards too. Use images and infographics.

Don't give me that rubbish about you not being able to draw!  YouTube is full of videos on how to draw stick figures or things in a 3D space. Practice makes perfect!

Use contrast and size

Think about websites and you might notice the use of large fonts. It makes for better readability can add hierarchy to your information.
Write clearly in print, not cursive. Place your pinky finger on the board to help stabilise you when you write (a painters trick!)

Use the flow

Think about logical progression in a lesson and how you might show that visually on your board with arrows, headings, numbers and colour.

And remember to vary how you present information. Remember to consider learner differences: not everyone reads a mind map, not everyone follows a list

A picture is only worth a thousand words if the reader can interpret it.

Dual coding is the combination of word and image together. What the picture doesn't clarify, the accompanying words will.

Make it friendly and Use Story-Telling

A cute little character, that turns up regularly to help tell the story of a grammar structure, helps make things memorable for kids.
Even adults like unexpected quirks and fun little things to add a sense of narrative.

What should I put on the board?

The variables are many. Is it the first lesson? What type of lesson will unfold?
For example:
• Theme
• Objectives
• Stages
• Pages of material being used
• Target Language
• Homework

Keep a running list of new language.

If the lesson is generating a lot of new vocabulary functions, chunks and structures, creating a temporary Word Wall on your classroom wall can help free up whiteboard space.

Capture the Content

Get your students to write things down or capture content on their phones, laptops or notebooks. Increasingly, people are using digital means like notebooks, phones and laptops to capture lectures and classroom learning. Naturally if you are using Interactive whiteboards you can save your screens and share later, but not everyone enjoys that technology, so consider what you can do with simpler tools because hey, you never know where you might end up teaching.

Old fashioned notetaking has its benefits

On the up side, capturing content on a phone or having it sent to you or shared means no more losing notes and you can capture a whiteboard in a click. However, on the downside, information retention may be lost. Evidence shows that the act of writing itself helps us remember things better. Writing notes by hand affords flexibility and control. You can include various formats that word processing can't provide - just think of Leonardo Da Vinci's notes!!

Your Learners aren't always expert note takers. Guide and give support. Let learners know that you are about to erase things off the board and when you think information is important to be written down.

Time for you to reflect on your teaching and classroom circumstances.

  • What ways can you make this work for you?
  • What clever alternatives are you already using?
  • If you are a member of ELTcampus, you can share your ideas in the comments area below.

Thanks to for the little ditty.