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Work Your Whiteboard

Still a little blurry eyed while waiting for that jolt from my first coffee, I opened the door to my classroom and was shocked by what I found. Actually, I was shocked by what was missing: all the furniture! This ‘classroom’ was actually an old conference room in a dilapidated circa 1970 office space located practically on the tarmac of the Madrid Barajas Airport. Although it wasn’t state of the art, at least I had a flip chart, a long conference table, and enough chairs for all my students - until today.

Missing Furniture
We were about to sit on the floor and sing campfire songs.

With the start of my business English class just minutes away and a half dozen employees hoping to learn something before sunrise, what was I to do? Luckily, I managed to find another abandoned room that would make-do and the minor crisis was averted. Teaching in companies has taught me to never take for granted classroom resources, especially the white board. I’d like to share a few of my best practices to maximize this invaluable tool if you are so fortunate to have one at your pedagogical disposal.

Break it Down

If you’ve taken a TEFL or classroom teaching course, then you are familiar with the concept of a ‘board plan.’ Yes, it’s a wise decision to sketch a quick diagram of what will go where on your board if you are teaching more complicated grammar points or a lesson requiring very clear illustrations. No matter the lesson, I divide the board into three parts proportionate to the given white board. The date and lesson objectives are placed at the very top. The rest of the board below is used as my workspace where I write and erase several times throughout the lesson. The right third of the board, however, is sectioned off for a list of new words and error corrections. The objectives and error corrections aren’t erased until the class is over.

Stand and Deliver

If you are always frantically writing on the board, then take a break and let your students do some of the work. Take advantage of any opportunity for your students to get up and move around. I find that warm-up activities that allow students to write on the board like Hangman or Pictionary really add some energy, especially to an early morning or late afternoon class. Don’t be afraid to ask for students to copy answers onto the board or practice work. You can even select a class scribe to write lists, draw diagrams, or record a brainstorming session. This change of classroom dynamics can really be a breath of fresh air for both you and your students. 

Madrid Barajas
Madrid Barajas Airport's swanky international terminal

Take Ten

Remember that section of your board on the right dedicated to error correction? By the end of the lesson it should be full of new vocabulary, mispronounced words, and other errors to review. It’s essential to take the last five to ten minutes to ask comprehension-checking questions, clarify corrections, and solidify new ideas. Feel free to erase the main section of the board to write a gap-fill sentence or the synonym/antonym of a new word to get your students guessing. This is when you can really test their comprehension and bring it all together. It’s also a perfect time to ask for feedback on the day’s activities and to make improvements for the future.  

Do have any whiteboard tips or tricks? What are your best practices?