THE Number 1 Bit of Classroom Kit: Mini-whiteboards

At KEGS we have made it possible for every teacher to have a set of mini-whiteboards or ‘show-me boards’ in every classroom, as featured in a recent newsletter.  A full set with pens and wipers costs £60 – a bargain. We are now trying to introduce dry-wipe pens as compulsory school equipment.

So, why are they so great?  I usually introduce this at CPD events by giving all the participants a pen and board and asking them questions of various kinds. To begin with, a tricky 11+ question: 

I ask people to work out what the ??s should be.  They should show me their answers or write a big question mark, unhappy face or something that indicates that they’re not sure. Then, on a countdown, all at once, I ask them to show me their boards.  Across the room there is always a range of responses; some correct answers, some wild guesses and quite a few ‘don’t know’s’.  Straight away it is clear to everyone:  without the boards, how else would I know every student’s response at once?  There is no more efficient way to know a) who knows and b) who doesn’t have a clue.

However, the crux of this is that I can give immediate feedback – and ask follow-up questions.  To those who got it right, the least important thing to know is the right answer;  the question is ‘how did you work it out?’ Then to those who were slightly wrong – ‘what made you think of that’? And so on….. It is such a rich source of two-way feedback.  Immediately compelling – and the reason so many teachers use them a lot.
The next set of demo questions, highlight other uses:

1) Why do you breathe faster after exercise? (four marks).  Work in pairs and then use the whiteboards to jot down your four key points.  This generates enormous discussion.  Throw in a bonus point for using the word ‘respiration’  – that gets people talking some more.  Then, all once ‘ show me’!  A sea of whiteboards..  At a quick glance you can see a range of responses; it is possible to draw out common answers, off-piste but not entirely wrong answers and so on…. before perhaps agreeing on the best ones.

2) Write a sentence in French (or any language) saying what you will do tomorrow – and then show me.

3) Write a Haiku about Usain Bolt…. and 1,2,3, Show me….

4) Draw a diagram to show..  (model of convection, water cycle, graph of  y= 3x- 4 and so on)

In each case, there is the same sequence of events:  Every student is attempting to answer every question.  This can be solo, or can be used to generate pair/group discussion. The teacher is able to see every single response which almost always yields the following:

  • correct answers – including the variety within that idea of ‘correctness’ leading to the ‘how did you work it out/ what was your thought process?’ question
  • common errors or misconceptions that can be challenged or corrected
  • unexpected answers or approaches that add depth/interest/flavour to the proceedings.
  • students admitting that they are unsure or don’t know (and how else would you know?)

The pitfalls with whiteboards are the following:

a) Making them too difficult to get out;  it is a disaster if you have to book them; they should be accessible spontaneously.  Best of all, get them out all the time. (I’m not a fan of ‘back of planner’ whiteboard inserts because they are too small and teachers tend not to use them.)

b) Failing to  take account of all the responses in shaping a lesson.  I have seen teachers ask for responses on whiteboards, only to say ‘ how interesting’ and move on regardless.  The point is to use the students’ responses to inform what happens next.

c) Using them too little (leading to tedious novelty item behaviours) or too often ( the students become jaded and the impact wears off.)  They are great for new ideas and for revision/consolidation.

Whiteboards are extremely popular at KEGS across a range of subjects.  They are a big hit in Maths – to see all the different solutions to problems – and in MFL where the ephemeral nature of any whiteboard writing liberates students; they are so much less inhibited in trying out new grammar and vocab when they know they can wipe the board clean any time.

If you don’t have your own set, get one!  You’ll wonder how you managed without them.

PS Answer to the 11+ question:

Left: R or T; must be T  black object behind. ; Right S or F; must be S as S is square not circle   So the answer is T, S


    • The 11+ example is for CPD only! It is chosen because you are guaranteed a range; in fact most people can’t do it in the few minutes you’d give. However in the trad ‘hands up’ model, the one person who answers correctly could mask the fact that a high number are stuck. We’d go on to talk about the need to create a climate where being wrong or stuck is totally non-threatening and normal. With a real classroom question, if you found only a few correct answers, you’d start to differentiate the questions and structure the lesson accordingly. If white-boards become a source of embarrassment/shame, it is going wrong!


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