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Mini Whiteboards in TEFL

Mini Whiteboards in class are a truly excellent way to achieve greater student participation and to allow the teacher to see immediately whether the class have understood the topic under discussion.

Using mini whiteboards can really make a major difference in your class and with a bit of effort it will achieve fantastic results! Trust us, we’ve tried it and we know!

Method

At the beginning of the class give out a mini whiteboard to each student (along with a marker pen and cloth for cleaning the boards). The first time you do this there’s no need to explain too much, just launch into the system and let the students understand what’s going on as the lesson progresses.

Begin by asking a few questions and rather than have the class call out or put their hands up, simply ask them to write the answer on their whiteboard and hold it up so you can see it.

You can then, at a glance, see whether every single person in the class has understood.

Suppose, for example, you are doing a reading comprehension‏‎ about pasta with an intermediate level class. You might then ask a simple question about the text:

Farfalle pasta is a popular Italian pasta in the shape of a bow tie. In fact, some producers call their farfalle “bow tie pasta” to make it more friendly to non-Italian speaking consumers. The shape is fairly versatile, and can be used in a range of hot pasta dishes, including Farfalle Trapanesi as well as cold pasta salads.

Teacher: Is Farfalle Trapanesi served hot or cold?

In a usual class, one or two students who have understood would put their hand up. Most of the class might not, either because they don’t know the answer or they are too shy.

If you choose a student at random and ask them, they may, or may not, know the answer.

What does this tell you about the class as a whole? At the end of this example you still don’t know if the majority of the class have understood the text or not!

But, with whiteboards the situation is much easier. Simply ask the whole class to write the answer (either hot or cold) on their whiteboard and hold it up. You can take a quick look about and immediately see whether they know or not.

If everyone has hot, then you can move on. If everyone has cold, then you need to go back and cover the text again. And if there’s a mixture, you may need to quickly go over the text to make sure everyone understands it.

It really is that simple.

Advantages

There are a number of advantages to using small whiteboards.

  • the entire class participates; if you choose a student at random some of the better students in the class can feel as though they are being ignored but this brings them back in
  • students can learn off each other; they write their own answer, look around and see what others have and maybe amend their answer in light of what they see
  • as a teacher you can see immediately if the class is with you or not
  • boards can also be used as “scrap paper” for some activities

Disadvantages

  • this is a new technique for most students and it will take time to get organized with the class; it does need persistence on the part of the teacher
  • you need to make sure the students do keep the whiteboards for answering questions and not messing about
  • tables, desks and clothes can get messy from marker pens

Practicalities

Introducing whiteboards like this into your class is a big step for students and teachers. Trust me though. It pays dividends.

At the beginning you have to persevere though because the moment you start slipping back to allowing only the best and brightest students to answer, or asking a single student for an answer, then a majority of the class can switch off.

No, you have to introduce this method and keep it up. Your whole class will benefit if you do!

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