Using Mini Whiteboards in the Classroom

Sometimes all you need is a whiteboard and pen

Mini whiteboards are a must for any classroom. It doesn’t matter if you teach Year 1, Year 10, Maths or Art. Do you want to increase student engagement? Check prior knowledge? Conduct formative assessment? Or build students’ confidence? You’re in the right place.

When I think of some of the best lessons I’ve taught, they’re when I’ve had a clear learning intention but given myself the freedom to ‘go with the flow’ of the lesson. How can you be adaptable within a lesson? It’s harder with a pre-printed worksheet. It’s easy with a whiteboard.


Why should I use mini whiteboards?


You can adjust the difficulty of the task as you go
If the task is too easy, introduce a challenge. If the task is too hard, fold back to something easier. Write a new question up on the board or even just give a verbal question to a small group of students.


Creates a low-risk environment
Students feel safe to attempt questions or sketch something because they know that it’s not permanent. If they ‘fail’, they have the power to wipe it off and start again. This also means that they are more likely to take a risk e.g. in trialling new vocabulary because it’s so easy to interchange words.


No paper wastage
Save yourself printing 30 worksheets by putting 10 questions up on the board and having students answer on their boards.


No marking for you to do later
At a skim of the classroom, you can see which students have answered correctly. You don’t have to lay a finger on a marking pen.


Students enjoy it
Students love having ownership of what they are doing. The rules are different to bookwork and that feels liberating.


You might just teach better
Your actions are informed by the students in front of you. You have to teach in the moment, cognizant of whether or not your students are grasping the concept. It's the perfect way to conduct formative assessment and ACT on it straight away. Isn’t this why we have teachers who can notice, recognise and respond and not robots?


How can I use mini whiteboards in my subject?

Here are just a handful of ways that you can use mini whiteboards in different subjects:


Maths

  • Basic facts 10-20 starter questions to activate the knowledge students will need for the upcoming lesson

  • Quick-fire questions to check understanding. Ask students to keep their answers hidden and all reveal at the same time

  • Following a step-by-step process to solve a problem (modelled by teacher)

  • To support transitioning from concrete materials to imagery

  • Give quick verbal extension challenges for students e.g. “Well done, I can see you’ve created a factor tree for the number 60. Now can you use a factor tree to record 72 as a product of its prime factors?” While the rest of your students may need more time on the initial problem, you can easily set your speedy students up with another activity to keep them stimulated

  • For students to complete their working out. This may not be your preferred option if you want evidence in students’ books but some students really thrive off having a non-permanent ‘space’ to do their calculations


Writing

  • Brainstorm vocabulary before pair-share and reporting back to the class

  • Practising using introduced vocabulary and phrases e.g. Write a sentence starting with ‘Next...’ or ‘In my opinion, we should…’

  • Rewrite a boring sentence using a conjunction/adjective/prepositional phrase (whatever relates to your Learning Intention for that lesson)

  • Proofread a sentence and write the correct version on the mini whiteboard

  • Visualising activity - describe a setting in detail to students and get them to draw what they imagine on their boards. Explain that a writer paints a picture in the minds of their readers but everyone will have a slightly different perception


Spelling

  • To practice recording the sounds they hear in order (there are specifically designed whiteboards for phonics which provide a great scaffold for this). Record sound buttons below each sound and link split digraphs

  • List 10 words that start with a blend e.g. ‘br’

  • List 10 words that end with a suffix e.g. ‘ing’

  • Independent spelling practice


Handwriting

  • Practise correct pen grip (some students find the pens easier to hold than a pencil and less pressure is required to write on the surface)

  • Daily handwriting practice - copy off the board or a classroom display

  • Fast-finisher handwriting cards - students complete the handwriting practice off the card on their whiteboard


Reading

  • Bullet point key facts

  • Practise recording new vocabulary from texts and use this in sentences

  • Draw a character from a book and label with adjectives describing appearance and traits

  • Quick-fire recall quiz about a familiar text

  • Record a question or 'wondering' about a passage before sharing and discussing


Science

  • Draw a diagram

  • Show the steps in a process

  • Write a prediction before conducting an experiment

  • Draw symbols e.g. periodic table elements or electrical circuit symbols


Art

  • Break down the steps in drawing something into small chunks, modelling each step to your students to follow in live time

  • Experiment with designs

  • Practise practise practise before doing the ‘good copy’ of the artwork


Other uses

Test your students’ ability to follow instructions. Draw a series of shapes on your own whiteboard. Describe what you’re drawing but don’t show students your board. Reveal your finished picture and see how close the match is. Discuss any reasons for discrepancies. This works equally well as a partner activity to teach students to give specific instructions.

Pair students up for a team challenge! Encourage teamwork by getting one student to figure out the answer and the other scribe. Swap and repeat.


Tips:

  • Keep tasks short so that there isn’t time for students to start mucking around drawing on their boards. If you give students a time limit of 10 seconds and count them down to reveal, they’ll be snapped into focusing on getting their answer down (and hiding it) until reveal.

  • Be mindful of students who may copy off others (often this is a sign of low-self confidence in a subject). You can seat them next to you or make an effort to scaffold them through a few questions to build their confidence in attempting questions independently. Praise their successes. It will mean the world to them.

  • Be tactful. Use more subtle cues if you know that some students lack confidence in the subject. Try a wink or double raise of the eyebrows to show a student that they’ve got the correct answer to save the rest of your students from feeling disheartened that they don’t have the answer yet.

  • For younger students in particular, set up a system for distributing mini whiteboards to avoid any chaos breaking out over who got their board first. Assign monitors or a system for passing boards out along rows or out to groups. Make it a competition if your students need an incentive to get a wriggle on!

  • “On your chest is best.” For younger students who like to wave their board everywhere above their heads, ask them to hold the board in front of their chest until their work has been checked.

  • Be clear about rules with whiteboard pens. Any inappropriate drawing on boards or other students (yes, there’s always one) and they will have to use paper instead (or another consequence that disincentivises the behaviour).

As you can see, there is a lot of potential from the humble mini whiteboard. Albeit I still haven’t found a full-proof solution to preserving the short lifespans of student whiteboard markers (if you find the golden solution, let me know!).

How do you plan on using mini whiteboards in your next lesson?

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