It all started when a co-tutor on the CELTA suggested that I borrow some mini-white boards for an input session on boardwork. My trainees had so much fun drawing pictures of varying degrees of artistic proficiency to convey meaning of the words ‘prawn’, ‘chess’ and ‘aubergine’ while I was also able to provide a much more hands-on practice session of organizing collocations, using mindmaps, and marking phonological features.
I decided then to invest in my own set of mini-whiteboards and they have been a hit in the staffroom since. I now use it for both teacher training, English teaching and even exam preparation classes. Here are some of the ways I use them in a General English and in an IELTS exam class. The list is in no way exhaustive so do feel free to add on to it…
1. Language Review
A mini-whiteboard can be given to each student, or to a pair. As a variation to back-to-board, I explain the lexical item in the context it was encountered, and students write their answers on the white boards. If this is to be done competitively in pairs, students should be given a few extra seconds to discuss their answers…On the count of three, they turn their boards over to reveal their answers. This way you can check how much they remember of the lexical item and their spelling of it.
2. Needs Analysis
Instead of using tedious needs-analysis forms, students can write (or as a creative alternative, you can get students to draw) their goals on the boards. Holding their goals up for the whole class to see is step 1 to materializing those goals, and is a good chance to see if their classmates share the same expectations.
I sometimes write up a whole list of topics e.g. Health, Food, Education, Politics and Current Affairs, Travel, Family and Relationships, Technology, etc… (or Business skills if you are a BE teacher, e.g Presenting, Chairing Meetings, Taking part in meetings, Negotiating, etc.) and students vote for the topics they want. Depending on the size of the class, each student/pair might get anything from 2 to 4 votes. They write their favourite topics on the mini-whiteboards, and when all boards are turned round, the teacher can have a clearer idea as to which topics are more favoured than others.
A variation of this is to write up the four language systems (grammar, lexis, pronunciation, discourse) and four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) up on the board and students vote for which language system or skills they think are most important and they need most work in.
3. Brainstorming & Mind-mapping
Whether done as a lead-in to a lesson so as to activate the relevant schema and lexis, or as a first stage to process writing, the boards seem to be a good platform for groups of students to draw their mind-maps. Learners seem to take more ownership of their work when it is put on the mini-white boards and shown to the rest of the class. An empty board can look much sadder than an empty notebook page, and you will notice that students are often much more keen to fill up that mini-whiteboard.
4. Jigsaw reading picture notes
An idea I adapted from the ever-so adventurous and creative Fiona James, this is a variation on Jigsaw Reading. Students are given different texts to read and asked to make notes so that they can retell what they have just read to the other students. However, here’s the catch. They can’t write any words. All notes have to be in the form of pictures that they will draw on the mini-white boards. This automatically forces students to process the texts for meaning instead of simply copying out chunks of words, and it also encourages students to use their own words and paraphrase what they have read when retelling it to their partners.
5. Delayed Correction
You know the drill. After a freer speaking exercise and feedback on content, the teacher writes up a list of sentences/words she has heard students say and puts students in pairs to correct those sentences on their own. The idea is to get students cognitively involved in the reformulation/correction process instead of simply telling them what their mistakes are. However, what sometimes happens with some students is that they would skim through the list with their partners, making minimal effort and waiting to be told the ‘answer’.
I now give each pair of students a mini-whiteboard each and systematically go through the list of sentences one by one, and with each one, giving students time to discuss with their partner and write the reformulated sentence on the mini-whiteboard. On the count of three, they turn their boards over and I shower praise on those who have thought of good or creative reformulations. The competitive element somehow ensures that everyone is on the toes.
6. What are the collocates?
To be used in conjunction with a corpus, the teacher gives students a lexical word e.g. global, boost, community, or even a de-lexicalised verb e.g. get, make, set, and students are given a time limit to write the top 5 (or 10) most frequent collocates of the word on their white-boards. You might want to limit the part of speech e.g. top 10 noun collocates, or top 10 adjective collocates, so as to prevent articles and prepositions from appearing.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the top 2 collocates of the examples given are as follows:
Global warming, Global system;
Boost confidence, Cash boost;
European community, Care community;
Get back, Get rid;
Make sure, Make up;
Set up, Set out.
A variation of this activity is What are the prefixes/suffixes?
Also a corpus-based activity, using the * key, find out the top suffixes and prefixes of words such as ‘like’ or ‘organise’ by typing *like* or *organise*. Give students the task of writing down what they think might be the top variations of the given word on their mini-whiteboards.
The top 2 with ‘like’ are ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’, while the top 2 with ‘organise’ are ‘organised’ and ‘organisers’ although ‘reorganise’ and ‘well-organised’ appears later down the list.
7. Silent conversation
I first got the idea for this activity from a colleague, Fiona Johnston, and have found it really useful and motivating. Now, I get students to do it on a mini-whiteboard which they can then rub out, rather than on sheets of white paper.
I walk into class not saying a word and proceed to write the following on the main board.
‘Today, we are not going to speak for an hour. But we’re going to have a conversation. A conversation on paper. Here are the rules:
- You’ll work in groups of 3.
- You will discuss the following topic I will give you.
- You can interrupt your partner but by writing.
- Try to avoid very long paragraphs. Don’t make your partners wait too long while you write.
Here’s your topic: …”
The topics can range from ‘What did you do this weekend?’ to ‘Tell your partner about the different members of your family’ to ‘What problems do you face living in London’ to controversial statements like ‘Men should stay at home while women work to support the family. Do you agree?’
As they write, I play some Nina Simone and Michael Buble in the background and walk around correcting their sentences. Works a charm and students often realize how similar this form of communication is to chatrooms and instant messaging, and therefore find it extremely useful.
8. Information Gap
Partners sit back to back. Student A draws a picture on their mini-whiteboard. They then try to explain and describe the picture to their partner who will then proceed to draw it on their own mini-whiteboard. At the end, both hold up their mini-whiteboards for the rest of the class to compare and see how similar (or different) they are.
Sometimes, I get my students to draw the layout of their house (great for prepositions of place), sometimes just random shapes and lines, sometimes they draw a pretend snapshot/photo from their photo album (adapted from Danny Norrington-Davies), and sometimes a favourite painting/album cover/item of clothing, etc.
9. Essay Writing
One of my favourite ways of teaching writing is simply to get students to write a paragraph (after sufficient brainstorming and deciding on the content of course) and me writing a paragraph with them. We then compare what we have written and look at how our paragraphs differ and what they can do to make their paragraphs better.
Take for example a recent IELTS preparation course that I was running. Students were given a topic like ‘Video games are bad for children and should be banned. Do you agree?’ After brainstorming the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments to the topic, we decided to write the introduction to the essay. We spent about 4 minutes writing quietly on our mini-whiteboards, and when students were ready, they compared their work with their partners. I then had everyone flipped their boards over (including my own) and we talked about their use of linkers and discourse markers, compared to mine. We found it much more effective than correcting students’ writing over their shoulders or taking home the marking because everyone gets to learn from each other’s trials and errors.
10. Win, Lose or Draw!
We can’t possibly talk about mini-whiteboards and not talk about this classic favourite, although I’m having trouble knowing who to credit for this…indeed, how long does an idea have to be floating around before we stop acknowledging the creator…
This can be used as a revision tool. Students have all their previous lexis on cards, they take turns drawing and their partners guess the lexical item.
And those are the 10 things that I use my mini-whiteboards for when teaching English. Do you use mini-whiteboards too? Did your school purchase them? How do you use them? Do your colleagues use them too? Do share what you do with these wonderful little things!