I have lots of props, posters and other visual aids that I use in class with young learners but I’m pretty sure that my best investment was in mini whiteboards. They were relatively inexpensive yet are extremely versatile and fairly durable. I don’t use them every day in class but I do use them for a range of activities and at various points in a lesson. The possibilities are endless but I’ll share some ideas here. The reader is also encouraged to check out AnthonyTeacher.com and his blog post called ‘Six Ways I Use Mini Whiteboards in the Classroom’. I had been mulling over writing about mini whiteboards for a while and reading his post helped push me towards actually sitting down to write it. Thanks, Anthony!
Let’s begin with a look at why mini whiteboards are a valuable tool in the young learner classroom. First and foremost, they grab the students’ attention. As with most classroom props, I don’t bring the boards out until we’re ready to use them. I do this in part because young learners will most certainly be distracted if they see the boards sitting there, waiting to be used later. But it’s also a tactic in using their surprise at seeing me take the boards out as a way to motivate and interest them.
In addition to the excitement that the boards bring to the classroom, they also keep the lesson student-controlled and student-centered. Instead of the focus being on me at the board/projector at the front of the room, it’s now up to the students to produce whatever we’re working on. I think that this shift in control is part of the appeal that using the boards has for younger children.
Putting the focus on the students also means that they’re being forced to work in pairs or groups giving them practice in skills such as sharing, negotiation and collaboration.
As the teachers of young learners will know, having them take out a piece of paper and get a pencil ready to write something down can take AGES. Mini whiteboards save time as well as paper. The first few times you use them it may take a bit longer but once the teacher shows the students how to use the boards efficiently and correctly, it can become an effective part of classroom routine.
At the Primary level, mini whiteboards can be used for a wide range of activities and purposes but I think I’d have to say in our classroom they are most frequently used by Fast Finishers because it’s quick and easy for students to pick up a board and do a few activities, most often with a partner.
There are plenty of Fast Finisher tasks that students can do with mini whiteboards but the two that stand out for me are Peer Dictation (also mentioned by Anthony Teacher) and Hangman.
Peer Dictation with primary-aged children is much simpler than that of older students but the principles involved and the skills they practice are very similar. Some of these skills include but are not limited to: listening, writing (letter formation is the focus for the younger students), spelling, pronunciation, working in pairs and error correction. With students in the first two years of Primary, we use word dictation; older primary students can dictate chunks of language or full sentences. The target language will depend on the capabilities of the students as well as the aim of the task. I usually ask them to dictate words or sentences from the unit we’re working on so that the task serves as reinforcement and revision. It’s important to set up the activity carefully with them, especially the first few times. I make sure that they’re sitting facing each other, one has a book and the other has the board. I also number the spaces where the student will write the three words or sentences that will be dictated. We do a demonstration of the steps involved in a dictation and off they go.
Hangman is another Fast Finisher activity that is easy to set up, familiar to most students and can be quickly interrupted when we need to move on with the rest of the group. I usually ask students to use words from a particular unit/s or I give them some categories to choose from. I find that narrowing the scope a bit helps them come up with more meaningful vocabulary and saves time because they can get overwhelmed if told to just come up with any words they can think of.
Although we use mini whiteboards most frequently in Fast Finisher tasks, there are countless other ways to incorporate the boards into lessons and at various stages.
Brainstorming is one way to use the boards. There are many reasons to brainstorm and many ways to implement it in the classroom but one example is before reading a new text or starting a new unit, having students brainstorm related vocabulary or ideas. This helps to activate their prior knowledge on the topic and build upon it. Writing on the mini whiteboards saves time as well as paper and makes the activity a bit more attractive to students.
I also use the boards in presenting and working with new vocabulary or grammar. Something that has worked well in our classroom is using the boards to put the words in a sentence in order. At the Primary level, students often get confused about word order, especially in negative sentences and questions. When we’re looking at a new construct such as ‘I can swim/ I can’t swim/ Can you swim?’, I write each word on a mini whiteboard and have students hold them in order. We make up new sentences and questions that the class reads aloud together or the class will come up with ideas for sentences that the students holding the boards have to put in order.
Mini whiteboards can also be used during activities that require pair or group work and minimal writing (due to the space available on the board). For example, we could do a listening activity in which students are asked to take note of the food (or colors, animals, etc) they hear in a recording. Instead of each student writing separately on paper, it saves a lot of time (and paper) if the teacher hands out mini whiteboards and the students work in pairs or small groups. Another possibility is a reading activity in which students write the answers to concept-checking questions about a text on mini whiteboards with their partners. Again, this saves time as well as paper and makes the task a bit more fun.
Quizzes and games also lend themselves well to implementing mini whiteboards. There are all sorts of possibilities here but a revision game that we use seems to work well. At the end of the school year (although this could be done at the end of a unit as well), the students form small groups of three or four. They sit facing each other so that they can discuss answers and collaborate. Before class I prepare a list of questions based on information we’ve seen in the course book. These questions can be True or False, multiple choice, fill-in-the-gap, short answer, etc. I use the board or projector if I need to or I have students simply listen to the questions. Groups earn points by writing the correct answer on the mini whiteboards. It’s important that they take turns within the group writing on the board and I always make a group discuss their answers before giving the final version so that there isn’t just one student always taking the lead. We keep score on the board and the winners may receive a sticker or small sweet, although I try not to use prizes much in class. Participating and enjoying the activity should be the real motivation.
Keeping all the groups engaged, even when it’s not their turn can be difficult and for this reason I usually allow the next group to attempt to answer if the first group doesn’t come up with the correct response. The trick is to not repeat the question. If that group wasn’t listening and can’t provide an answer or if their answer is not correct, it’s then the next group’s turn to respond and so on. The students tend to enjoy this activity and it’s a great way to consolidate and revise the information we’ve seen throughout the year.
As we’ve seen, mini whiteboards are an adaptable and efficient tool in the young learner classroom. They can be used for a wide variety of tasks and at many different stages in a lesson. Students really enjoy working with the boards, helping to keep them focused as well as motivated. If teachers are looking to invest in a resource that is practical and multifunctional, mini whiteboards are the way to go.
If you have more ideas to share on how to incorporate mini whiteboards in the YL classroom, please leave them in the comments section. Thank you for reading!