Using mini-whiteboards to transform classroom practice

This year for the first time I have my own classroom, and it’s making a big difference to the way I teach. It’s those few moments between lessons when I can collect myself and set up for the next class, rather than racing between sites. It’s the freedom to update wall displays and rearrange tables whenever I wish, to make the learning environment the best it can be. But it’s also something else that has unexpectedly transformed my practice: it’s having, in the corner of the room, my own supply of mini-whiteboards.

They don’t stay in the corner for very long. The first thing one of my Year 7s asked when he walked into my classroom this afternoon: “Shall I hand out the mini whiteboards, sir?”

There are three reasons I find them invaluable.

  1. Whole-class feedback. Picture this: your 5 minutes of whole-class questioning. You pose a question, pause, pounce on a student to answer. That’s 1/32 of the class’s understanding you just assessed. Bounce it on to a couple of people: “Can you expand on X’s answer?”, “Do you agree with Y?” – now you’re up to 3/32 of the class. When students have mini boards, in the same amount of time you can elicit a response from every single person in the room. That means every learner engaging with the topic and showing you, through the validity of their responses, how much they understand.
  2. Developing confidence. Quite a lot of students don’t like putting pen to paper. This is especially true in maths where there is usually a single right answer and, therefore, a high risk of getting it wrong. I’ve found students much more willing to make a start on mini boards because it’s easy to make corrections and wipe out mistakes. Once they’ve experimented, they can copy out the solution on paper.
  3. Checking individual work. Wandering around the room, too often I find myself drawn towards individual questions (“I’m stuck”) and not really getting a feel for the quality of what students are writing in their books. Some students even go out of their way to cover up work they’re not sure about (“I haven’t finished yet”). Enter mini whiteboards. When students complete the same task on mini boards, they collaborate better by looking at what each other are writing and it’s easy for me to see too. They’re less afraid of someone pointing out a mistake because it’s quick to make corrections.

One great activity is smiles and frowns. I ask students to answer a tricky question on their boards and annotate their solution with a smiley if they’re pretty sure it’s right or a frowny if they’re not so sure. Then everyone leaves their board on their table and moves around the room. ‘Smiley’ students find ‘frowny’ work to peer correct, and ‘frowny’ students find ‘smiley’ work to learn from.

I also enjoy quiz-quiz-trade. To start this game, each learner generates a question on a given topic (e.g. linear equations) and writes it on their mini board. They write the answer on the back. Then they move around the room until they find someone to ‘high five’. This pair now answer each others’ questions. When they get the right answers, they swap boards and continue to move around the room.

Do you have any great ideas for using mini boards in lessons? Please share them in the comments.

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Comments

Mark: Great post. I love the idea of quiz-quiz-trade. I’ll steal that one and try it tomorrow morning!

Tim: Students draw different unfamiliar graphs accurately. Then one student describes their graph and other sketch it on their whiteboard. They show to the first student who may choose to give further information/amend/remove ambiguity (no gestures allowed) Good for focusing on the key points when sketching a graph (min/max, intercepts, asymptotes, gradient) and communication skills (literacy). Particularly good with secx, cosecx and cotx.

Rachel: When I find mine again I’m definitely using them-you’ve inspired me!

Martyn: I play the front to back game. All students start at the back of the room and answer questions on the whiteboards to move forward step by step. When they get to the front they start scoring points. If they get a question wrong they move backwards one step. You can only score points when at the front. Good fun, great afl and the competition seems to go down quite well

Kate: I’m also a big fan of the mini whiteboards – especially for drafting first sentences or starting ideas without, as you said, the fear of failure that many of our students have. What also has worked well in the past for extended tasks is planning a shared class answer to an essay or exam, allocating groups a paragraph/section of the answer and getting them to write their section onto the table. You can then arrange the tables together to make a complete answer and use the mark scheme or success criteria to edit and assess it. This year I will be getting the students to use a green marker pen for this :-)

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