Using the board

Do you have a blackboard, a whiteboard or an IWB? Whatever type of board you have in your classroom it is important to be organised and to put yourself in your students' shoes for a moment.

What do they see when they look at your board? In this article we will consider ways of getting the best use out of your board and perhaps give suggestions for exploiting your board in a different way.

  • Board basics
  • Organising your board
  • What we can do with the board
    • Displaying
    • Playing games
    • Using visuals
  • Final tips

Board basics

  • Your students should have a clear, uninterrupted view of the board. Be careful that you don't block learners sitting at the sides of the room. When you write something on the board move away quickly so that students can see what you have written.
  • Especially with classes of Young Learners you need to develop the ability to write on the board with eyes in the back of your head. Don't turn your back on the class for too long. Good teachers have the ability to write on the board while still keeping a sharp eye on their students!
  • Write clearly on the board and make sure that you have written words/text big enough for everyone to see from the back of the class. With chalk and blackboard make sure that you wash the board often so that the writing stays clear. With a whiteboard make sure that the pen you are using is in a colour that everyone can read - black or blue are best.
  • Practise writing in straight lines across the board, particularly if you have students who are not used to Roman script. In some languages letters may look slightly different or handwriting styles may be different. Point out the differences to your students and make sure they can read clearly what you have written.
  • Check what you write as you write. Many students have visual memories so we must be careful about accuracy of spelling and grammar, especially if we intend students to copy it down in their notebooks to learn.
  • Check with your students that they are ready for you to clean the board. If you are waiting for some students to finish copying or doing an exercise don't leave the others twiddling their thumbs. Ask them to make a personalised example or start the warm-up for the next exercise orally.


Organising your board
If your board is messy and untidy then what your students write in their notebooks will be messy too.

  • It is a good idea to divide your board into sections. Have one part for use during the lesson which can be cleaned off and re-used. Use another part for important information which can stay there for the whole lesson. For example, you could write up a list of the basic aims/activities for the lesson so that your students know what is coming. Tick items off as they are achieved during the class. At the end you can review the lesson aims for students to evaluate what they have learnt.
  • For older learners you could write up other important information - key grammar points or vocabulary needed for the lesson, or test dates etc. With Very Young Learners it is better to write this kind of information at the top of the board. Leave the lower part empty for you and the students to write on. Remember they probably won't be able to reach the top half of the board.


What we can do with the board
We can use the board in many ways in the classroom, not just for writing up new vocabulary. You can use your board for giving instructions, reinforcing oral instructions. For example, just writing up the page number and the exercise on the board in a large class saves a lot of repetition! When doing group work or project work use the board to organise your class - write up a list of who is doing what in each group.

  • You can write up messages, exercises, short texts or items for correction from oral activities. Coloured chalks or pens are very useful for writing up dialogue parts.
  • Use your board to provide records of new words, structures, how a word is used. Or brainstorm new vocabulary with the class in a spidergram. With more advanced classes you can provide a record of a class discussion, or give help with planning for writing e.g. for exam tasks.


You can use the large surface of your board to display all sorts of items - posters, pictures and flashcards. Use large pictures for class oral work but have students come out to the board to point to or talk about various items. Magazine pictures can be used for a variety of oral activities. Flashcards can be used for many games apart from simple matching activities.

  • Try to encourage students to come out to the board to choose, select, order or describe pictures. All of these will make your classroom more interactive and avoid too much teacher talking time.
  • You can display other items such as authentic materials - e.g. maps, adverts, photos, as well as learners' own work. Remember that you don't have to stick to the board.
  • You could display items around the room, particularly if they are not large enough for the whole class to see at the front. Ask your students to move around and look at the materials.


Playing games
We can play many different games using just the board. Teachers need a repertoire of board games as warmers, fillers or lesson-ending activities which require no preparation.

  • Apart from the traditional games of hangman, and noughts and crosses (answering questions for O or X) you can play many others.
  • ‘Pictogram' can be played with all levels (Draw a picture and guess the word). With younger learners spelling races are very popular.
  • Word games are an excellent way of settling classes and revising vocabulary. Use anagrams or jumbled sentences or for Very Young Learners words with missing vowels.


Using visuals
You don't have to be a genius at drawing to use pictures and drawings with your students. In fact, the worse the drawings are .. the more fun! Try to master basic stick men and faces with expressions, especially if your students are young learners.

  • Drawing pictures is an essential skill for explaining texts and stories to our students. Practise story-telling with basic pictures on the board. Remember you can ask your students out to the board to draw too - this is a fun activity at whatever level. You can create picture stories with your students and use these for further oral or written work.
  • Other visuals which are useful to draw are large-scale pictures such as maps, a plan of a town, a plan of a house/school/new building etc. These could be used with stick on cut outs to provide a wealth of language practice.


Final tips
Try to make your board as interactive as possible.

  • Ask students to come out to draw, write, present or even work. You could allow one group to work at the board when doing a group task.
  • Use your board as support for your voice - to give instructions, examples and feedback.
  • You can use board activities as an aid to discipline - settle a noisy class for example by giving a quick copying exercise or word game. Write a child's name up on the board if they are talking too much instead of just telling them off.
  • Your board is an organisational tool too. Use it as a memory store for things to do or keep you on track with a lesson. Remember the more organised you are on your board, the more organised your students will be too.


Sue Clarke, Teacher and teacher trainer, British Council, Coimbra, Portugal

This article was first published in March 2008


Submitted by Caroline Deane on Fri, 03/02/2018 - 19:58

I don't think this is good practice; it is humiliating and singling out for blame: "Write a child's name up on the board if they are talking too much instead of just telling them off."

Submitted by sghiami on Mon, 03/22/2010 - 08:48

That is so great to see an article on the issue. Apearing trivial, using a board is, as I think, the most available and the most reliable one. Thanks for the informing article.

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