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While classrooms around the world vary greatly in terms of the technology available to a teacher, one constant is invariably a board at the front of the class. This might be an old-fashioned blackboard and chalk, the more contemporary whiteboard and dry-erase markers or even an interactive whiteboard. Whatever board you have at your disposal, utilising effective board work will help you to make your lessons more effective.
What to Board?
Which of the following do you think you should put on the board?
- Target vocabulary (i.e. vocabulary you have planned to teach)
- Incidental vocabulary (i.e. vocabulary which ‘comes up’ in the lesson)
- Grammar structures
- Information about pronunciation
- Errors for correction
- Aims for the lesson
- Scoring for games/activities
At different times we might choose to board any of the above. However, some we should board as a matter of course, while others we may only board in certain situations.
- We will probably only board instructions in a long and complicated activity if students need to refer back to them.
- Any new vocabulary or grammar is clearly sensible to board, regardless of whether we planned to teach it or not.
- Examples and translations may be helpful for students to remember new language, so we may board this too.
- We can very easily annotate language or examples to show pronunciation features.
- Definitions are unlikely to be boarded unless they are very short or for an activity.
- Errors may be boarded as a way to elicit the correct form.
- Some teachers list their aims for the lesson so that as they tick them off it gives students a sense of progress and direction.
- If students are playing a game, the score can be kept on the board.
Keeping Boardwork Neat
Look at the boardwork examples below. All are from the exact same lesson, but conducted by different teachers. How can each be improved? Are there any positives to each one.
The top-left example shows a clear lack of planning. The new language was added at random. Consequently the game scoring was added in the only space available. Homework is in the bottom right, which is not necessarily a problem, although it would be more visible in the top right.
The rop-right image shows much better organisation. There are however two mistakes in the phrases. These may have been boarded as errors for correction, but it is important these are then rectified. The final phrase is diving towards the bottom of the board making it more difficult to read.
The bottom left introduces some colour, which is nice, although doesn’t seem to have any particular principle behind it. The main concern is an inconsistency between upper and lower case letters. Whatever goes on the board is a model for students and therefore accuracy is important. Again, the homework would be better in the top-right to draw more attention to it.
The main flaw in the bottom-right example is the use of red and green to write the majority of the text. These colours are most difficult to read against a white background and so should really be kept for annotating.
I always make sure that whenever I am writing on the board I am quiet. If I speak while facing the board my voice is obstructed and in any event the students are generally interested in what I am writing.
I like to have a ‘working area’ in the middle of the board. This is the bit which I constantly erase during the lesson. Bits I want to keep on the board go on the sides or at the bottom.
Students like to take photos of my board at the end of the lesson. However, I sometimes wipe it in the middle of class. I now tell students when I will wipe it so they can take photos if they want.
I like to have new vocabulary in a list on the right. Above this list I put the homework.
I don’t like to write mistakes on the board. Instead I will write a gapped version of what my student said e.g. “to ____ for rainy days.” This way my students focus on the correct version.
Students sometimes ask me to spell words. I save some space at the bottom of my vocabulary list for these words.
In the top left I like to put the stages of the lesson e.g. vocab, listening, speaking. This tells students what we will do today and I can tick them off to stay on track.