Every input session on my CELTA course brought with it fresh demands in the practical sessions. The seminar on lexis meant having to include vocabulary lists highlighting the potential issues in (M)eaning, (F)orm and (P)ronunciation. The presentation on receptive skills resulted in the inclusion of the necessary stages to produce an effective listening lesson.
All of this was very closely monitored by the trainers. If you didn’t do it, then you would fall below standard. The only exception to the rule was the session we had on using the whiteboard, which went as far, ‘… if you want, you can include a whiteboard plan in your lesson plan.’
The classroom whiteboard is often viewed by teachers to be a tool – an aid which supports the teacher in explaining language, collecting student errors for later feedback and visualising the more complex aspects of grammar. There is no doubt that it is a tool. However, it very often isn’t exploited to the degree that it could be.
Take the board pens for instance. The vast majority of classrooms I have been in usually have a whiteboard with 4 differently coloured board pens neatly stored at the bottom: black, blue, green and red. Neil Fleming’s VARK learning categories show the vast majority of learners in this world are “visual learners”, who respond best to visual representations, body language and, above all, colour (Coffield 2004).
So, across the top of my classroom whiteboard I have the word ‘speaking’ written in black, ‘vocabulary’ in blue, ‘linguistic’ (grammar) in green and ‘pronunciation’ in red. Every time we deal with a grammatical aspect, what I write on the board is in green; the same goes for vocabulary (in blue) and so on.
After a while, students get the connection and start to make associations with what you’re asking and what area the answer falls in, as you stand with a questioning look on your face after what Emilio just said, reaching for the red pen (pronunciation)… Or the green one.
In ELT we often talk about “scaffolding” and “supporting” the learners through the learning process. Teachers establish linguistic and communicative aims with the knowledge that the lesson is geared towards achieving those aims. Yet, the students are usually left in the dark about the lesson aims.
Why? Surely knowing where the lesson is going is just as useful for them as it is for us. In my opinion, there is no area where scaffolding is more necessary for students than in the aims of the lesson, which is why I write the aims of the lesson down the left-hand side of the board.
What’s more, I write them according to the colours we established before. For example: To learn 10 new words / To revise and practise the Past Perfect. See the image above for examples.
My biology teacher once told me that there are generally two types of learners when it comes to organisational matters : those who make lists and those who make brainstorms. (She also added boys brainstorm and girls make lists.) Although I’ve never come across any empirical evidence of this, my teaching experience to date confirms her observation (minus the gender difference aspect).
In light of this, as can be seen in the photo above, I try to write items which are about the same topic (i.e. lexis, grammar, pronunciation etc.) down the board, as opposed across the board, and for added effect I box them in, in order to give the appearance of a list.
Having catered for those learners who prefer lists, to appease the brainstormers I usually draw lines connecting the different parts of the board with the aims (see above).
The ‘whiteboard’ is too often viewed as a semi-meaningless classroom item. In my opinion, it should be seen as an educational tool and should play a vital learning role in all lessons. Teachers shouldn’t be thinking about ‘whiteboards’ but about ‘whiteboarding.’
Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., Ecclestone, K. (2004). “Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review”. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.