One of the first things I wanted kids to have at home while teaching virtually was whiteboards, so I was psyched when my administration planned to make sure every kid got one in their “to go” kit to take home. I love using them in class, and kids love working with them.
While whiteboards can of course be used as a replacement for paper, here are some specific ways to utilize them in class.
Whole Class Mental Math
Instead of having students show lots of work on whiteboards, I like quick mental math problems. They just write down the answer, and flip up the whiteboard to show me their answer. I give them a thumbs up or “try again” signal nonverbally. I keep this moving fairly quickly, although I will pause to ask, “Who can explain how they got ____?” If a certain problem is taking longer or there’s a mix of answers, I’ll pause and ask kids to share their possibilities and thinking before I provide feedback on a correct answer.
- Some examples of Mental Math prompts:
- 240 divided by 6
- Draw a trapezoid
- Draw an isosceles triangle
- What is the total of 2 dimes, one quarter, and one penny?
- How many feet are in 2 yards?
- What is 1/2 of 70?
- What is 25% of 20?
- What is 3 groups of 5?
Word Work/Phonics Exercises
Many phonics programs ask students to mark up words by syllable, sound, vowel vs. consonant, scoop phrases or blends, prefix/suffix, etc. Some programs even come with their own boards for students to use. This can be done on plain whiteboards, too, though. A bonus is that students can draw/trace over it with their finger to wipe it away and provide another sensory experience of writing the letters with their finger. While this might make boards a little messy in the moment, I find that windex can wipe them clean fairly well. 2 colors of markers can make this extra fun!
Whole Class “Taboo” Game
In the game Taboo, you’re trying to get your partner or team to guess a word based off clues you give. The trick is that you cannot say a few words that maybe you normally would use to describe. For example, if you were trying to get someone to guess “Campground” maybe you could not say “tent” or “tree”; you also couldn’t say “camp” because that’s in the word. When I play this in class, I rarely give them “taboo” words because I want them to make connections, but I will sometimes.
This activity is great for any vocab or concept review in any content area. I have students sit in pairs: one student with their back to me and the other facing me. The student with their back to me has the whiteboard. I’ll write a vocabulary word such as “metaphor” or “polygon” or “water cycle” on my whiteboard. The student facing me describes it without saying any part of the word. Then, the other student guesses. When they get it, the guesser writes the answer on the board facing me so I can check it. As long as everyone is sitting facing one wall or the other, only the students who already know what the word is can see it. I ring a chime in between words; then, after a few rounds, they’ll swap.
Individual Brain Dumps aka Retrieval Practice
You can read more about Retrieval Practice here from the Learning Scientists. There’s a lot more on their website and podcast, too. When I do brain dumps with students, I have them write everything they remember from…whatever. So I could ask them to write everything they know about fractions before we start that unit or everything we talked about yesterday or sketch out connections of everything we’ve learned about division. The goal with this activity is that they fill the whiteboard with all of their ideas.
I also discuss with students how the goal of this practice is to try to remember, and if you can’t remember, TRYING to remember is just as important. I give the analogy of a worn down path. I can wear down a path outside that’s not actually a sidewalk (usually kids can think of an example of this; there’s one on our school grounds). The more I walk on it, the clearer the path is. That’s just like how the more I think of something and the more I remember it, the easier it is to remember. If I haven’t thought of something for a long time, it’s hard to remember. If people stopped using the path that was worn down, grass would grow over it and it would be hard to see the path ever was there, but people could make the path again if they just started walking. It might take more work though. You might have branches in your way or something. That’s what it’s like in your brain, too, but you still have to try.
Wet Erase Marker Outlines for Station Work (Reusable)
If you use wet erase markers ahead of time on whiteboards and students use dry erase markers, they will only wipe off the dry erase marks. Use wet erase markers to write problems or fill in the blank sentences. Then students can move to different boards and use dry erase markers. The dry erase wipes clean, but the wet erase stays for the next kid/Group/Class. While this takes preparation, I like this a lot. You could also use cardstock or paper inside of sheet protectors for something like this, but markers just work better on dry erase boards!
Guided Reading or Math
I also just love using whiteboards during guided reading for work. Kids like them as an alternative sometimes so it’s nice to mix it up if I don’t need to keep their paragraph or writing/word work. This is true for small group math work as well. They are great for open ended number lines and showing work. Kids can often put manipulatives on the whiteboard and show their thinking with it. For instance, they can draw a circle around a group of counters, etc.
It is so nice to have kids show their work on Flipgrid and explain their thinking. While it is possible to have students use a virtual whiteboard on Flipgrid and show their thinking on the screen, I enjoy seeing their physical work on the whiteboard. I find it easier to see than if it were just a sheet of paper that they were sharing. Also, camera shy students can hide their faces with that whiteboard!
If the whiteboards have lines (or you add some with wet erase markers) then whiteboards are great practice for handwriting. Letter formation is best when done in a variety of ways in the classroom (drawing in the air, with pencils, crayons, and more, with chenille sticks or sculpting materials…) and whiteboards are one more way to add variety.
If they’re magnetic white boards, they can use magnets on them as well. Magnetic letters and magnetic counters or math manipulatives can be held in place as a kid holds it up to show you. Cookie sheets, of course, are great tools for magnets as well. The benefit of whiteboards is that they can draw around those objects, too, and annotate their thinking.
Whiteboard Video Projects
I’m saving the most fun for last! If you’ve seen those whiteboard videos where the drawing and writing is time-lapsed so that it moves faster, those are things that students can absolutely do as projects. When I did my Health Fair with 6th graders, I had students encapsulate their research into a short 1-3 minute video. Parents loved seeing these at our Health Fair, and students loved making them. Using different colored markers, setting up the space, editing the video, adding background music – they make the final piece so professional. I love seeing the finished products of these. I made this one about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson. I can’t recommend her program enough, so if you’re interested in how I applied those principles to teaching in a pandemic, feel free to look at this, too, for inspiration.