A board is a powerful teaching tool. You can do without extra worksheets, flashcards or even coursebooks, but a teacher without a board is like a fish out of water. Proper boardwork can do wonders: your board is enough for presenting target language, dealing with feedback and error correction, running team games, doing revisions and whatnot. There has already been an article written on general rules of working with the board. Today’s one, however, will focus more on boardwork tips for a teenage classroom.
What do most of our teenage students have in common? Well, they are usually overloaded with school, extra lessons, exam prep and come to their English classes either tired or at least not that energized. One more thing to mention – the majority of them are visual learners with quite short attention span and a habit of flicking from one piece of information to the other and failing to concentrate if these pieces are not succinct or entertaining enough.
‘I know, right. But what does it have to do with my boardwork?’ you will probably tell. The answer is easy: to grab teenagers’ attention and be useful, the board should be well-organised, catchy and informative, but not too wordy.
Make it organized
Let’s not overcomplicate our teens’ lives with messy boards. Make it structured. Divide the space into blocks. This is such a fundamental thing to know, but somehow I’ve come to that only recently, after almost 10 years of teaching and organizing my board intuitively and chaotically. My source of inspiration was a webinar on effective boardwork by Elena Sarnavskaya which I’m happy to recommend to everyone whose board is at times as messy as mine.
The layout will depend greatly on the type of a lesson you are planning. However, some blocks can be permanent, for example, the block for new words or the one for the target language. With some groups, you might even devote some part of the board to the lesson aims or a brief lesson plan. It will help students to stay on track and the teacher – to control timing and staging. You will find a couple of layout examples below:
It’s a good idea to leave new words and target language on till the end of the lesson. There is a common misconception that the higher the level is, the less we need the board. Once I spotted my C1 students taking photos of the board I was intending to wipe, I realized that higher levels need the board as much as lower ones. It works as scaffolding and support for all students.
Make it visual
Flashcards and pictures are teachers’ great helpers. But even if you have nothing printed for your class, you can still make your board bright and eye-catchy.
Learn how to doodle. Doodles take almost no time to draw but can illustrate a word, an idea or an idiom perfectly. They will also boost teenagers’ memorization skills and will be loved by all visual learners in your class. And who knows, maybe next time when a distracted student’s eyes start wandering around the class lazily, they will get attracted to the board and spot something useful there.
Can’t draw? Opt for stick figures or take a look at these wonderful books: 1000+ Pictures for Teachers to Copy by A. Wright and An Introduction to Hand Lettering, with Decorative Elements by A. Sauerborn. They will provide you with tons of ideas, symbols, fonts and pictograms.
‘Reserve’ meanings for the colours. Black for examples, green for highlighting grammar, orange for error correction, purple for team games and so on. It will make it easier for teens to react to important pieces of the target language and manage faster when they need to find some support on the board.
Get a new set of markers. Good old black-green-red-blue ones are enough to get by, especially if you have all four. Bigger sets, though, allow for more creativity, let you be more realistic in drawings (no more green bananas and red giraffes!) and just match with each other better.
How about something like this?
Make it entertaining
With most of the groups, we have a special block on the board which is devoted to certain aspects of language. It can be ‘Crazy English’, a rubric with emerging examples of irregularities in English or funny words. With the other group, we have the so-called ‘Insta-rubric’ for which they collect bits and pieces of colloquial English from the posts of celebrities they are subscribed to. You can also have an ‘idiom of the day’ or a ‘comic of the day’ rubric.
Leave some space for students to write on. It can be used for various games like hot seat or noughts and crosses, team dictations, brainstorming ideas or vocabulary races. You can also ask the fast finishers to write the correct answers on the board (previously checked by you, of course). While working in teams, one group can work at the board. If teens get the habit of taking an active part in the lesson and using the board, regularly, even the shy ones will feel more relaxed and involved. A tiny thing to bear in mind: if you are planning to get students involved in writing, leave the upper part of the board empty, especially if your teenagers are tall. That will make the whole process more comfortable.
All in all, the board is a powerful tool not only for students but for the teacher as well. Its obvious benefits for teenagers are scaffolding, visual support, facilitating memorization and an opportunity to interact with other people via writing. For the teacher, it might also work as a memory store for things to do or keep you on track with a lesson. Not to mention, that writing on the board is way more eco-friendly than printing out dozens of copies.
What does your board look like?