Under my desk in my office, I keep a bag of five or six mini whiteboards. When I tote this bag to class, my students perk up. When I break out the boards, they get really excited. Now, I’d like to think that my class is engaging and exciting without these boards, but these boards signal that class time will be spent a bit differently than usual. I use mini whiteboards to do a lot of reviews and games, and it’s clear from my students’ reactions that they love these sorts of activities. Because mini whiteboards are now a dedicated part of my teacher toolkit, I’d like to share some of the activities I do with them.
(Note: if you don’t have access to mini whiteboards, laminated white paper and board markers work just as well!)
1. Grammar Review with Video
This is probably my favorite mini whiteboard activity. It’s really quite simple and can be done with almost any video. I have used trailers (check out Subtitled Trailers on YouTube) and often the interactive zombie video Deliver Me to Hell. This is a review activity and works best with grammar, though vocabulary and other structures would work too.
I typically introduce the video and give a brief explanation of what students are expected to do with their partner (groups of 3 or 4 would be OK too). I write a checklist of structures on the board (e.g. adjective clause, adverb clause – concession, adverb clause – unreal past, etc.) sometimes with point values, sometimes without. Then, I play the video and pause it at either a random or action-packed moment. Students then must choose one of the structures on the board and make a sentence about the action surrounding the paused moment. I walk around and give feedback until students have a correct sentence. Students can then check off that structure. (Alternatively, you can award points to the first group with the correct sentence or only allow the first two groups to finish to check off that structure – it’s a game, so play it how you’d like). I ask students not to erase their boards so that they can share their sentences with other groups. If it is a particularly good sentence, I write it on the board and we discuss the structure together. If I see a group is struggling, I’ll write their sentence on the board and we will work on it together.
I repeat this game until all structures have been completed. If I am using trailers, I typically have several ready to go, and I do use the subtitles, but they are not necessary. During this activity, my students are fully engaged and are really applying their skills. The pair/group work allows students to help each other and allows me to offer targeted feedback and identify group- or class-wide areas that need help. It’s a great activity and something I try to do several times per term.
2. Vocabulary Practice and Review
There are a number of ways you can practice and review vocabulary with mini whiteboards. The following activities can be completed in pairs and groups. They require students to have already studied the vocabulary and be somewhat familiar with it. Each one of these activities is simple and can be played as a game (e.g. giving points to the first group finished). The activities are:
- Say or show the meaning, students must write the vocabulary word
- Say or show the word, students must write the meaning
- Show a sentence with one word missing, students write the vocabulary word
- Show a vocabulary word and students write a sentence with that word
- Show a vocabulary word and the word “Noun,” “Verb,” Past Tense” and students must change the part of speech or write the past tense form of the word
- Show a synonym/antonym, students write the corresponding vocabulary word
- Show a list of words and get students to group them and then explain their groupings
The goal of these activities is to get students to collaborate in order to recall and apply vocabulary. They are a quick and fun way to get essential practice and easily allow immediate feedback. Students find these activities very enjoyable.
3. Collaborative Writing
I have used mini whiteboards to introduce students to collaborative writing, to assess different writing skills, and to provide immediate feedback. For example, given some topic we have been discussing, I get students to work together to draft a hook or thesis statement. I can then give each group feedback as well as show student exemplars to the rest of the class. I can ask students to look at an essay and work together to write a transition between paragraphs, to strengthen a claim with support, or to make a conclusion sentence more general.
I find that having students work together often produces better results than getting students to write independently. They have the ability to share different ideas, peer edit, and confirm their sentences that they otherwise would not have. These sentences then serve as models for their own independent writing.
4. Discussion Aids
This is an activity I have only done recently when my students were practicing for debates. While students were in their groups having mini debates, I would listen to them carefully. Whenever they missed an opportunity to add support or evidence, or missed an opportunity to apply a good argument, I would write a keyword on the board and show it to them. This prompted them – without interruption – to include the ideas during their debate/discussion.
I think that this type of whiteboard-based remind can be used to aid in many different discussion activities. Another way that it can be used is with target vocabulary or pragmatic structures. As students are having discussions, write a key vocabulary word or phrase on the board. Show it to students to remind them to use that word or phrase during their discussion. The whiteboard serves as a gentle reminder to include that language, giving students extra opportunities to practice and include language in a contextualized way.
I have already written about how I use LyricsTraining in the classroom (here and here). With mini whiteboards, students write missing song words on the boards. Here is an example activity using the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten:
- Access “Fight Song” on LyricsTraining.com.
- Explain that students will need to look for the missing word during the game as the lyrics scroll. If they think they know the word, they should write it on their board and then show the teacher the word. The first group to show the correct word gets a point. Students should keep track of their points on their boards. After they write a word, they should pass the board the next member of their group.
- Choose “Beginner” mode and begin the game.
- As students give correct answers, type them in to keep the game going.
- Pay attention to the words and know them before the song gets to the blank. This way, you can focus on watching students rather than watching the game, making choosing the fastest group more easier and fairer.
- You should complete any really difficult words, especially those obscured by the music. However, for words that you think your students can get, use the replay button.
- At the end of the game, tally students’ points to determine the winner.
Students really enjoy this activity. It gets them practicing writing (mostly spelling), listening (to the song or other students), and speaking (giving directions and telling students the missing words). Quite simple but all my students enjoy it and it makes for a memorable experience.
6. Quiz Games
Finally, quiz games. I have made numerous quiz games to review vocabulary, grammar, and so on. I typically use a TOEFL review game at the end of each term to give students some TOEFL test practice before they take it. This would also work with Jeopardy or pretty much any other PowerPoint quiz game you can think of. Students work together to decide the answer and write it on their board within the allotted time. The review games are usually fill-in-the-blank, short answer, or multiple choice but students can practice sentence and even short paragraph writing as well. The TOEFL review game link above has an example reading/grammar game and an example listening game. The template can be modified to suit any question or goal.
[update: added #7 – 7/22]
7. Peer Dictation
I used this activity recently to work with vocabulary, listening, and pronunciation and it was quite a success. I think it could work in any classroom, but it was particularly fun and useful in a multilingual classroom with a variety of accents and abilities. I used our vocabulary to craft 10 simple sentences. I printed out the sentences on a sheet of paper and gave each group of 2-4 students one list and a mini whiteboard. One student was to have the list and the others were to listen carefully as the student read a sentence of their choice at a natural speed. Then, the other students had to work together to write their sentence on the whiteboard, asking for repetition, clarification, and spelling if needed. I found that all students were engaged in this and it was much more difficult than I had originally anticipated. It was also sometimes hilarious with students pronouncing over and over again certain words until they finally got their meaning across. I could see this as a good opportunity for practicing clarification, repetition, and even circumlocution strategies.
If you noticed, I claimed that each of these activities was fun and that students had a great experience. By simply bringing mini whiteboards – or any unusual object – to class, students expectations and interests grow. Mini whiteboards can be used for serious tasks and study, but my point was to show how they can be used for easy and fun practice and review.
Have you used mini whiteboards? What activities do you like to do with them?