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Small Whiteboards: 7 Ways To Use Teachers’ Favorite Classroom Resource

Small whiteboards or dry erase whiteboards are a staple in classrooms across the country, from Elementary through High School. In this article, we explain how to make the most of this invaluable classroom tool, including how to elevate your use of formative assessment to boost progress for your students.

Why use small whiteboards in the classroom?

Small whiteboards are more than just an opportunity for children to pick up whiteboard markers and jot down ideas. When used with purpose, they can become an effective tool for formative assessment. 

By planning activities in advance, using carefully designed questions to assess learning and by reflecting on students’ answers or feedback, it is possible to gain a better understanding of areas where teaching and learning has been successful and where students need further help. 

Moreover, using small whiteboards can ensure that independent thinking time, partner talk and group discussions are utilized effectively by a higher ratio of students. By having a space to express what they know without committing to writing it on paper, students feel more comfortable to take a risk. It also gives the teacher a straightforward way to check students are on task and on track.

Advantages of small whiteboards

  • They are erasable – Small whiteboards are infinitely reusable; a simple swipe of an eraser and they are ready to be used again. This allows students to write ideas quickly and removes the fear that many students have of making a mistake or having a ‘messy’ book. This encourages participation of all students. 
  • They are fun – You can use them for games, quizzes, group activities and much more using whiteboards, creating endless opportunities for fun in the classroom.
  • They are collaborative – Unlike individual workbooks that belong to specific students, small whiteboards enable anyone with a dry erase marker to contribute their ideas in partner and group activities. 
  • They provide live formative feedback – By using ‘1-2-3 show me’, it takes only a few seconds to analyze student progress at a whole class level. 
  • They identify misconceptions – During the guided learning part of a lesson, it can be tricky to gauge if students have really ‘got it’ – especially when approaching new methods in math. Before moving onto an independent activity, whiteboards can provide a quick opportunity to identify misconceptions.

Disadvantages of small whiteboards

  • They can be a distraction – small whiteboards are an extra desk accessory for students in the classroom, and therefore something else to have to resist messing with or doodling on.
  • Assessment data may not be accurate – It is easy for students to copy each other’s answers so it may not be the most reliable way to check for understanding. However, teachers can reduce this by setting up tasks carefully and creating a safe environment where students feel comfortable making mistakes and understand that making mistakes will help their learning in the long run!
  • They require a lot of extra equipment – The humble small whiteboard is nothing without its accompanying erasers and dry erase markers. A class set for 30 students needs a lot of space and extra organization on your part. 
  • They cost a significant part of a yearly classroom budget – A classpack of small whiteboards can range in cost from $25 for basic plastic boards to $40 for more rigid boards. Other bestsellers include magnetic whiteboards for $60. Add on the whiteboard erasers, whiteboard markers and extras, such as easels then costs can quickly add up. However, you could go to a hardware store and purchase a classroom size piece of white board (usually around $10) and they will cut it up into smaller boards for free! This will usually make 18 boards and could be a good way to lower these costs. 

5 top tips for integrating small whiteboards into lessons

1. Plan, plan, plan

As with most things in teaching, getting the most out of using small whiteboards in lessons requires thorough planning; it is essential that you have considered why and how you are going to use them. Small whiteboards can be used at various stages of a lesson for very different purposes.

Towards the end of a lesson, they can be used to evaluate students’ learning with a game or quiz where students can apply their new knowledge. Whereas towards the start of a lesson, students can reflect on their learning from a previous lesson through a ‘think, pair, share’ or ‘while you wait’ activity.

Alternatively, small whiteboards can be used to introduce and explore new concepts. 

For example, at the elementary level, small whiteboards can be used in conjunction with cubes or counters to introduce division in lower elementary or to find fractions of an amount in upper elementary. Both of these examples require you to consider how you will model this process to the children and what this will look like in practice.

Example showing how you can use blocks to help with division
Whiteboards can be used alongside cubes and counters to introduce division.

In Middle School, whiteboards can be a great way to encourage students to practice sketching the net of 3D shape to help with calculating the surface area.

Example showing how you an use small whiteboards to practice sketching the net of 3D shape to help with calculating the surface area.
Whiteboards can be a useful way to draw and visualize abstract concepts.

In High School, a whiteboard can encourage students who are learning to solve a quadratic equation using the formula to try their best, without worrying about making a small error and having to rewrite the entire calculation.

Showing how small whiteboards can be used to learn how to solve quadratic equation
Whiteboards allow students to easily erase and rewrite which is great to build confidence when tackling more complex topics.

2. Decide what your assessment questions are

As with all formative assessment and math diagnostic tests, you need to know what it is that you are assessing and what student outcomes you are looking for. 

To utilize mini boards effectively, it is important to decide on a few key questions that will help you to determine if students are ready to move on with their learning or need further support. In math, it is also important to consider the sequencing of these questions to ensure you are building up through small steps in conceptual understanding. 

Design questions that lend themselves to simple answers can be displayed prominently on the small whiteboard. Don’t be afraid to take a few moments to look around at the answers to get a good feel of how the class has done. 

Consider if you have worded or formatted questions in the best way to collect meaningful data. For example, have you opted for a multiple choice diagnostic question? Are students simply required to write the letter of their chosen answer on their whiteboards? You may consider instead using the model of ‘I do, We do, You do’ where students will need to show their working on their small whiteboards.

Once you’ve surveyed your students’ answers, identify a few interesting answers and highlight them for class discussion. This could be answers that are particularly good, answers that are correct but could be improved, answers that have not followed the most efficient method, or answers that are incorrect. Mistakes and misconceptions should be celebrated as opportunities to learn.

3. Know your next steps

Even with the best planned, most engaging lessons, children often need more time to become familiar with a new concept or to develop confidence applying a new method independently. When using small whiteboards to assess student understanding, it is important that you are prepared for any outcome.
The flowchart below shows different paths you can take depending on the outcome from using whiteboards. This assumes that the majority of students are working independently and not copying each other’s answers, so it’s worth making sure you’ve established expectations for students before you start!

It’s also advisable to, as a first step, ensure your questioning is accurate and clear, before deciding to reteach the whole class and to briskly move onto a new topic without ensuring there’s a solid understanding.

Steps on how to move forward when a diagnostic question has been asked to the class

4. Have your resources ready

To fully utilize lesson time, it is useful to have whiteboards and dry erase markers on desks ready for students to pick up and put into action within seconds. There are a number of ways this can be done. 

  • In lower elementary, it may be useful to have resource stations close to the carpet so that students have easy access to them during the guided practice portion of the lesson.
  • In upper elementary, you may choose to allocate each child a set of resources that they keep with them throughout the day, or you could use table trays to hold resources for groups of children working in close proximity to one another. 
  • At middle and high school level, where students move around the school more frequently and class sizes may vary, it may be preferable to lay small whiteboards out on tables at the start of a lesson and collect them in at the end. Many school agendas also incorporate a dry erase page, so you may find that many of your students already have a mini board to hand.

5. Train students how to use them

Setting expectations for whiteboard use can not only make formative assessment more straightforward, but it can also lead to a calmer classroom environment. 

To prevent white boards becoming a source of distraction during teaching, students should know when and where the whiteboard and white board marker should be on the table at various stages during the lesson.

Additionally, students should know how and when to share their answers, for example using a 1-2-3 ‘show me’ approach or asking students to reveal their answers only once you say a buzzword. This reduces the possibility of children copying from their peers or creating unwanted noise from flapping boards above their heads.

You may also agree upon an appropriate writing size and color choice. This can ensure you are able to see the whole class’ responses from your position at the front of the room, without having to squint your eyes.

7 ideas for small whiteboards in the classroom

So how could you use small whiteboards in your lessons? Below are a few ideas to get you started.

1. ‘While you wait’ activities

To encourage purposeful starts to lessons, ‘while you wait’ retrieval questions can help embed prior learning in students’ long-term memory.

In lower elementary, this may be a simple set of arithmetic questions to help them settle on the carpet. At upper elementary, this can become the follow-on activity after writing the date and learning objective to assess skills learned in previous units. 

Third Space Learning has a variety of fun math games and activities that can be used at the start of lessons to practice key math skills. Students can answer questions on their whiteboards to assess their understanding of previously covered material..

2. Checkpoint questions 

The term ‘hinge questions’ applies to carefully planned, whole class questions that can be used to check-in on students’ understanding and help you to respond to their needs. By incorporating 2 or 3 of these checkpoints into your lessons, you can carefully monitor progress and change tact if required. This can be particularly effective in math where misconceptions can develop over time. And of course, what better place for students to show their workings out than a reusable small whiteboard?

3. Think, pair, share

‘Turn and talk to your partner’ is a common phrase used by teachers. But how can you be sure that your students are making the most of this talk time? 

By incorporating small whiteboards into these discussions, you can offer a clearer structure. Giving students time to think independently and jot down ideas before talking to a partner can support even the quietest of students to demonstrate their understanding and contribute effectively to partner talk. Erasability also enables pairs to merge their ideas and decide upon their answer or explanation before sharing to a wider group of students. 

Double-sided whiteboards can be particularly effective here as they offer more space, but can also add some fun (for example, with back-to-back idea generation between partners). 

4. I do, we do, you do

Effective modeling is an essential teaching skill, and is particularly pertinent in math where new content must be broken into manageable chunks to prevent cognitive overload. 

When introducing something new, students should be given the opportunity to observe an expert (their teacher!) demonstrating the method. From here on, they should be actively involved in their learning, using scaffolds and prompts to guide them towards independent work. 

Small whiteboards come into play at the ‘we do’ stage of teaching. This is where the teacher and students work slowly through a problem together, taking one step at a time. Having their own whiteboards allows students to replicate what they can see on the main board, while adding in their own thoughts and calculations. Care should be taken to ensure that students are not just copying down what the teacher has written. By pausing and questioning at key points, we can ensure that this is a valuable use of learning time.

At the ‘you do’ stage, students have the opportunity to answer a question more independently, without having to commit their workings to paper. This is a useful formative assessment checkpoint before moving on with teaching.

US TSL place value chart - small whiteboards
After modeling, students can have a go at more independent practice using a worked example. This is the approach we take in our online one to one math tutoring to identify misconceptions and check for understanding.

5. Worked examples

Smallwhiteboards are also a useful tool for in-lesson interventions. For example, lower ability students and students with cognition and learning related special education needs benefit from having a worked example in front of them to refer back to. 

This additional scaffold can be produced quickly and easily, either by the teacher or a teaching assistant. In numeracy, gridded whiteboards are particularly useful as they mimic the square paper often seen in math exercise books.

Example of how to used grided small whiteboards to answer math questions
Whiteboards can be useful to provide worked examples.

6. Combine and create new concrete resources

Small whiteboards provide a versatile base to use in conjunction with various resources. For example, students can draw the outline of a bar model that can be reused throughout a lesson combined with counters, base 10 equipment or multilink cubes. Magnetic whiteboards and counters can be very useful here by helping students keep track of their work.

This can be adapted to suit older students working with larger integers, decimal numbers and algebra by using tools like place value counters to represent different amounts rather than counters alone. Below you can see how a small whiteboard has been used in conjunction with place value counters to calculate the value of 𝑥.

Example of how a small whiteboard has been used in conjunction with place value counters to calculate the value of x
Whiteboards can be combined with other concrete resources to support students in a range of different topics and a range of different stages.

7. Exit tickets

Before ending a lesson, it is important to reflect on whether students have grasped the core knowledge and are ready to move on, or if more support is required. Using ‘exit ticket’ style questions to bring a lesson to a close can provide useful formative assessment

Exit tickets can be presented in a number of ways: solving calculations, multiple choice, reasoning and problem solving, explanation questions or even a low-stakes quiz combining these approaches. They should always be directly linked to your learning objective. 

Small whiteboards are effective here as they are quick for students to use and time effective for assessing from the front of the room. If there are a select few students who need further intervention, you can make a quick note of this and incorporate it into future planning.

Conclusion

So there we have it! 7 ways you can use small whiteboards in your lessons from today. Despite the initial costs and planning, small whiteboards are a versatile tool and it’s no surprise that it’s a teacher-favorite classroom resource.

Looking at improving your feedback process? You may be interested in our blog on whole class feedback.

How do you use small whiteboards in lessons?

Small whiteboards can be used in a number of ways in lessons, including assessments such as: ‘while you wait’ activities, check in questions and exit tickets. They can also be used in conjunction with other concrete resources to scaffold independent activities.

What can I use instead of a whiteboard?

If whiteboards are not an option, using adhesives such as sticky notes on a class notice board/ memo board or placing a white piece of paper in a clear plastic sleeve for students to write on with dry erase markers. If you come from a particularly IT savvy school, a number of apps are available for digital tablets that serve a similar purpose.

Are small whiteboards formative assessment?

Small whiteboards are an excellent tool for formative assessment i.e. checking understanding before moving onto new content or addressing misconceptions. To make the most of this it is important to plan questions in advance for different stages of the lesson. And remember, it’s not just about using them, it’s about how you adapt your teaching based on the results.

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The content in this article was originally written by primary school teacher Rosie Hasyn and has since been revised and adapted for US schools by elementary and middle school teacher Kathleen Epperson.

Rosie Hasyn
Rosie Hasyn
Rosie is a primary school teacher and a contributor for Third Space Learning. She has a background in teaching both in Key Stage 1 and 2, and has specialised in teaching maths to lower attaining children and children with SEND.
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