Friday, 8 April 2011


GOOD teachers plan each class thinking about their students and what will best work for them :

GREAT teachers think over how the class went, what is worth reusing, how it can be reused, recycled, improved. identify what didn't work so well and how it could be rejigged to be more successful.

GREAT teachers never stop growing, never stop pushing and trying and working towards giving their students optimal learning opportunities.

Every aspect of teaching can be improved and optimised, not ever an easy or even realistic task, but always a worthy goal, one to strive for.

Some things however are way easier than others to straighten out, and I want to start with one of the most straightforward: cleaning up your boardwork.

Of course, straightforward is not the same as easy. Just as having a nice neat cupboard is actually a straightforward task, actually maintaining it that way takes work. However with just a little discipline and method, many aspects great boardwork can become almost second nature.

A good teacher caters to learners' visual learning style by backing up relevant points made visually and memorably on whatever type of board she may have available.

A GREAT teacher develops a system to make boardwork clearer and cleaner and include all relevant information possible that may assist their learners.

I suggest the following method to ensure better boardwork


    Why have class at all? what do you expect to achieve? to what degree?  how will you and the students know if the class was successful and worthwhile or not? obviously by stating and checking the practice of the class against an objective.

    Ideally this should be:
    • stated, explained or negotiated at the beginning of the class,
    • referred to as you make steps towards it, 
    • reflected upon at the end of the class - how successful have you been in getting there?
      I therefore recommend never removing it in the whole class, or until the particular cycle has been satifactorily concluded and the objective met.

      2. LANGUAGE and/or LEXICAL FOCUS of the class in one corner
      • This may be already in your mind in planning the class, or it may develop in consultation with your students.
      • This empowers students to search for follow-up information and practice after the class

      3.  LEARNING STRATEGY GUEST STAR in the corner

      As great EFL teachers of course we are bursting with learning strategies. We model them, occasionally name them, and use them implicitly or explicitly perhaps by the dozen or more each class.

      Probably (hopefully?) good language learners ourselves, often we are not even aware that so much of what we try to convey to our students is learning strategy based. We can't MAKE our students learn, (try as we might) but we can help them to discover how best they learn themselves. 'Good' language students pick up learning strategies as if by osmosis. However all students can benefit by our EXPLICIT and SYSTEMATIC addressing of learning strategies, which might include NAMING, MODELLING, PRACTICING and RELFECTING ON these.

      Therefore, as I said, while possibly dozens of learning strategies may be worked with and named I recommend
      • chosing ONE relevant and important learning strategy to be worked with - named, modelled and practiced explicitly in each class
      • putting this in it's own special star-burst corner of the board, the special guest star of the class. 

      • a fixed column in which new and incidental vocabulary is written as it comes up, with explanation, be it a sketch, brief definition, or synonyms and antonyms. 
      • this can be used at the end of the class for a wind up activity where students are to incorporate all new vocabulary, 
      • record the information to use as the warm-up for the next class; try hangman, or a mime or a circumloction activity as relevant. 
      • also a fixed column, on the other side of the board where likewise troublesome or new words are written up
      • some kind of notation is developed, explained and consistently used to help students with the troublesome pronunciation aspects. 
      • stress might be illustrated by BIG circles and small circles over syllables
      • phonetic script, if used, must be taught to students and practiced in a meaningful and empowering way (a future post will be made on this)
      • an alternative can be to group the word/sound with other words it rhymes with,         
        • eg      bird        construction  
        •           word              /up\
        •            /her\
      • as for VOCABULARY, at the end of the class, you'll have recorded an instant snapshot of all the pronunciation issues that came up during the class for further review and practice


      Once you have established a clean and predictable place for all these incidental and most important aspects that will come up in each class, you have the main body of your board free for explanations and other work.

      • Exploit this valuable resource  - most sighted people are strongly visual learners
      • Keep it neat
      • Use colours and sketches to extend appeal. =)
      • Any particularly complex point you want to make might be worth planning out the boardwork in advance.
      • Don't let it get cluttered - take time to clean it up once the point has been made, so any new points made can take centre stage. Anything that consistently comes up in a particular class - such as irregular verb forms, or irregular plural forms - may warrant a semi-permanent column space to the side.
      • NEVER leave an error uncorrected - it may be recorded - even unconsciously - by the learner as correct!
      • Have students write on and use the board  as often as possible -For example, rather than have them do grammar exercises in their books, have students write them up on the board as a group, and correct them, handing the marker from one to the other.
      • As far as possible make the board student space, not teacher-only space!

      With just a little discipline points 1-5 soon become second nature.

      Point 6, the BODY of boardwork, continues to be most challenging to me, but always worth striving for, and reflecting on.


      Having pranted and prated a bit up there above, as if I manage perfect boardwork all the time, I'd better confess, my own boardwork is very much *ahem* a work in process. Like my cupboards, it has a long way to really meet the standard I am aiming for.

      I have a small board in my home classroom. I'd be happier if it were at least a third bigger, but as is, I need discipline to make it work without getting too cluttered. 

      As you can see below, in this case I certainly let my boardwork get out of control as the class  progressed.
      • There are a few leftover items on the board that should have been removed.
      • I should have put the bit on irregular plurals on the right hand side above the pronunciation column, 
      • I should have kept all the pronunciation work UNDER the heading of that.

      Even so, while clearly far from perfect, my own boardwork truly has improved tremendously thanks to observations from colleagues and supervisors, and it is something I continually try to improve. Just like that clean cupboard, there is always that little something that should be done more neatly and in a more organised fashion.

      Having a system to follow helps see me move towards the BETTER boardwork and helps me be more clear about where I need to improve.  

      I hope these ideas are useful for you! Please add any ideas or techniques of your own you find useful!



        1. My board work has DEFINITELY gotten better after having you observe me--thanks! Although I do write a LOT on the board. Maybe it would be better if I had two or three boards? I also wish teachers had their own rooms here (like you've got in your house), so they could establish more of their own "territory" to put up common vocabulary, etc.

          Nice post!

        2. yes, i often wish my classroom were made of writable - and EASILY CLEANED! - surfaces.

          I love the idea of teaching territory. You could hang a sign at the door: you are now entering RYAN territory, where WE ARE ALL AMERICANS and you'd better be prepared to talk gringo and write RITE.

          Lucy territory: where we all communicate in old sea shanties and colourful swearing.


        3. I googled boardwork (images) for a teacher-trainer input session I am planning and came across your post. Thanks for posting and being so modest.
          I pride myself on my boardwork and think it is a fundamental part of an effective teaching strategy. I draw a line from top to bottom of board along the right to clearly demarcate a column so other stuff doesn't run into it. (You could do a straight one at the top too for your 3 boxes there.) I put all vocabulary in that column and put pron on all vocab so there's no need for a separate pron column.
          I do use different colours, but not just for the sake of it. On the main parts of the board, colours have different but consistent uses. Black is to write up words (phrases, sentences). Red is to put pron under each word (sorry, but it looks like you got the vowel sound in "sweep" wrong, by the way - it should be /i:/) and also to note part of speech so after "sweep" I'd have (V.T.reg)in smaller letters. Students get to grips with this and it helps them use vocabulary in context. Also, I feel that it is important to write nouns consistently (with an article if they are countable, without if they are not). This helps learners use them correctly. Finally, blue is for explanations, answers to exercises and errors to be corrected.
          Just like you say, boardwork can get a little out of hand as a lesson progresses but I also feel that at the end of most lessons my board could be an effective teaching tool in itself. It does help to have a nice big board though!

          I took your board as context and showed my work around some of it. I promise my teaching style is not as regimented as my boardwork.

        4. Wow! thanks for your imput, and EXCELLENT clean-up of the boardwork that SHOULD have been. =)

          I love your use of colour, your VERY clean and structured board and your ideas altogther.

          as to the phonetic symbols, I use a slightly different set of IPA to that which you use, where a small dotless /I/ represents the short sound "sit"=/sIt/ and /i/ represents the long "seat"=/sit/.
          I think my version is standard in Australia - or was all those years ago when I did my teaching training - 1991/92? Again, as long as whatever system you have it is taught to your students in a consistent way and explained to them that there may be other versions out there, it's a valid teaching tool. Though on the other hand, while I do still see my variation around the place, I think it probably better if I take on the up to date version, so that is something I will investigate.

          Thanks once more for your valuable input, for pushing ideas to the next level! And good luck with your upcoming session; I am sure it's going to be fabulous!