How to Use the Board Effectively in ELT

In this article and accompanying video, I will talk about using the board effectively in ELT (English language teaching). The board is perhaps the most useful piece of equipment in the language classroom.

Note that this post is written mainly for teachers using whiteboards (not digital interactive boards), although a lot of the advice still applies.

Watch the video here:

Types of Board
  1. Blackboard and chalk
  2. Whiteboard and markers
  3. Interactive whiteboards / Smartboards / Digital Whiteboards
A small confession

Like many experienced teachers, I don’t use the board as effectively as I should. Over the years I have developed a series of bad habits and could do with some extra training myself.

Ask your teaching colleagues for feedback on your board work. Take a few photos of your board and see what your other teachers think. Why not see if you can organise a training session in which teachers think of ways to improve board work at the school?

Read on for some answers to common questions about using the board:


1. What colours should you use?
  • Colours that contrast with the board. If you use a whiteboard, black and blue are easiest to read.
  • Use other colours (red / green) for highlighting, underlining, circling, identifying specific features, stress patterns, phonemic symbols, interaction patterns, syllable boundaries and so on.
2. How big should your writing be?
  • Write a sentence in different sizes on the board. Go to the back of the room and see which size is the most appropriate.
  • Ask your students for feedback. Let them decide which is the best size.
  • Make sure your writing is not too big – you’ll fill the board in no time.
  • Write reminders to yourself in very small letters in the corners of the board. For example, if you hear a mistake in class, write it down and then deal with it later. If it’s small enough, your learners won’t be able to read it.
  • As a rule of thumb, letters should be about the size of your thumb; unless you have extraordinary large thumbs!
3. Should you write in print or use a cursive (joined-up) script?
  • Use print with multi-lingual classes as most students will be able to read what’s on the board.
  • Most students will be used to reading on screens (print) so that may be most useful for them.
  • Cursive writing may be a thing of the past.  
  • Cursive writing may have other benefits, such as aiding creativity.
4. When should you use capital letters?
  • Learn the basic rules of capitalization
  • Capitalization can be used for effect when writing a topic heading.
  • Learners generally copy what they see on the board, so try to be as accurate and consistent as you can.
  • Use a Style Guide (notice the capitalization for effect!).
5. Can learners write on the board?
  • Yes, yes, and YES!!!
  • Learners should be encouraged to get out of their seats.
  • Think about how you could get several students to write on the board at the same time. This saves time, encourages peer teaching and learning, and reduces the risk of putting individual learners on the spot.
  • Divide the board into sections and ask pairs / small groups to write in each section.
  • Use dictation activities in conjunction with the board.
6. Should you use the board for correcting errors?
  • Make sure you let the learners know that what you have written is wrong.
  • Board mistakes and ask learners to correct & identify errors.
  • Collect several mistakes made by learners, board them, and then ask pairs / small groups to correct them.
  • Use green & red to indicate mistakes.
7. How can you use the board to record new vocabulary?
  • Spidergrams for eliciting vocabulary and adding new items.
  • Use margins to record unexpected vocabulary. Then, remember to review at the end of the class.
  • When presenting new vocabulary, use marker sentences to provide a context (clear examples of target language) and record syllable boundaries, stress patterns, intonation (chunks and sentences) and phonemic symbols.
8. What about grammar presentations?
  • Use the centre of the board to present new structures.
  • Ask learners to put their pens down while you are presenting (they probably need to focus).
  • Give learners time to record marker sentences and key features of structure, such as form / substitution tables.
  • Consider keeping the key aspects of the presentation on the board for follow-up practice activities but erase any non-essential information.
  • Create board plans and use them to refer to during the lesson.
9. How often should you clear the board?
  • Train learners to note down the essentials, not everything you write or draw on the board.
  • Ask learners before clearing the board.
  • Think carefully before erasing the target language.
  • Prepare the board for the next activity while learners are busy working individually or in pairs / small groups. This cuts down on dead time in the lesson.
10. What games can be played on the board?
11. What should you do if you make a mistake?
  • Confess. You’re only human; everybody makes mistakes – as long as it doesn’t happen too often.
  • Ask learners to check spelling in their dictionaries.
  • Ask learners to spell new words for you.
  • Congratulate learners on their powers of observation and pretend you made a deliberate mistake.
  • Prepare your board work before the lesson.
12. What can you do if you can’t draw?
13. Is there anything you shouldn’t write on the board?
  • Simple language (below the level of the learner) or language items they should know does not need to be written on the board.
  • For simple and known language, elicit spelling and other features from the learners. Nominate learners to write on the board if you think they need to practise or need confirmation. Then erase.
  • New language that you don’t think your learners need or will be able to understand. If you board something, you really need to explain it, so make sure you grade your language to the level of the learners.

With practise and feedback, your board work will improve. Make sure you plan what you want to write on the board and remember that you are responsible for your board after each class.


You don’t want to get on the wrong side of your Director of Studies or your fellow teachers. 

One thought on “How to Use the Board Effectively in ELT

  1. Pingback: ITC: 83 – How to Effectively Use Chalkboards, Blackboards, and Whiteboards in Your Classroom | Tubarks - The Musings of Stan Skrabut

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