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It’s taken me a while but here it is: my experience of taking Jason Renshaw’s interesting idea for putting together learners, pens and an empty board (black or white) and seeing what happens. Check out Jason’s post on the Wanderous Whiteboard (and other related stuff) here.

First the background: this was a class with a group of Entry 1 students [in UK Further Education ESOL there are 5 levels: Entry Levels 1, 2, 3, then Levels 1 and 2] which puts them roughly into the beginner to elementary bracket in terms of language level. There are students in this group from (in no particular order): India, Poland, the Czech Republic, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Spain, France, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam. I teach them on Monday mornings (in a room with a tiny whiteboard) and on Wednesday afternoons (with a maaaaasive, well pretty big board).

This is what happened when I got them to write on the board:

I added the numbers in red after the students had written their contribution, as a way to keep track and guide the conversation.

  1. Wednesday 3rd November 2010 – Virtually the first thing I write on the board every lesson (if a student isn’t writing it). In particular, I make a point of usually asking members of this class to tell me the date, and this really surprised me – they have almost no problems with ordinal numbers! (first, second, and so on). Compared to my group of European intermediate students from last year, this lot are streets ahead here!
  2. Spelling – A BIG focus for this level. A lot of points in the writing exam these students have to prepare for go at the word level, with a focus on spelling key words. Needless to say, we do a fair amount of spelling practice in class
  3. How are you? – I was pleased here: this was written by a French girl in the class who is particularly weak, so for her to write something was really something =)
  4. today – I made a point of telling the students that as long as they wrote something, it was good. This lead on to me asking ‘What day is it today/tomorrow?’ ‘What day was it yesterday?’ We also looked at those two other phrases ‘The day before yesterday’ and ‘The day after tomorrow’
  5. Do you like watermelon? – At this point I flipped my lid. This is a structure we had been working on for the couple of weeks before I went all wanderous with the whiteboard, so that they remembered it was cool
  6. Yes, I do like watermelon (parentheses mine) – and the response! This is ‘can’t get better’ territory here. One happy teacher, was I
  7. I’m fine – Good standard phrase here. And a response to number 3 – it’s  interesting when a conversation develops on the board – everyone noticed it
  8. I learn to English – First mistake here, but still it meant I could work in the structure ‘learn to do something’
  9. Hi – Ok, my least happy camper for this activity. Did not really want to write much, but at least she put something on the board. I asked them for alternatives, getting hello and hey back
  10. How old are you? – Again, a pretty standard phrase at this level. Lead to us working out how to say the answer and the optional ending ‘I am 27 years old.’
  11. What do you want? – Perhaps the students reaction to the activity?? I like to think that they enjoyed it – they certainly watched with interest as each of them wrote on the board

All in all, a successful activity, I think!

And here’s the board with my additions: