Whiteboarding: Best Practices

Definition of whiteboarding, "v. 1. The spontaneous act of expressing a group's output visually on a shared surface."


"Best Practices for Whiteboarding in the Physics Classroom" (post) explains what whiteboarding is, its goals, and how to use whiteboards effectively as well as several approaches to whiteboarding activities (working out problems and presenting solutions) and strategies for managing "common challenges in whiteboarding." 

  • Though focused on physics instruction, much of the content can be profitably applied to a range of subjects.

1. "What Is Whiteboarding?"

"Whiteboarding is a pedagogical approach in which students use whiteboards to work out and share ideas."

  • "[T]eachers ... give the students a problem, and the goal of the activity is for the students solve the problem and reach consensus on the correct answer."
  • Alternately, "students ... generate their own problems, with the goal of creating their own representations and/or scientific models."
  • "In either case, whiteboarding activities usually have two parts: Working out the problem ... Presenting the solution ...."

2. "Goals of Whiteboarding"

Whiteboarding allows students to:

  • "Collaboratively or individually work out ideas"
  • "Make ideas public so that peers can learn from them and provide feedback on them"
  • "Make ... ideas visible to the instructor so that the instructor can understand and provide feedback on them"

3. Five "Approaches to Presenting the Solution" (illustrative diagrams in the post)

a. "Board meeting" 

  • "[S]tudents gather in a circle and bring their whiteboards with them." 
  • "They ... present their solutions to one another, critique each other’s work, ask questions to the group (about their process, concepts, definitions, etc.), and share any difficulties they ran into while working on the activity."
  • "Ideally the board meetings would be student-led, with students both asking and answering questions."
  • "Board meetings lend themselves well to consensus building and allow for a lot of flexibility in the discussion."

b. "Front-of-class presentation"

  • "[S]tudents (or groups) ... present their boards at the front of the classroom ... particularly useful if your classroom has permanent seats that you cannot move into a circle discussion."
  • "Students can present complete solutions or tentative ideas at the front of the class and receive feedback from their peers."
  • "Because of the format (addressing the whole class from the front of the room), this may be a high-risk situation for students, but it can also help students become more comfortable with presenting their ideas."

c. "Viking council"

  • "[T]he instructor first has students work out a single problem in groups (or as individuals) on a whiteboard."
  • "After coming to some conclusion as a group or by themselves, the instructor then pairs groups (or individuals) who had conflicting ideas or solutions."
  • "The groups (or individuals) present their work and ideas to each other, supporting their ideas with evidence and trying to persuade the other group why their solution is correct."
  • "The goal: ... to have groups come to consensus on a problem or identify why their solutions are different (perhaps the groups made different assumptions about the problem)."
  • "This type of presentation works best when there are multiple, conflicting ideas to be discussed."
  • "A viking council may be used when consensus is needed in the class, but mobility or time is limited."

d. "Gallery walk" 

  • "A gallery walk ... plac[es] student boards around the classroom when they are finished with their solutions."
  • "[S]tudents are encouraged to take a walk around the 'gallery' to see how their peers solved the problems and how those compared to their own solutions."
  • "This method highlights the variety of students work and can be a good way to showcase many different problems in a short amount of time."
  • "Since a gallery walk typically does not include a whole-class discussion, it is better used for practice problems rather than introducing content."

e. "Master class" 

  • "[A]n instructor works with an individual student working out an idea at a whiteboard in front of the class, in order to illustrate how to give and receive feedback."
  • "By observing an example conversation between an instructor and student, the rest of the class can learn and apply those ideas in their own peer-to-peer conversations."
  • "A master class is good for addressing a common problem in the class through an example (either in content or classroom norms)."

4. "What Makes a Good Whiteboard?"

"[H]ave an explicit discussion about what makes a good whiteboard and have students establish classroom norms for their whiteboarding, preferably at the very beginning of the term." 

"Some qualities to emphasize include":

  • "Write BIG so that others across the room/discussion can see your work."
  • "Use colors to emphasize important points and distinguish between the different parts of the problem."
  • "Use multiple representations - often having a picture, equations, and a graph can help others understand your work better than just a set of equations."
  • "Organize the whiteboard so others can follow your work - while problem solving is not often linear, it is immensely helpful to have some organization, labels or arrows so someone one else can tell where you started and what step you went to next."
  • "Label the problem (and the worksheet it comes from) so you can find the problem again if needed."

5. Common Challenges in Whiteboarding Addressed in the Post

  • "What if students are initially reluctant to write tentative ideas on whiteboards?"
  • "How do I get students to provide clear, organized whiteboards that other students can understand?"
  • "What if students copy from each others' whiteboards rather than thinking through the problem for themselves?" 
  • "What if students don't have productive conversations about their whiteboards?"
  • "What if one student dominates the discussion or monopolizes the whiteboard, so that only his or her ideas, rather than those of the whole group, get recorded?"
  • "What if students are initially reluctant to critique each other’s whiteboards?" 
  • "Since whiteboard writing is impermanent, will students have a good record of what they did that they can come back to outside of class?"
  • "What if some groups complete their whiteboard problems much faster or slower than other groups?"
  • "How will I be cover everything I need to cover if we spend so much class time on group work?"
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