Tweaking your Boardwork

What do you do with the vocabulary that comes up in a lesson?
Where do you write it on the board?

Many teachers keep an incidental vocabulary column at the side of the board and this can have many advantages. Compartmentalising the board space allows the teacher to leave the vocabulary there for the remainder of the lesson so they and their students can refer to it throughout the class. The rest of the space can be used, cleaned and reused as necessary.

Here is an example of how an incidental vocabulary column might look:


Okay, but some tweaks and more thought could make it a more valuable resource for the students. Many learners copy down everything that is written on the board and use it as a record of the class for revision and homework.

Some tweaks:

1. Write any lexical items in context.
A learner referring to their notes a week after class has more chance of remembering the items if there is a context. ‘My house was burgled last night’ is better than ‘burgle (vb)’.


2. Use a colour code.
This can be as simple as just using a different colour to highlight pronunciation features or dependent prepositions. I have heard of using a different colour for different parts of speech but this seems a little complicated.

3. Highlight troublesome sounds.
Rather than transcribing the whole item into phonemic script, it is easier for the teacher and perhaps more useful for the student if just the troublesome sound is highlighted. Rather than burglar /ˈbɜːglɘ/, perhaps just highlighting the /ɜː/ is more useful for the students, or for the verb steal, just highlighting the vowel sounds in the different forms.


4. Use bubbles to mark syllables and word stress.
This is very visual for the students. In addition to marking the main stressed syllable, it can also be useful to mark the other syllables.
E.g. for a word like ‘arrested’, the pattern o O o can be written above the word. When placing these bubbles, I find it is clearest if the bubbles are above the vowel sound in the syllable.


5. Use substitution tables.
I believe this is called a substitution table, but please let me know if I am mistaken. These can be really useful to highlight collocations or synonyms.


Putting it all together, this is how the incidental vocabulary column might look at the end of a lesson:


This can then be used for a quick review at the end of the class.
Some ideas:
1. Erase the words, leaving just the first letter to see if the students can remember the items.
2. Play ‘backs to the board’ but rather than writing words up, simply point to them on the board for the other students to describe to the person in the hot seat.

Has anyone else got any more tweaks?

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26 Responses to Tweaking your Boardwork

  1. Matthew says:

    Reblogged this on Diary of a Newbie CELTA Trainer and commented:
    This is really good. Between you and me (shhhh!) my boardwork kinda sorta stinks! This post is inspiring and insightful and I’m going to approach the white wall of wonder with renewed vigor and focus on Monday morning…


  2. jonnyingham says:

    Thank you for your kind comments Matthew. I tried your link but it doesn’t seem to work.


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  4. Very good post. Agree with everything you say. I try to follow similar rules to the ones you mention in my day to day teaching, but often I find myself slipping back into old bad habits. I guess it’s laziness. So your post serves for me as a good reminder.
    Thanks again for the post. Linked it on my blog in the For Teachers section:


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  6. Ana says:

    Perfect! This is much better than just trying to find empty small spaces around the board and writing single words which will be forgotten the next minute or erased as soon as you need a clean space to write again. I also love the bubbles idea! Thanks, keep up the good work.


  7. shashi says:

    Wonderfully good idea .will try to remember and use it in class


  8. Pinella says:

    Actually my board is huge but I never thought of a division for vocabulary! Thanks a lot! It looks clean and easy to follow! Love it!


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  11. Gareth R says:

    Actually my board is tiny so it is difficult to leave stuff up throughout the lesson. Any suggestions?


    • Joan Bartel says:

      Do you have a flip chart available? Or can you hang newsprint on the wall? An advantage to paper over the whiteboard is that it can be rolled up and brought out again another day for review.


  12. Kate says:

    What a practical idea, thanks.


  13. mourad korbi says:

    thx very useful way of learning vocab


  14. Myint Htay says:

    I need your help as I have many
    weak points.
    Thank much!


  15. Very interesting ideas, thank you for sharing them! I particularly enjoy leaving one letter at the end of a lesson on the board and giving time for students to remember the word/chunk of language as they leave the classroom. I believe this simple idea helps to create a sense of progress at the end of the lesson.


  16. rofia hamadou says:

    why don’t you ask your students to use flash cards?


  17. AppEd says:

    As a science teacher, I can see your suggestions as beneficial for complex vocabulary.


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