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Keeping Students Engaged in Learning with Marker Boards
Nancy Powell

Time on task is often a problem both for new and veteran teachers. Administrators want to see students engaged in the learning process. Even though your questions are well thought out and your objectives are clear, good lesson plans can sometimes go astray and students can become disengaged.

Let's say you want to check for understanding on last night's homework. You ask students to name the chemical elements that make water, spell words on this week's spelling list, practice math problems, or you want to see if they can draw the graph of y = 2x - 4. They all sit there and some people raise their hands while others are off in their own worlds...unconnected to the lesson. You thought they would all be eager to participate and instead they've learned to work the system to generate as little work as possible. How can you keep all of your students actively involved in the lesson as opposed to silently observing or chatting with their friends? Marker boards can help engage them in meaningful learning experiences.

Students love to write answers on the board, so give everyone an individual marker board to record their answers on. When you ask a question, everyone gets to answer. You can walk around and give feedback and when they complete their work, they can hold up their boards for you to check. But, you don't have a classroom set? Here are some ways to get a set for your students to use.

If you have a small budget....

Commercially purchased individual marker boards are available but are very expensive. However, you can make individual white marker boards by starting at your neighborhood home improvement store or lumber yard and asking for melamine, tile board, or white board. Usually these boards come in sheets that are 4' x 8' for around $9.00. If you have the store cut them into 12" squares, you'll get 32 nice sized individual white boards. The edges of these boards will probably need to be smoothed out with a little sandpaper. You might be able to get them sanded at the store when you tell them that they are for your classroom. If you have vocational education classes in your district, you might be able to get the teacher and/or the students to give you some help. If this is not an option, it could be a good opportunity to make those helpful parent connections. Large (2 gallon) zippered plastic bags will help protect the boards from getting scratched and will extend the life of the boards.

If you have friends in the right places...

Another good material to use for marker boards is called polyboard. Polyboard is polycoated cardboard. Yard signs from political elections are often made of this material. The backs of these signs might work nicely for your set of marker boards. Ask candidates to donate old ones to your classroom. You can also check with sign companies to see if they would have scraps that might be big enough to make your boards. Polyboard is used for screen printing jobs also.

If you have NO budget and want a little flexibility.

Using heavy poster board, file folders, or other cardboard, you can customize your "white" boards. You make different sets for different reasons. For instance, if you want white boards for math, I use a colored file folder and glue

  • one sheet of white paper to one side,

  • a piece of graph paper on another side,

  • a piece of dot paper on another side, and

  • a piece of paper with just a set of coordinate axes with markings on each.

You can customize these folders for multiple subjects or specialize them for one subject. Then run each file folder through your school's laminating machine. In fact, run them through twice. Now students have 4 different specialty white boards. They fold easily and can be kept in students' desks or notebooks.

If you want flexibility and have a small budget.

Here's one more option for a quick marker board. Plastic page protectors purchased at an office supply store make quick and easily changeable marker boards. Just slide in a piece of heavy card stock to help make them rigid. If you want lines to write on, add a lined piece of paper. If you want students to use number lines, coordinate graphs, or polar graphs, slide in a paper with these graphs on them. You can make all different kinds of templates with your copy machine. The sheets can be stored in the page protectors and put in a three-ring notebook.

Markers and erasers...

If you think you want to use personal dry erase boards, add dry erase markers to your supply lists for students. I suggest that students have at least two colors and that they buy the thin dry erase markers. Non-permanent vis-a-vis markers will work well on plastic surfaces but they won't erase quite as well without liquid. Either type of marker can tend to be very expensive and will need to be replaced throughout the year. Even if students bring markers, keep some on hand in case a student is unable to afford one or in case of an emergency. Ask businesses to donate some dry erase markers to your class. If a student is always losing his markers, have him/her use a scratch piece of paper and a pen, pencil, or crayon until he/she brings a marker to class. The student will get the hint faster this way.

Old, CLEAN socks make great erasers. They not only work well, but they also extend the life of your marker boards. Paper towels will work but often scratch the surface or the plastic. Marker board erasers tend to be big and are expensive. Here's another hint: drill a hole or punch a hole in the corner of the marker boards. If you have a piece of string or a clean shoestring, tie one end to the sock and the other end to the marker board. This way students have an eraser available at all times. Once or twice a semester, use some glass cleaner and give each marker board an extra cleaning.

Storing marker boards

If possible, have students keep their marker boards in their notebooks or in their desks so that you don't have to waste time passing them out each time you want to use them. If you only have a classroom set and they are not as portable, have a basket in your room where students can easily pick one up when they come to class and drop it off when they leave. Here is a great class management tip when using marker boards: Make an arrangement with your students that if the basket appears in a particular spot in the room, that is their cue to pick one up on their way into class.

Write on!


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