Using the Board in the Language Classroom

Title: Using the Board in the Language Classroom
Author: Jeannine Dobbs
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Consists of: Teachers’ resource book
Reviewed by: Carmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer
Review date: December 2002

Using the Board in the Language Classroom, part of the series Cambridge Handbooks for Language teachers, is directed at helping teachers use the board in a more motivating and effective way. It contains a wide variety of activities for every level. These activities promote students’ learning from one another, cultural knowledge and kinaesthetic learning methods, and give many ways of practising listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. In Using the Board in the Language Classroom Dobbs shares her experience as a teacher with other EFL/ESL colleagues. She says, "Feel free to think of your board as any kind of visual space you want it to be … you may want to think of it the way an artist thinks of a canvas or the way a movie director thinks of a screen” (p.13) and points out that using the board in our classes has many advantages, e.g. it encourages students to remember what they hear, can illustrate and clarify information, increases the students’ interest about the input they receive, etc. We all have been taught on a board and this system will still survive since high technology is expensive and unluckily not every school in the world can afford computers, electronic whiteboards etc.

In the introduction of Using the Board in the Language Classroom we can read that the blackboard is a teaching tool ‘invented’ by the Reverend Samuel Reed Hall in 1816. He is believed to have been the first teacher who had the plaster painted black to write on it. Nowadays we have more sophisticated teaching tools, but Dobbs vindicates the use of the board at a time when it is being replaced by overhead projectors, computer monitors, etc, which are much more expensive to maintain than the traditional board.

The book includes two large practical sections and two appendices. The sections are:

  • Section A: language-based activities. These activities are related to vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, writing, reading, listening, speaking and general reviewing. There are 103 activities, which cover a wide range of levels and need the board to be carried out. One activity specially useful and interesting is the one based on etymology: The teacher writes a word root on the board and students either have to add prefixes or suffixes to form different words or have to ‘discover’ the word root shared by a number of words given in a list. Students were amazed to learn that words like “export” and “porter” have the same root.
  • Section B: content-based activities. This section takes into account the following three functions: getting acquainted and building community (15 activities), setting agendas (7 activities) and sharing information, feelings and opinions (6 activities). The different activities included in this section are more communicative than those in section A. ‘Telling about one’s country or culture’ is a great exercise for multilingual classes.

The two appendices are:

  • Appendix A, dealing with electronic whiteboards. Dobbs admits that in the future this teaching tool could displace chalkboards and whiteboards.
  • Appendix B, providing information on how to make your own board using different products.

Using the Board in the Language Classroom is a practical book that offers teachers a great number of interesting ideas for using the board in our EFL classes. As an EFL teacher I especially liked the content-based activities and found that some of the activities on phonetics and stress were quite difficult for some of my secondary-school students, but could have been the perfect practice for upper-intermediate learners. This book also contains exercises appropriate for beginners, like the ones on numbers, colours, parts of the body, etc. In short, Using the Board in the Language Classroom is a useful resource for EFL professionals who teach different level students.

A small criticism is that Using the Board in the Language Classroom does not include a level classification for the different activities, which would have been very useful for teachers. The author justifies her decision maintaining that “the appropriate level of many of the activities is apparent or very adaptable, and because you as the teacher know best whether an activity is suitable for your students, I have not defined the activities according to level” (p.10).

All things considered, Using the Board in the Language Classroom is a well-organised book that helps teachers use the board in more satisfactory ways. Dobbs’s work makes the board an attractive teaching tool and provides plenty of helpful ideas. I would recommend it to other EFL teachers.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesCarmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer is an English teacher at IES Torreón del Alcázar, a state secondary school in Ciudad Real, Spain.