10 tips for writing on the board

Can't read the board

Be a ‘Director of the Board’, not a ‘Director of the Bored’!

It’s was a horrendous site, but I had to stop and look. As I walked past the classroom, I looked into the narrow window beside the closed door and saw students texting, playing games on their laptops, and checking out their Facebook page. Then I looked at what was happening at the front of the class and saw what was causing this classroom ‘crash and burn’. There was the professor, frantically scribbling illegible ‘chicken scratch’ on the board, oblivious to the fact that the students couldn’t even see or make heads or tails out of what was being written. It actually brought me back to my own college days as I remembered taking a class where our professor used to walk in, grab a piece of chalk, face the board, and began writing non-stop for the duration of the class. Within minutes, he was engulfed in a white haze of chalk powder . He faced the board and talked, while frustrated students simply picked up their things and walked out; the professor didn’t even notice. Now that I am the one standing at the front of the classroom, I have vowed never do that to my students.

Here are 10 quick tips that I’d like to pass on that will help your students get the most out of your ‘writings on the board’:

  • Before your first class of the semester, write something on the board, and then sit in the back row of the classroom. If you can’t read it, they won’t be able to either.
  • Try experimenting with setting up your board format using the ‘Cornell Method’; it will help organize your thoughts and make it easy for students to use the same format as they write down their notes.
  • Emphasize key points by circling or underlining. If you have coloured markers and/or chalk, use them.
  • Mind map the board. Just make sure your ‘bubbles’ are large enough for them to be able to read the text inside each bubble.
  • A former colleague of mine used to assign a note-taker for the class (a ‘credible’ student with a laptop). The student would send him the notes after the class, he would double-check and edit the content if necessary, and then would post them online for students. It was helpful to those that missed class or maybe didn’t get something written down in time if he erased something. He always made sure to give this student some credit (a free mug or usb stick from the Student Association, or some additional participation marks).
  • Watch your spelling mistakes. If you’re unsure about the spelling of a word, don’t be afraid to ask the class, “Is that the right spelling?”, or look it up on your computer (better yet, have them look it up for you). If you show that you care about correct spelling, it should reflect in their own attitude toward correct spelling in the work that they hand into you.
  • Make sure you carry enough markers/chalk and an eraser with you (not all classrooms have them, so don’t assume), and don’t forget to periodically check that those markers aren’t wearing out. By the way, when checking markers, double-check that you haven’t mixed ‘permanent’ markers in with the ‘dry erase’ markers; whiteboards, and night shift cleaners won’t appreciate you using a permanent marker on a whiteboard!
  • Face the class when you’re not writing on the board and don’t face the board and talk when you are writing. This will force you to slow down and allow you to focus on what you’re writing on the board and how you’re visually laying things out.
  • Print, don’t write. An architect that I know showed me that, by lifting your hand off the board after each letter stroke, it will result in clear, legible letters. It does take an extra second to write that way, but your information will be easy for students to read.
  • Be open to allowing students to take a picture of the board with their cellphones during the break (before it is erased) to use for their own reference later on.
Writing on the board adds spontaneity to your talks and creates a sense of excitement for yourself and students (I think the more animated you are when writing, the better). Active note-taking in the classroom also gets students activating more neurons in their brain by using a second input channel which, in turn, can help them retain information. You just have to make sure they can read the board that will allow them to do this. The bottom line is that you want to be the ‘Director of the Board’, not the ‘Director of the Bored!’ Do you have any ‘board techniques’ that work for you?

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  1. Nice article!