George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

6 Ways to Use Clipboards and Whiteboards to Boost Engagement

These low-tech devices allow teachers to gather formative assessment data and ensure that all students are participating.

May 2, 2024
SolStock / iStock

In a world of endless classroom supplies, manipulatives, and technology, lesson planning can feel overwhelming. When Covid-19 hit, many schools went fully or mostly digital, ditching paper and pencil for Chromebooks or iPads. As we now grapple with children’s declining mental health due in part to students’ constant connectivity to devices, teachers are stuck trying to strike a balance between digital and analog devices.

Enter two low-cost, low-prep items that have absolutely transformed my teaching: a good old clipboard and a class set of personal whiteboards. These items are accessible, reliable, and, most important, highly effective and engaging. Aside from markers, they don’t need regular replacing. They have a variety of uses, all of which increase participation and engagement. 

Whiteboards as a Participation Tool

Whiteboards are exciting: My students employ them just about daily and they still get bummed when we don’t use them. They’re super-versatile—I use them in my middle school special education classroom, and they’d add the same value no matter how old your students are. Using whiteboards can activate students’ brains in a variety of ways and transform your classroom into a collaborative and motivating space. 

Whiteboards can replace hand raising or other types of individual participation. Long gone are the days of students hiding or avoiding answering. When students respond on whiteboards instead of by raising hands, the expectation becomes that all students participate in every question. You will get real-time data on students’ progress, allowing you to intervene more quickly. 

Sometimes, I have students hold them up instead of raising hands; it takes the burden and pressure off of traditional participation. I find that my students who otherwise have anxiety around hand raising or cold calling thrive when we use whiteboards. Often, I’ll walk around and give thumbs-up to correct answers, then still have one student “announce” the answer. In this way, I can give students advance warning with a confidence boost: “Hey, that’s the right answer—do you mind sharing that with the class when it’s time to answer?” 

Because whiteboards allow all students to participate all the time, even direct instruction becomes student centered. Students get more practice, which means they build muscle memory, engage more deeply, and receive regular feedback more quickly. This allows them to correct mistakes and share successes many times throughout the period. 

Clipboards to gather formative assessment data

I also use the data from the whiteboards to inform my next steps, which is where my handy-dandy clipboard comes in. I make a very simple chart on a piece of loose-leaf paper, then keep track of students’ accuracy with responses. Perhaps I’ll use it to make intentional partners or groupings or to determine who needs reteaching or small group support, or perhaps it determines if and when I need to switch up my instruction to better support my class. Regular low-stakes formative assessment benefits me as a teacher and my students as learners. Informed decision-making has never been lower tech or lower prep, and the rewards are immense. 

With regular use of whiteboards, as well as a clipboard for data tracking, we can create a class culture that is collaborative, accessible, exciting, and student centered. There are a number of ways we can incorporate whiteboards into our classrooms, but here are a few of my favorites. 

6 Activity Ideas

Whiteboards can add access points and increase student choice. I often incorporate opportunities to draw or model understanding, switch whiteboards, and even answer silly questions throughout the lesson. When I switch it up and make it fun, students want to know what will come next. They also know that there will be multiple questions, regardless of the topic, that they’ll be successful at. When we incorporate joy and accessibility, we give our students the gifts of confidence and success. 

Here are 6 ways I use whiteboards in my class:

1. For do now/warm-up activities. Whiteboards work great for this because they often don’t need to live somewhere more permanently (like a notebook or digital learning system). Because students love working on whiteboards, it’s a great way to start your lesson or activity with something highly engaging. 

2. Anytime I'm asking questions. Students jot down their answers, allowing time for everyone to process and think through the answers. Use that time to walk around, marking who didn’t get it right on the clipboard and providing feedback. When all students have an answer, have them hold up their answers, or have one student share. This can be game-based or responding to a set of questions on a slide deck, or it can be as low prep as having students answer questions you make up in the moment. 

3. To have students create questions. After students write questions, have them swap with a classmate. Research shows that students retain information better when they come up with their own questions, and this is a great way to foster collaboration and challenge in your space.

4. To have students answer surveys or quizzes. For example, you may ask them to rate themselves on a 1–3 scale based on their comfort with the lesson or have them choose between three activities to review content, then record that data on your clipboard and use it to make groupings the following day. 

5. To create heterogeneous randomized groups. Have students answer questions with multiple answers (content related or not), then have them find a partner based on their answers. For example, you could ask them to write equivalent fractions and decimals, or ask them to write salt or pepper, favorite planet, salty or sweet, etc., and then find someone who wrote the same or the opposite. 

6. To have students take notes on whiteboards. We know that the brain fires differently when students write instead of type, but physical notebooks can pose executive functioning challenges. So why not have students handwrite their notes (or at least a summary, key details, or words), then snap a picture and add it to your digital platform of choice? Pro tip: I buy thin markers and keep my notes simple. Lined whiteboards are also lifesavers for my students who have visual-spatial needs. 

I hope that as you’re reading this, your brain is buzzing with ways you can incorporate whiteboards into your classroom. How I use them changes from year to year, even class to class. At the end of the day, it’s not about how expensive or technologically advanced a material is—it’s about how authentically it is incorporated, how passionate you are about it, and how well it excites your students about learning.

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