Back to the drawing board

Sue Palmer on why she loves the sound of chalk on slate

Keep your flipcharts, whiteboards and overhead projectors. When I need something to write on for whole-class teaching, just give me an old-fashioned blackboard. It doesn't need plugging in or endlessly renewing, it's easy - and rather satisfying - to clean, and chalk is cheap and available in many colours.

It takes a little practice to become a blackboard-writer. When I was at college, a million years ago, we had a blackboard room where you could refine your chalk skills. I spent many happy hours in there, learning to use those giant compasses and writing about the quick brown fox in every shade of the rainbow.

There are lots of ways to use the board: for brainstorming or note-taking (use different colours to annotate; erase as links and patterns become obvious), cloze-making (write up a passage and rub out chosen words), modelling how to do something.

I don't know how anyone can teach handwriting without a blackboard: it allows you to demonstrate the movements you want children to make, talking them through every inch of the process, while providing the text you want them to copy. It can also be a teaching resource for children with poor hand-control, who benefit from practice in large-scale motor movements. Like all children, they usually regard an opportunity to write on the board as a privilege. You can exploit this infant craving for chalky fingers by using blackboard writing as a special reward.

My classes' favourite game, at the end of term or when they'd earned a rest, was Squiggles. A child drew a big squiggle on one half of the board, which I had to reproduce as closely as possible on the other. The originator of the squiggle then left the room, and two volunteers had a set time (usually a minute) to transform the squiggles into recognisable pictures. The originator returned to judge which was best, and the winner originated the next squiggle. Played as a team game, boys against girls, Squiggles was a wow. As one who is addicted to the squeak of chalk on softwood, it didn't surprise me in the least.


Scientific method

Use the board to introduce a particular style, such as scientific writing.

* Scribe for the class to write an account of an experiment.

* Let able children write theirown accounts of what you've demonstrated.

* For less able children, use the board-rubber to turn your scribed account into a cloze passage - to start with, remove just a few words; in later lessons, remove more until it is a writing frame - a series of sentence openings to help them structure their work.

Sporting sums

To revise a basic calculation, write a sum on the board and select volunteers to be the mathematician and the commentator.

* The mathematician, hamming it up, works out the sum on the board.

* The commentator (with a ruler for a microphone) gives a running description. "He's off! He's got his chalk and, yes, he's starting in the units column. Four minus eight... he can't do it. It's over to the tens column to borrow a 10..."

Chalk around the clock

To practise times tables, draw a clock face on the board with a multiplication sign in the centre.

* Write the table you want to practice next to it - x3, for example.

* Point to the numbers on the clock face and pupils call out the answers - 4x3 = 12. You can do this in order, or randomly, depending on the pupils' knowledge. You could ask the class to answer in chorus.

Compiled with the help of Charles Butchart and Edry McCormick

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