Little touches that spell success

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Interactive whiteboards are great for bringing languages lessons to life and involving all students. But most important of all is the role of the teacher, as Alison Thomas reports.

On the board is the unmarked plan of a house and the first task is to guess which room is which. It is a simple teaching technique that could be done on an overhead projector or scribbled quickly on the board.

But this is an interactive whiteboard; what happens next is special. Once predictions have been made, a student points the pen to one of the rooms and the screen springs into life. "Voici la salle de bains avec le lavabo, la machine ... laver, le s che-linge et la grande baignoire," says a sprightly middle-aged man. This is the student's cue to select a label from a list of options and drag it into place.

This imaginative resource is the work of Ros Walker of the University of Hull. The video clips can be exploited in various ways. Pupils might have a worksheet with items they tick off as they hear them or more advanced groups might identify key words without any props. Another strategy is to flag up a list of jumbled sentences, which must be rearranged into a logical sequence. "It breaks up the lesson and brings the reality of French life into the classroom," she says. "Since the clips can be triggered instantly, you can watch them in any order or call them back whenever you want. You can't do that with a cassette and a television."

Ros Walker is manager of Research and Evaluation of Interactive Electronic Whiteboards (Review, see box), a two-year research project conducted by her university with funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) and support from Promethean. The aims are to evaluate effective use of whiteboards through classroom observation, and develop resources and training models to disseminate best practice. "In every lesson I observe, there are magic moments - little touches that make me sit up and say, 'Oh, that's good'. That's the sort of thing we aim to capture and publish on our website," she explains.

But what are the key features of a whiteboard and how does it enhance learning? The answer lies in the interaction between resources such as CD-Roms, website pages, Word documents and Powerpoint slides, and tools such as colours, highlighters and pens. Most important of all is the role of the teacher, who must never lose sight of learning objectives. "You can bring up a text on screen and scribble all over it, but where are the ideas coming from and what are the students gaining? If they themselves write on the board, what thought processes are going on?" asks Ros Walker.

As a simple example, she cites an activity requiring pupils to underline adverbs in a text. These disappeared when the page was turned and they then had to come up with appropriate alternatives. A resource of this kind is easy to prepare in Word or Powerpoint.

Another suggestion for teachers feeling their way is to import a role-play from a CD-Rom. They can call up the script, highlight core language and write over the top to reinforce key messages. They might then invite individuals to colour-code words according to function or gender, or they might create gaps which have to be filled by inserting appropriate words or phrases from a list. "The teacher does the initial presentation then melts into the background. When they're not sure of the answer, students turn to the class for support," she says.

However, she warns of a potential pitfall: "Where primary pupils are out of their seats in no time, teenagers are more reticent and trip over bags on their way. The teacher has to make a strategic judgment."

One great asset of the whiteboard is that it spells an end to hours of cutting up card. "You can jumble letters, syllables or whole sentences and get students to drag the groupings back into place. The key is to get them to explain what they are doing to show that they understand," says Ros Walker.

She keeps coming back to the importance of questioning techniques, which encourage learners to analyse language and make connections between what they see and what they hear. "Take qu'est-ce que c'est?, which always causes difficulty," she says. "They need to look at it, break it up, identify the sounds. That's where the questioning comes in."

Initial feedback from pupils involved in the project has been positive, not only because lessons are fun, but because the multi-sensory experience makes language more memorable. Olwyn Hazleton, head of French at Lewis Girls' Comprehensive School, Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly, agrees: "It works with all age groups; all levels of ability. You can create sequences linking sound files, web pages, images - anything from your desktop and build it up, layer upon layer. The only limit is your imagination and the time you are willing to spend."

One strategy Olwyn Hazleton uses extensively is concealment. She focuses on certain words, which appear and disappear at the click of a button, or she blots out most of an image to hone in on one detail - perhaps a person's face (Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?) or a small part of an object (Qu'est-ce que c'est?). Another of her ploys is to present pictures of objects, which students place in a bag. She then gives a running commentary in French as the chosen item vanishes from view and again when they retrieve it.

"I could do the same sort of thing with an overhead projector but this is so much more efficient," she says. "Pupils are actively involved and everything they do happens instantly, whether it's matching words with pictures or moving things around. It also allows me to keep a tighter rein on the class because I'm not bending over the machine or fiddling about for the next transparency."

Another benefit she appreciates is the freedom to move around. For example, to practise the perfect tense with Year 10, she has prepared a sequence of visual prompts programmed to appear at five-second intervals. Students are required to come up with sentences along the lines of: "Last week I played football with my mother", while she wanders among them listening to individual responses.

The Promethean Activslate offers her even more flexibility as it allows her to operate the board from anywhere in the room. To illustrate its potential, she cites a resource she has created to practise leisure activities. First of all, a blank timetable appears on the screen together with a question mark. In response to a prompt, such as "Qu'est-ce que tu vas faire samedi soir?", a student moves the question mark to the relevant square to reveal a picture before replying, while the others note down the information on a worksheet. This is where Activslate comes into its own, as she can take control at any moment. She might write up a spelling or invite a pupil to do it by passing them the slate. Alternatively, she might return the board to a blank grid to elicit more elaborate responses. Elsewhere in the "Saturday" slot are links relating to time and companions, which had lain hidden until now.

Not only has the whiteboard transformed Olwyn Hazleton's teaching, it has proved a valuable complement to information and communication technology lessons. When the computer room is booked, she can access any resource from the network for use in class. She demonstrates what she wants pupils to do beforehand and calls up their work when they return. This can be an effective way of boosting their self-confidence.

"To practise adjectives, I prepared a Word document with incomplete sentences, pictures of members of staff and multiple-choice drop-down boxes. When we came back to the classroom, one girl with special needs read out all her work, page after page, in French. I have never heard a child with special needs say so much." Although she admits that she has spent hours preparing materials, they can be used time and again in various contexts and adapted for different levels of ability. It has also been a voyage of discovery. Having mastered the art of linking sound, images and text, she is now moving on to video and is excited about the handwriting recognition facility she recently acquired.

"It's not just the pupils who find it hugely motivating. It will keep me happy until I retire,' she jokes.


Although still in its infancy, the Review website already contains a case study on the use of video clips and advice on where to source them.

Ashcombe School has made video clips to help students practise GCSE oral topics. These consist of interviews in French, German and Spanish, with transcripts and exercises.


Contributions from members of this discussion group include Powerpoint presentations. Powerpoint presentations in Spanish http:tpduggan.tripod.compowerp.html

Powerpoint slides to practise German grammar.


Activities in Spanish and Italian using Macromedia Flash and Realaudio.


Downloadable resources, including Powerpoint presentations in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Individual registration: pound;12.99 per language. Departmental registration: pound;49.99 for four languages. Impact on Learning (NPF3) What ICT can Bring to MFL and KS3 By Claire Dugard and Sue Hewer The Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT) pound;

This New Pathfinder, which will be published in June, includes practical ideas on how to exploit interactive whiteboards.

Tel: 08454 589910

Boardworks French Promethean pound;499 plus VAT Seven hundred pages of reading, listening, writing, speaking, vocabulary and grammar exercises for key stages 3 and 4, all of which can be edited.

These contains sound files, images, animations, text and drawings.

Tel: 08702 413194

Voyage 1 Whiteboard CD-Rom Nelson Thornes pound;160-200 (depending on size of school). Ready-made lessons for each unit with flashcards, audio files and interactive activities.

Tel: 01242 267275

Metro Electro 1 Teacher Presentation CD-Rom Heinemann pound;495. Ready-made presentation sequences, or you can create your own.

Tel: 01865 888080


Clear any clutter from the front of the room. You and the students need space to move around.

Stand to one side of the board when writing to avoid casting a shadow.

This is good practice whatever you're doing, as it's never wise to turn your back on a class.

Put the aims and objectives on the board to greet pupils as they come in.

Alternatively, an open-ended starter on the board will keep them occupied from the moment they arrive. This could be a picture that requires them to jot down two or three thoughts in the target language.

The visual impact of Powerpoint makes it ideal for practising vocabulary.

However, flashcards are still useful: "They are flexible, tactile and you can hold them up and switch the order. Good practice is a blend of old and new," says Ros Walker.

Sounds can also serve as prompts - recordings of pattering raindrops to denote bad weather, or a snatch of music to elicit the response that this is someone's favourite activity.

Don't crowd the screen with too much text. Everything must be easy to read from the back of the room. You also need space for comments and annotations. "People are so used to preparing overhead transparencies, they forget that they can chop things up and just keep turning the pages," says Ros Walker.

Exploit colour to the full to draw attention, for example to gender.

Better still, standardise colour-coding across the department.

Use direction to reinforce the visual impact. For instance, masculine words could drop in from above, feminine from below.

Be imaginative in your use of background colour. Pastels are more restful on the eye and the text is easier to read. Black with white writing also effectively attracts attention.

Drive home syntax by getting pupils to move words around. Reverse subject and verb to make questions or move a German verb to the end of its clause because weil has dropped in.

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