Whiteboarding Strategies

Students participate in a BoardWalk

In my first post I mentioned using the Chemistry Modeling Curriculum (CMC) in my classroom. Although Modeling Instruction (MI) has been around for over 20 years, I discovered it during a workshop in the summer of 2010. When I agreed to attend the two-week training session with a friend, I had no idea the impact that workshop, and the people I met, would have on me and my career.

I admit, I wasn’t sold on this crazy way of teaching Chemistry right away. Our instructors told us that Modelers would teach gas laws in the second unit and wouldn’t really start talking about nomenclature until unit six.  We were warned the first year using CMC would be tough. We’d probably face challenges as parents and students adapted to a new classroom paradigm. I was skeptical. I was hesitant. The thought of completely changing what I had been doing in my classroom for almost ten years was daunting. 

By the end of the first week I was cleaning out my old files, putting my old unit binders into storage, and making lists of things I would need to start my Modeling classroom. I had been convinced. I knew my eleventh year teaching was going to be one of the most challenging of my career as I implemented these changes, but I felt CMC was going to help me best meet the needs of the learners in my classroom. CMC had given me the tools I needed to be the kind of teacher I wanted to be.

Modeling Instruction can be described in many ways. At its core, MI is dedicated to student-centered instruction, inquiry learning, and laboratory-based knowledge construction. I plan on using this blog to describe my experiences as a Modeler. I will also be sharing some sample Modeling lessons, but I thought I should start with the basics.


One of the tools a Modeler uses is the whiteboard. Whiteboarding is an integral part of any modeling classroom.  It is a tool instructors can utilize in order to gauge student understanding and identify misconceptions. Whiteboarding also provides students a launch pad for meaningful conversation. It enables students to enhance peer-to-peer communication of ideas by giving them a means to represent concepts pictorially, symbolically, graphically, and mathematically.

Whiteboarding isn’t exclusive to MI. Lots of teachers use whiteboards in their classrooms. Whiteboarding sessions offer innovative, interactive ways for students to process, discover, and construct knowledge, but to be a powerful, effective resource, students must stay engaged in the process. By varying the types of sessions, successful teachers find ways to maintain the novelty and excitement possible with whiteboarding.

My colleague, Ryan Bruick of Noblesville High School in Noblesville, IN, and I have drafted a set of strategies for using whiteboards. Whiteboard sessions should be tailored specifically to the learning objective in order to achieve the best outcomes. Like all teaching, the success of whiteboarding depends on the preparedness of the instructor and the environment which has been cultivated in the classroom. As instructors become more confident in utilizing whiteboard strategies the process will become easier for both teacher and learner. These strategies were presented at our state science teachers convention (HASTI) in the spring of 2013.


Students whiteboard in groups and present their boards one group at a time in front of the class.

  • Used for presenting individual problem solutions or concept drawings.
  • Students present their thoughts and answer questions from the instructor and other students.
  • The group needs to be able to explain, defend, or support (often with data or observations) what is depicted on their board.
  • Students present equally as a group or one or two students can be selected to present the board.
  • Ensure all students have the opportunity to participate. Not the most effective style for comparing data or solutions.

Board Meeting

All student groups stand in a circle and hold up boards simultaneously.

  • Usually used after an investigation or for other “big ideas”.
  • Students can all whiteboard the same concept, or different pieces of a complex idea.
  • Students have the opportunity to observe and question each other’s boards.
  • Students or teacher can lead the discussion.
  • Through questioning differences in outcomes, interesting or unique pieces of data, differing interpretations of data, etc. are pointed out, analyzed, evaluated, and synthesized.

Art Show/Boardwalk

Students complete their whiteboards in groups and then place them around the room so groups can move easily from one board to another.  

  • Students can use sticky notes or different colored markers (to distinguish the author from the commenter) to make comments or ask questions about each board as they move around.
  • Board authors then consider and address the questions and comments, either within the group or in class discussion.

Four Square

Four (or three) students sit in a group with a whiteboard in the center.  The board is divided into four (or three) parts.  Students work on problems at the same time, side by side.

  • Can be used when a concept or type of problem is new - when students need to build their confidence in a particular skill.
  • Instructor needs to make sure all students are attempting problems.


Students within a group each complete the same problem on four separate small (individual) whiteboards.  When all members are finished with their attempts, all members flip their boards around and evaluate the other solutions. Similarities and differences are discussed in an attempt to reach a consensus solution.

  • Can be used to practice new types of problems.

Dueling Whiteboards

Two or more groups present their solutions at the same time in front of the class.

  • Can be used to draw out student misconceptions through comparative analysis of whiteboards.
  • Students are asked to point out differences in whiteboards between the two groups.
    • What is the same?
    • What is different?
    • Are both answers correct?
    • Can they be different and still both be correct?
  • Look for small differences which may uncover some deeper misconceptions and should be addressed during discussion.

Speed Dating (Version 1)

Problems are taped to large whiteboards and a different problem is given to each group. Groups are given a short amount of time to begin solving the problem in front of them. When the instructor chooses, students pass the whiteboard to another group.

  • Each group will need a little more time to read this problem and evaluate the work the previous group has started.
  • Students must decide whether or not to continue with the existing work or to start a new attempt.  Previous work CANNOT be removed.
  • Boards continue to rotate around the room until all groups have had a chance to evaluate each problem and solution.

Speed Dating (Version 2)

A single problem is either taped to small whiteboards or provided to each group in some fashion.

  • Each student in a group will work individually on a small whiteboard on the same problem.  
  • Students should be given just enough time to get started on the solution and then have them pass their boards one person to the left or right and continue the working on the new board.  
  • This process continues until all group members have seen all the boards.

The Mistake Game

While students are whiteboarding, ask a few (or all) groups to include a deliberate mistake in their solutions and then have either a presentation, board meeting or art show in which students are asked to evaluate each solution and find and correct the mistake.

  • Use when students are comfortable solving a type of problem.
  • This activity requires a more in-depth understanding of problem solving in that students need to know how to solve the problem and then recognize and insert a “common mistake”.
  • Students must understand what a “common mistake” might be, which often targets a pre-existing misconception.

How have you used whiteboards in your classroom?What types of sessions have you had the most success with?