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Active board in teaching english to schoolchildren

New technology has been developed that many people in the past have never dreamt of. Our lives have become more comfortable, easier and definitely more interesting. Schools are the environments where new leaders start to be formed and technology used at schools has been developed too. However, teachers are those who have to stay current with the new technology and to be able to pass the knowledge on to their students.

Nowadays such new technology is the interactive board system that makes the process of teaching and learning easy, interesting, and catching. The first interactive (or active) board system was created more than 20 years ago. Since then, it has been used by a large number of enthusiastic teachers in many countries all over the world. What is more, the number of people is still increasing. It is a technical instrument which may be either placed on the wall or on a cart with small portable wheels so that it can be placed anywhere in the classroom or even moved from one room to another. It requires a connection to a computer and data projector as well as operating software, which enables teachers to create their own teaching materials. It has a hard surface and requires special pens to write on. It presents data to the whole class and enables students to work with it. It is very helpful in presenting new topics in a very interesting, challenging and attention-attracting way.

Teachers have been using computers for their teaching purposes for some time now. The Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan has introduced a programme which helps to spread the use of computers and interactive boards almost in every school of the republic. Teachers are supposed to have a certain level of computer skills and be able to use computers at work. Active boards have a lot of advantages when used in class:

  • It combines the features of a tape recorder or a CD-player and a video recorder or a DVD-player. Instead of having a number of appliances in class, it is enough just to have an active board with a special software;
  • It encourages active student participation in a learning activity;
  • It lets students become teachers and educate their peers with a help of a tool they really like and seem to know a lot about;
  • Students are occupied with learning;
  • It allows watching a video and playing with it. It may be paused many times, replayed and concentrate on details. There is also time to have a classroom discussion, survey or analysis before discovering correct answers;
  • It offers the possibility of recording a lesson and work with the recording afterwards;
  • It is a great tool for visual learners because of the large screen;
  • It is very easy to use either with a special pen.

Having mentioned the advantages of active boards does not mean that classical methods are wrong and we should completely forget about them. We can learn about different approaches such as Total Physical Response (TPR), the grammar – translation method, direct method, audio-lingual method, task-based learning, communicative language learning, lexical approach, suggestopedia etc. All the approaches mentioned above were introduced many years ago and have been in use since then. Each of them has some advantages and disadvantages but we are not able to say which of them is the best. Living in the 21st century allows us to acquire a language with the help of not only the old methods but also the new ones. Interactive boards should be definitely one of them (1).

Pupils at school learn best in a playful environment through games and actions. Their short attention spans means that teachers must explain things at the level of the young learner and be prepared to answer many questions and to repeat the instructions or reinforce them through actions and repetition. The teacher must guide schoolchildren through the learning process as the learners are not able to determine what they need to learn and how to comply and follow rules.

Sarah Philips claims that the activities prepared by teachers should not be complicated in order not to discourage children at this point. We should not forget what the abilities of children are so they feel the sense of achievement and satisfaction with their work. Listening activities such as songs, chants, rhymes with a great amount of repetition are highly important. Philips says that: “The kinds of activities that work well are games and songs with actions, total physical response activities, tasks that involve coloring, cutting and sticking, simple, repetitive stories, and simple, repetitive speaking activities that have obvious communicative value”. (4)

According to the above mentioned characteristics teachers should be able to adapt their teaching and let pupils enjoy the process of learning. Jana Brezinova suggests the following tips to help teachers to make the process of learning more enjoyable:

  1. Motivation is very important in order to attract pupils’ attention;
  2. Involve movement. Total physical Response learning is typical for schoolchildren especially young learners. Movement is a natural part of them and they do not notice the learning process;
  3. Use as many objects and colorful pictures as possible;
  4. Play with a language – pupils need to use the language. Let pupils create their own rhymes, sing songs together, use literature – short stories, fairy tales, poems etc.;
  5. All four skills are important for the pupils’ understanding the language. Be patient while teaching reading and writing although they are very much time consuming and often very unpopular with learners;
  6. Variety is necessary since pupils especially young are not able to concentrate for a long period of time. The variety should mean changing not only activities but also pace, organization, methods, etc.;
  7. Be systematic and have routines to follow. It is important that pupils know what to expect. They like familiar activities; they like to repeat songs, rhymes, games etc.;
  8. Be fair. Introduce rules and follow them. When playing games, always praise;
  9. Use the target language whenever possible so the pupils can benefit from it. The more input they get the more they may remember;
  10. Find time for feedback usually after finishing an activity and/or at the end of the lesson to summarize and evaluate pupils’ progress and effort (1).

As we have already mentioned, motivation is very important in learning English. Motivation can be defined in many ways, but when referring to teaching and learning it may be described as: A person's reason for doing something, in this case, a reason for learning. Educators commonly speak of motivation as extrinsic (from an external source) or intrinsic

(from internal desire). Motivation may be a personal characteristic such as curiosity, a feature of the situation such as a teacher's enthusiasm, or a goal to be achieved such as a grade or a specific skill. In general, motivation is the results of a complex interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic influence and goals and the situations or setting in which action occurs (3).

Penny Ur says that motivation as an abstract word is not easy to define. She claims that teachers should think of the term ´motivated learner´. This is someone who wants to put some effort in his learning in order to gain knowledge of new facts. (5, 274) Schoolchildren are a heterogeneous group with different kind of motivation for learning. It mostly depends on teachers how they introduce the subject they teach and how they attract their attention. Generally speaking, children are very curious; anxious to find out how things work and what they are for. According to Jeremy Harmer this curiosity is itself motivating. Nevertheless, they are not able to concentrate for extended period of time, so it is important to change and vary the activities. Harmer also proposes that children “need to be involved in something active and need to be appreciated by the teacher” (2). Teachers are partly responsible for children’s motivation so knowledge of children’s needs is essential in order to be an effective teacher. Materials, approaches, forms and methods they choose influence children’s motivation and willingness to learn, to cooperate, and to come to school because they want to not because they must.

Penny Ur and Leah Davies give some ideas about how to motivate children, what they expect and the implications for teachers. They suggest that in order to increase their motivation the children:

  • should be aware of the aims of each activity they do;
  • require interesting topics and tasks which have the solution;
  • need to manipulate things, examine them, and work with them, which means that teachers should provide children with resources that invite exploration;
  • need games;
  • want entertainment and also have fun;
  • need to know that the knowledge they achieve will be useful for their future life;
  • should work in a sensitive and encouraging environment;
  • expect teachers to treat each of them fairly;
  • need changes;
  • need to know that the failure does not mean that they are bad people;
  • expect to be taught how to learn;
  • require rewards – praise them as much as possible;
  • want to try new techniques, machines, etc. (5).

Most of the teachers agreed on the fact that active boards play a very important role in the terms of motivation. Active boards may offer almost everything which is mentioned in the list above. In an interactive way pupils either individually or in groups or teams practice all the skills and their motivation for learning a language might increase.

An active board has to be connected to the computer and data projector. If a school has access to the Internet it offers unlimited ways of using active boards in the classroom. Jana Brezinova gives the following list of ideas and reasons for using it (1).

  1. It supports pupils’ motivation by allowing them to come to the front of the class and demonstrating their knowledge to other students by completing a diagram, a sentence, a picture etc.;
  2. Active boards connected to the Internet should be used for showing children reality or real situations. For example, when learning about animals, it is highly recommended to show children not only pictures of them, but also their lives at Zoos thanks to web cameras which are installed there;
  3. Pictures belong to every language class so instead of searching magazines and cutting them or printing them from the Internet it is easier to prepare them on the active board and use them anytime we need to. The advantage of using them through the active board is not only their size but also possibilities of using them in different games which any well trained teacher can think of;
  4. Active boards offer teachers to incorporate video clips, films, audio files such as songs, interviews, electronic microscopes, different websites, etc. to their lessons plans. When talking e.g. about the British Royal Family teachers may visit their official and also many of unofficial Internet sites showing not only pictures but also short videos, articles about their life now and the historical events, etc. Other very interesting topics for learners are e.g. schools, everyday life, going shopping, free time activities, wild animals, festivals, etc.;
  5. Games should be a part of every English lesson. Thank to active boards and the Internet teachers may find many online games and let pupils play either as teams competition or ask individuals to come to the front and perform their best;
  6. The whole lessons can be recorded and saved for further use in the classroom, send for review by pupils at a later time or for those who were absent from school;
  7. Pupils are the most important parts in a process of learning and thank to active boards they can easily become teachers as well as pupils. They can prepare their own materials to present interactively to their classmates (1).

Warril Grindrod names an endless list of the way how to use active boards. They are digital recourses, graphics, texts, drawings, curricular materials, students’ works, videos, audios, maps, encyclopedias, dictionaries, movies, games, TV reports, etc. (1).

However, it is obvious that any technical equipment may have not only a great potential but of course they may arise some problems. The advantages of using active boards in class have been mentioned above but let’s revise the positive aspects of them once more:

  • Active board brings everything together at one place, at one time with the use of authentic materials;
  • Learning process does not depend on books;
  • They support kinesthetic approach of learning;
  • They help visual learners;
  • They support the natural desire for education, to reach active participation of children in a process of education and also to have immediate feedback;
  • The outside world and reality can easily be moved into the classroom;
  • They can serve as a motivational tool;
  • There is no need to photocopy every single handout;
  • They allow not only to write, erase, enlarge and/or make smaller, circle or highlight words, phrases, images etc. but more importantly to save or print out pupils' or teachers' work;
  • They are easy to use and to learn to use;
  • They are healthier as there is not any dust from using chalk;
  • They improve the social skills by having greater chances for cooperation and participation;
  • The materials can be shared and reused.

Among possible disadvantages of using active boards may be quite simple technical problems such as not having the active board switched on or problems with pens, etc. Some of these problems may also cause older teachers' unwillingness for using them. It has to be agreed with that teachers may enjoy using active boards and therefore the lesson becomes a teacher centered. Many pupils like being in the centre of teachers' attention, they feel very comfortable with their performance and active board offers them to prove it whereas the weaker pupils may be discouraged for various reasons. They may be shy; they do not know much about the topic or just do not want to be seen by the others. Along with above mentioned problems with active boards there are also those considering time. Preparation for a 40-minute lesson is so timeconsuming. It may take more than 2 hours for one lesson. Teachers should also be trained and educate themselves to maximize the active board potential.

To support pupils’ motivation teachers have to change and vary the activities during the lesson. There are many publications dealing with it so it is only time teachers should invest to find the one which may suit their needs and search for some activities which they will be able to adapt for various topics and grammar issues. The Internet is also a great resource for those who prefer working with computers rather than books. What is more, there is a lot of ideas and suggestions from teachers from all over the world who have been using these activities so they may even suggest some possible problems which may appear and other teachers should be aware of. The active board software enables teachers to adapt all those short activities and turn them into interactive ones although it is very much time-consuming. On the other hand and it is very important, once a teacher puts some effort into this changes s/he is able to use them over again without copying or other preparation time. Besides, there is also a lot of ideas which needs only little or even none preparation. Short activities which may enrich lessons are needed as warm ups to begin the lesson and motivate the students, vocabulary revisions, activities which may easy the situation after a difficult or complicated part, activities to quickly change topics, and activities just to relax or have some fun and amusement. It may seem that because these short activities last for only a couple of minutes they are with no learning value. The aim of any short activities should be to extend knowledge, practice vocabulary, grammar structures and at the same time still enjoy ourselves and the learning process (1).

Most skilled teachers have been using short activities in their classes in order to enrich the learning and also to easy the atmosphere and let pupils enjoy and experience the language. Most of these activities may be used with but also without active boards. They are games such as bingo, various crosswords, Tic Tac Toe, Guess a word, etc. The list is endless and it is only a teacher’s willingness to think about them and use them with the pupils.

There is a list of possible activities to be used in an English classroom (e.g. on the topic “Parts of the Body”):

  1. Place the words in correct places, e.g. pupils practise body vocabulary and try to find the mistakes which were made by replacing the words under a correct picture;
  2. Wordsearch – pupils are supposed to find the body words in all eight directions. They practise spelling;
  3. In the activity pupils take turns to click on the dice and there is always a picture with a different body part shown. They are asked to name them. This activity may be adapted as two teams’ game;
  4. Speaking practise – pupils come to the board and complete the text with words suggested below the page. Only after it is practised with the whole class pupils describe all the people on the page. This may be done as a pair work exercise;
  5. Students may practice vocabulary by playing a well known game called “Tic Tac Toe”. This activity is supposed to be a type of a short activity which may be used in any lessons either to practise the language features or just to have fun with the language. Teacher either uses flashcards or pupils translate words. For each correct answer they get either a cross or a naught and place them in a place they choose. The aim is to have three of their signs either in diagonal or vertical direction. The AB software offers the possibility of saving objects for further use so anytime a teacher thinks that s/he has time for a “Tic Tac Toe” places a grid from her or his gallery into a slide and pupils can enjoy the game;
  6. Memory game – pupils take turn to find a matching pair which consists of a picture and a word;
  7. A very simple matching activity – pupils place words under correct pictures and after clicking on a check button the get an immediate feedback;
  8. Pupils practise correct spelling – they choose a word they think is spelled correctly, place into boxes under each picture and get an immediate feedback;
  9. The activity for all the pupils to check their knowledge of the words related to the topic of the lesson. They come to the AB, roll the dice and name a picture;
  10. Pupils are asked to correct the spelling mistakes and match the words to the pictures. This activity may be done as a whole class activity or pupils write their answers into their exercise books individually;
  11. The activity in which a new vocabulary topic may be introduced. Teachers practise the pronunciation, may place the pictures in various orders, and apply all the possible ways of teaching new words as if s/he would with flashcards. Some words are known to pupils that is why there are more than it is advisable for teaching in one lesson;
  12. Matching exercise the aim of the activity is to practise spelling by using interactive pens. It revises vocabulary and practises pronunciation (pupils correct the mistakes in spelling and put words under correct pictures);
  13. Speaking activity pupils work in pairs. The activity is to have fun. Pupils are supposed to guess who or what is hidden behind the tiles. It may be done as a two team's competition. The pictures are always connected to the topics;
  14. Text is floating and pupils should dictate to their neighbors all the words as quickly as they are able to write. They may exchange the roles;
  15. Another way of practicing spelling. Words are cut into at least two parts and pupils are supposed to put them together and at the same time find the correct pictures.
  16. Pupils are asked to choose a correct grammar structure. After touching one of the expressions, pupils get an immediate feedback;
  17. Speaking exercise pupils describe a certain place and people, animals or things there. They should use "There is "/ "There are" structures;
  18. Memory game. Pupils are asked to remember as much as possible and they may be given some time. After the time is up, pupils are asked the questions. This may be a team game, a pair work or a whole class activity;
  19. Spelling practice which can also be used as a dictation;
  20. Pupils are asked to sort out the words according to the topics. They may try to be as quick as possible and measure the time they need to fulfill the task;
  21. Creative thinking pupils have to think of words which may be created from the presented expression. They may write their ideas into their exercise books and later on write them on the AB;
  22. Board game pupils are divided into teams. Each team chooses its own cone. Teams take turns, roll a dice and try to answer the task written on the tile they landed on. If they are correct, they may stay on the tile. If not, they have to go back where they were before throwing the dice. Answers to the questions are written on the other sides if the tiles. The winners are allowed to see the fireworks. This game may last for quite a long time and it practises understanding the text, speaking, reading etc.;
  23. Crosswords which practise writing and spelling and revise vocabulary.

While preparing for the classes it should be kept in mind that it is necessary to start from familiar to new and from simple to more difficult or complicated. Active board materials should be designed according to the same principles. They should start with introducing new vocabulary, practise the words in many different ways and only after practise their usage in every possible way. Pupils, especially young learners, while studying a language need to have all the senses involved and if possible, movements too. They need the repetitions in different ways so rhymes, songs, poems, short stories, different colorful pictures will positively influence pupils’ learning (4, 5). Teachers should also bear in mind that it is necessary to change activities often and the length of them should be appropriate for the each age level (4, 5-6).

It is recommended to start with introducing new vocabulary as it is clear that knowing the grammar rules perfectly is not enough. Without having a wide range of vocabulary it is almost impossible to communicate. It is known and interesting at the same time that young learners who are not aware of grammar rules can communicate more effectively than their older pupils who control themselves all the time and therefore make more mistakes while speaking. The good vocabulary development activities (introducing and practicing vocabulary) should be designed in the following way:

  • the choice of vocabulary the appropriate rage of vocabulary needed at the given level;
  • semantic relations – word groups according to meanings, synonyms, hyponyms, opposites;
  • situational relations – word sets associated with particular situation, e.g. animals, food, clothes, etc.;
  • vocabulary presented in a structural and purposeful way;
  • offers expanding vocabulary;
  • models of conversations, dialogues, monologues either in written and/or also in audio versions presented in the course book for pupils to see the use of language in real life situations (1).

All these may be presented either with the help of the Internet which is nowadays an endless resource for meeting learners and teachers' needs, of showing various topics presented in all kinds of language varieties such as English and American English, Australian, Canadian, Scottish, etc. or by practising what

has been previously introduced in the course book. What is more, the Internet offers videos showing real people speaking the language pupils are learning, children singing, saying rhymes, poets performing their poems, etc. which may have even a bigger effect on pupils.

While working with active boards teachers should be aware of the basic principles which have to be fulfilled in order no only to receive the expected results and also to let pupils enjoy the learning process and benefit most of it. Jana Brezinova mentions the following principles:

  1. Motivation – with a help of active boards we can achieve pupils’ motivation easily not just because if the equipment but the range of activities it offers. It is easier for teachers to work with pupils who are highly motivated rather than those who are bored and cannot wait for a lesson to end;
  2. Enough visuals – it means that learning becomes more effective if pupils may use their senses. To see from different point of view, different angles, films, videos, to hear sounds of animals, musical instruments, to touch and move objects increase the effectiveness and help pupils experience subject matters;
  3. Feedback – we mean the way of discovering whether pupils know the subject matters and we can take a step further on. It is advised to use some kind of worksheets to receive the feedback and of course another way is testing which is certainly not a pleasant way;
  4. Activity – an active board offers, as mentioned previously, a range of activities which will not definitely leave pupils passive. Almost everybody is interested in what is happening on the screen and they want to participate and become part of it;
  5. Self-activity – this feature presents the idea of subsiding pupils and letting them work individually, reinforcing the acquired knowledge;
  6. Elements of fun – some activities prepared by teachers should contain at least some of these elements. Learning becomes more interesting and enjoyable;
  7. Suitability – it means that it is important to consider what age group we teach, their level of language, the environment and other aspects which may affect the learning process.

Finally, it may be essential to mention the basic principles for interactive teaching:

  • Interaction is mostly a dialogue between a pupil and his/her teacher therefore the content of the lesson has to be based on that.
  • The main questions of the lessons should be why, how and what for and should not be when, where and who.
  • To find the right solution is possible to reach in many different ways; the teacher’s role is to show the right way.
  • Own ideas, opinions are the ways to success if they meet with an appropriate feedback.
  • Active boards offer a team work. Let pupils create their own materials which when put together make one unit.
  • Start discussions from simple to more difficult and from known to unknown facts.
  • Conflicts lead to knowledge (1).

Teachers who want to use active boards also need a lot of support and training not only in technology but also in methodology. Many teachers are afraid of necessity of changing their teaching methods and styles but it is very important to let them know that they may remain faithful to their older methods and principles only with a great help of new technology. Sara Walker, the British Council’s teacher also advises to experiment as much as possible. The most important message the trainer teachers give to the teachers of English is to remember that: “pedagogy comes first, Curriculum comes second and technology third. If this is in the right order then technology can amplify what we do”. (British Council) (1).

It is necessary to say that the role of any teaching materials should not be exaggerated. It is teachers together with their pupils who play the main role therefore the methodology which teachers use and the way they are able to adapt the materials for the purposes of their classes are far more important.

It is obvious that each of the people involved in the process of teaching and learning a language will have different interests. A teacher may be interested in the affectivity of the materials when used in the classrooms, the pupils’ reactions and how they possibly affect learners’ motivation, etc. A parent may be interested in the final results their child can produce after using such materials, etc. To sum it up when examining the materials it is necessary to see their use in the process of learning a language as well as the fulfillment of the aims of those materials. The results which pupils perform should be analyzed and the knowledge should be applied when choosing other teaching materials.

The pupils of the “Nur Orda” Intellectual School” have English classes every day. The teachers of the school think it is too much for children if working only with course books. The children get tired and their motivation decreases. Using active boards change the situation completely. All the activities are like a surprise for pupils especially animated. The teachers have noticed the difference in the terms of pupils’ participations. The pupils who did not usually interact are now eager to come to the active board and take part in the activities.

The school has the policy of dividing pupils into groups according to their level and learning abilities (as any school in the republic). It means, that pupils who are quicker and better learners are in the first group and those who need more time, more repetition, even have some special learning difficulties are in the second group. Using active boards is very helpful in both groups. In the latter it is even more helpful as the pupils of the group look forward to having English classes with active boards. We may say that using active boards not only increases pupils’ motivation, but also saves teachers’ preparation time and positively effects pupils’ learning. It is a good trend when teachers try to use active boards on a regular base, but all the same they should not use it for the whole lesson, just a part of it.

Active board is a very interesting tool and if the work with it is well created and sensitively used the process of teaching and learning becomes a pleasure for either a teacher or pupils. Children may only benefit from it but if a teacher does not over use it.



  1. Brezinova, Jana. Interactive Whiteboard in Teaching English to Young Learners. Master Thesis, Brno, 2009
  2. Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching. New York: AddisonWesley Longman, Limited, 1991.
  3. Phillips, Sarah. Young Learners. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Rea-Dickins Pauline, and Kevin Germaine. Evaluation. Ed. Christopher N.
  4. Scott, W.and L. Ytreberg. Teaching English to Children. New York: AddisonWesley Longman, Limited, 1991, P. 5-6
  5. Ur, Penny, Marion Williams, and Tony Wright. A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. New York: Cambridge UP, 1996.

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