Many of us are now teaching online, and it can be challenging to find ways to engage students who are sitting in front of a computer all day. How can we get students talking with the enthusiasm they have in the physical classroom?
One solution is to take advantage of virtual whiteboards for fun, descriptive activities that help students improve their speaking skills. This post explains technical requirements and provides instructions for three whiteboard games: 1) Moving Pictures (beginner), 2) What’s the Difference? (intermediate) and 3) Picture This! (advanced).
What You Need
- A whiteboard that student “artists” can share with the class. Popular video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Webex have these features built in. However, if your video platform does not include a whiteboard, you’re in luck! Google Jamboard is a free online whiteboard. It offers fewer features than those on Zoom and Webex. However, for students with lower bandwidth, it has a major advantage. Google Jamboard files can be shared with a link and viewed locally by all students rather than by screen sharing.
- A way to communicate with individual students so that you can send secret images and messages. This can be done in the chat feature of most video conference platforms, but email will also work. Keeping track of who has received the secret image is the most complicated task for the teacher, so you may want have a printed list of students to check off. You can also simplify things by preassigning the breakout rooms and sending the secret images to students in advance—or do all activities with the whole class.
- A method to prepare the secret images. I have used screenshots of virtual whiteboards to create the ones in this post.
How to Prepare
- Before class, familiarize yourself with the whiteboard and practice sending private chat messages and images with friends or colleagues.
- In class, share your whiteboard and let students try it out. Ask them to draw and erase objects, write their names, change colors and use stamps. Explore the possibilities for a few minutes. Then ask students to try sharing their own whiteboards.
- Once everyone is comfortable with the technology, have students send each other private messages to get the hang of it.
- Before each game, you should model the activity as the artist, and to reduce student stress, be sure to set the bar low for artistic skill. Students should be able to succeed with stick figures and simple shapes, so if you are skilled at drawing, try to hide it!
1. Moving Pictures
In this game for beginners, students explain how to rearrange objects to practice using prepositions. This game works best for whiteboards that allow you to create and move shapes. (Note: In Google Jamboard, students can create movable sticky notes in different colors.)
Prerequisites: Students should know the names of simple shapes (square, circle, star) and prepositions of place (over, between, inside).
- The teacher sends a list of items to place on the whiteboard—for example, a line, ten check marks, a rectangle, an oval, an X, and a circle—to ALL the students and a secret image of the items in a specific arrangement to all the students EXCEPT the “artist.”
- The artist shares their whiteboard with the class and adds the list items.
- The other students take turns explaining how the objects should be rearranged based on the secret image from the instructor.
- Once the target arrangement is achieved, a new artist takes over and the instructor sends a new secret image of a new arrangement to all the students EXCEPT the artist. Repeat as desired.
Student 1: Put the line below the circle.
Student 2: Put the rectangle on top of the line, but on the left side of the circle.
Student 3: Move the check marks so they are around the rectangle.
This can be done as a whole class activity, or pairs can work in breakout rooms. While this second option allows for more practice, it also limits the instructor’s ability to observe and correct.
2. What’s the Difference?
In this game, high-beginner to intermediate students practice the comparative by giving step-by-step instructions on how to change an image.
Prerequisites: Students should be familiar with the comparative and should know simple adjectives to describe the shape of an object (e.g., tall/short, wide/narrow, high/low).
- For this activity, instead of a secret picture, the instructor distributes a handout with labeled images of a dozen four-legged animals with different shapes (e.g., kangaroo, hippo, rat, camel) to ALL students. You can find an “animal chart” by searching Google, or you can make your own.
- After modeling the activity, the instructor sends students to breakout rooms in groups of three to four.
- The artist shares their screen or, if using Google Jamboard, sends a page link to their partners, so everyone can watch the progress.
- Using chat or email, the other students choose an animal from the handout to describe—in this example, a tyrannosaurus rex.
- The artist begins by drawing a stick figure of a generic animal with four legs and a tail, then asks their partners, “How does the secret animal look different from mine?”
- Other students take turns telling the artist how to change the drawing one body part at a time—erasing and redrawing parts. Partners may only describe the animal’s shape. They may not tell the artist the name of the animal or describe any characteristics of the animal except its appearance.
- The game ends when the artist guesses the name of the animal.
- Students take turns until everyone has played the artist role.
Artist: How does my animal look different from the secret animal?
Student: Its neck is longer.
Student: Its neck is thicker.
Student: Its mouth is bigger. It has teeth.
Adjusting for level: Difficulty can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the number and type of animals.
3. Picture This!
In this speaking game, advanced students work to accurately describe an image made up of geometric shapes. However, the students giving the instructions can’t see the artist’s picture as it develops, necessitating the use of clarifications and tag questions.
Prerequisites: Students should have a knowledge of geometry terms (e.g., parallel lines, right angle, oval), tag questions (e.g., “Didn’t you?”) and clarification questions (e.g., “Do you mean X or Y?”) before playing the game.
- This activity uses the whiteboard in Google Jamboard. After the activity is modeled, pairs work together in breakout rooms. The instructor sends a secret image of geometric shapes to one student in each pair.
- The artist starts with a blank canvas and does not share their whiteboard with their partner (the “explainer”).
- Step-by-step, the explainer gives the artist directions on how to duplicate the secret image. The artist may ask questions to clarify the directions. After each item, the explainer should check for understanding.
- When the description is finished, partners share and compare their images.
- Students change places and the artist becomes the explainer. A new secret image is sent.
Explainer: Draw another circle under the diagonal line.
Artist: How big is it?
Explainer: It’s about one half the size of the first one.
Explainer: So, you drew a large circle and a small one inside it, didn’t you?
Artist: Oh! No, I drew them beside each other.
Adjusting for level: Both time and level can be controlled by the complexity of the shapes and their relationships. This game can also be made competitive—the team that first completes an accurate copy of the secret image is the winner.
I hope this post gives you some ideas for adding fun to your online speaking classes and inspiration for other whiteboard activities of your own! If you have any whiteboard speaking activities you like to use, please share them in the comments, below.