MET:Using Interactive Whiteboards to Enhance English Language Instruction

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Formerly, English as a Second Language Writing and SMARTboards. This page was authored by Melanie Wong (2010); edited by Vicki Schrader (2011)

Situating Practice

Explicit instruction enhances acquisition of EAL. EAL instruction is commonly multi-layered in its approach, teaching content areas while addressing grammar forms and functions in addition to simultaneously teaching vocabulary. This can lead to a multitude of tangential lessons. Any tools which can be assistive in tracking discussion, increasing visualization, and highlighting and/or categorizing the various points made are highly appreciated by EAL teachers and students alike.

SMART boards and other Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) technologies can help.

This article will specifically address IWB technology in the language learning environment. For general affordances and constraints of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), in addition to important considerations prior to selecting and installing an IWB, see here.

Teaching EAL Using Technology

Information technology helps individuals to participate fully in society (eg: Warschcauer, 2002). Using technology to develop writing skills benefits EAL students.

In a comparison of a traditional EAL setting to a computer-networked EAL setting, Braine (1997) found the writing quality was better in the computer-networked setting. The teacher in the study also provided more feedback to the students in the networked classes and in less time than in the traditional classroom. Students using networked computers demonstrated more on-task behaviour, had more practice writing English and a greater interest in discussion (Sullivan & Pratt, 1996). Sullivan and Pratt (1996) also had a small indication that the students had an increase in writing ability as a result of using networked computers to write.

Word processors help EAL writers revise their writing. Revisions made with word processors include higher level revising (Li, 2006) compared to hand-written revisions. It has also been found that individuals demonstrate better developed and better supported ideas when using a computer than when writing by hand. In a single-subject longitudinal case study, Li and Cumming (2001) found their participant revised more using a computer. The word processor and tutor feedback helped him make higher-level revisions on his pen and paper texts. The computer-written essays were better quality on the whole and had a higher content level than the handwritten papers.

One constraint of the traditional word processor, where there is one student per monitor, is the limitation on interaction. In line with constructivist learning theories, the opportunity to interact in an EAL classroom is integral to the ELL student. Students greatly benefit from seeing tasks modeled and being afforded the opportunity to collaborate with peers as they are scaffolded towards greater expression and independence.

Lam’s (2000) case study of a teenager discovered that online socialization helped the individual learn to communicate more effectively in English. This teenage boy also learned a new register of written English appropriate for communicating with others in an online community. Studies which placed computers in rural non-English speaking commnities in India have shown students learn collaboratively and effectively when grouped around a single screen with Internet capabilities (Mitra and Rana, 2001; Mitra and Dangwal, 2010). These positive results included learning English and improving pronunciation.

EAL students are motivated by using computers to write and communicate. Warschcauer (1996) found the highest motivational scores occurred when computer work was integrated into the classroom. When teachers did not require computers to be used for writing and instead only encouraged students to attend voluntary after-class workshops, motivation was not as high.

Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)

“IWBs...are large, touch-sensitive boards, which control a computer connected to [an LCD] projector” (Smith et al, 2005, p. 91). The LCD projector projects the image from the computer onto the IWB. The IWB is similar to a touch screen computer monitor. Individuals can draw or write on the board using four coloured electronic pens. The boards can be mounted to a wall or be portable.

SMART boards

SMART boards are interactive whiteboards (IWBs) or electronic whiteboards. SMART boards were created by SMART Technology in 1991 (Smart technologies ULC, 2010). For additional information on SMART boards and other interactive whiteboards and IWB alternatives, see here.

SMART Notebook Software example of a possible EAL writing example.

SMART board's Notebook Software as a tool for EAL Writing

SMART Notebook Software, created by SMART Technology, facilitates lesson creation and delivery. The many tools available within Notebook will benefit EAL writing, in particular, the Notebook “Gallery.” The Gallery contains clip art, videos, templates, and Macromedia Flash items.

File:Child learning English at Smartboard.jpg
ELL at the SMART board - It's kids' stuff!

For EAL writers, the interactive nature of the Notebook software and the whiteboard itself will facilitate peer collaboration. Students are able to revise their own work more readily doing it directly on the SMART board. Because the work happens on a large screen - and large screens tend to command our attention - all students automatically become part of the process, often feeling welcome to participate merely by nature of the medium. Teachers are also able to easily integrate technology into their everyday EAL writing group instruction.

File:Students Using the SMART board.jpg
Students working on a blog via a SMART board

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using IWBs

Some Advantages of Using IWBs:
• IWBs allow teachers to deliver lessons in three different modes: visual, auditory and tactile (Beeland, 2002).
• Students indicated that they felt that they learned better when using an Interactive Whiteboard and could understand the teacher better.
• Students feel that the IWB offers variety when compared to the traditional whiteboard (Hall & Higgins, 2005).
• Students also enjoyed the multimedia capabilities of the SMART board.
• IWBs support collaborative learning strategies.

Some Disadvantages of Using IWBs:
• When using a portable IWB unit, the board needs to be oriented often when the board or projector cart is bumped (Schut, 2007). Teachers using portable IWBs in practice, however, report that this takes only a few moments and is a simple process (personal communication, department head meeting, Feb 21, 2011).
• Reading the board can be difficult if shadows are cast as result of a hand blocking the light on the LCD projector (Beeland, 2002).
• Since IWBs require a computer, there may be technical difficulties (i.e. internet access) (Schut, 2007).
• Sun glare can cause difficulties in reading the writing an IWB (Schut, 2007). This is not likely to be different or worse than a traditional whiteboard.
• IWBs are costly. Alternatives do exist at approximately a quarter of the price, based on available figures. These typically involve a device which attaches to the side of the existing whiteboard. Then, as with the SMART board, additional peripherals and software are available to enhance the product's capabilities and effectiveness as an instructional and design tool.

Teaching Links for SMART boards

SMART Technology

SMART Education (Lesson Plans etc.)

SMARTer Kids Foundation (Research etc.)

The Teacher’s Guide (SMART Board resources)

SMART Notebook Software introductory tutorial

SMART Notebook Software: using the gallery to enhance lessons.

Related wikilinks

Technology Enhanced Learning Environments

Blended Learning

Blended Learning in a Second Language Environment

Interactive Whiteboards

Interactive Multitouch Displays - possibly the 'next step' in interactivity.

Writing to Learn - to keep a central focus on writing as a central and critical skill in academic EAL.

Computers and Instructional Design in Foreign Languages

Computer-Assisted Language Learning

Digital Composition: Using Technology in the Writing Classroom - with particular attention to A 21st Century Definition of Literacy and The Social Nature of Writing. IWBs are not discussed but application can be inferred as a collaborative writing tool.

Related external links and additional readings

What happens when students gather around one screen? Sugata Mitra talks about the Hole in the Wall experiments on TED.

Implementation of any new instructional tool requires pedagogical examination along with the active pursuit of competency in that tool and proper management to ensure a good balance within strategies used. See Schmid, E. C. (2010). Developing competencies for using the interactive whiteboard to implement communicative language teaching in the English as a Foreign Language classroom, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19(2), 159 — 172. DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2010.491218

For a close examination of IWB features, see Kennewell, S., & Beauchamp, G. (2007). The features of interactive whiteboards and their influence on learning. Learning, Media & Technology, 32(3), 227-241. doi:10.1080/17439880701511073

New technologies often generate hype. Caution - and precaution - is required. See Smith, F., Hardman, F., & Higgins, S. (2006). The impact of interactive whiteboards on teacher–pupil interaction in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. British Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 443-457. doi:10.1080/01411920600635452


Beeland, W. D. (2002). Student engagement, visual learning and technology: Can interactive whiteboards help? Annual Conference of the Association of Information Technology for Teaching Education, Trinity College, Dublin.

Braine, G. (1997). Beyond word processing: Networked computers in esl writing classes. Computers and Composition, 14(1), pp. 45-58.

colemama (2010). 02.19.10. Retrieved from

Cassidy, K. (2006). Using the Smartboard. Retrieved from

Hall, I. & Higgins, S. (2005). Primary school students’ perceptions of interactive whiteboards. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21, 102-117.

Lam, W.S. (2000). L2 literacy and the design of self: A case study of a teenager writing on the internet. TESOL Quarterly. 34(3), 457-482.

Li, J. (2006). The mediation of technology in ESL writing and its implication for writing assessment. Assessing Writing, 11(1), pp. 5-21.

Li, J. & Cumming, A. (2001). Word processing and second language writing: A longitudinal case study. International Journal of English Studies, 1(2), pp. 127-152.

Mitra, S., & Dangwal, R. (2010). Limits to self-organising systems of learning—the Kalikuppam experiment. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(5), 672-688. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01077.x

Mitra, S., & Rana, V. (2001). Children and the Internet: experiments with minimally invasive education in India. British Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 221. doi: 10.1111/1467-8535.00192

SMART Technology ULC (2010). Company history. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from

Schut, C. R. (2007). Student perceptions of interactive whiteboards in a biology classroom. Unpublished M. Ed. thesis, Cedarville University, Cedarville, United States.

Sullivan, N. & Pratt, E. (1996). A comparative study of two esl writing environments: A computer-assisted classroom and a traditional oral classroom. System, 29(4), 491-501.

Warschauer, M. (1996). Motivational aspects of using computers for writing and communication. In M. Warchaucer (Ed.), Telecollaboration in foreign language learning: Proceedings of the hawaii symposium (pp. 29-46). Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Retrieved January 23, 2009, from the World Wide Web:

Warschauer, M. (2002). A developmental perspective on technology in language education. TESOL Quarterly. 36(3), 453-475.

Zijlstra, T. (2008). Smartboard, kids stuff really! Retrieved from