Let’s start with this one question:


For me, I use a set of 4 criteria to evaluate all resources, tools, and lesson ideas. It helps me quickly narrow down whether a tool will help me achieve the desired results I look for in my classroom.

Here are the four criteria.

  1. I want ALL my students to show me their thinking and understanding in interesting ways. I want them to show me what they think first instead of just telling them what to think! I want to open up the questioning that goes on in my room. So I look and create lessons that allow for this.
  2. I want my students to discuss, collaborate, argue, defend, and justify with each other. I believe this helps clarify their learning and understanding so I must make sure that discussion and collaboration happen in my best lessons.
  3. I am always assessing! I’m constantly looking to see who gets what we are doing and who needs help. I need to be able to assess quickly the abilities in my room so I can use that on the fly to decide where to go next. Assessing easily must be apart of my lessons.
  4. Every lesson or activity must have a ratio between the cost of set up and the payoff where the payoff heavily out weighs the set up. Nothing is worse than spending a huge chunk of time, making, cutting, designing and then when you run it the learning outcome wasn’t worth it. The payoff must out weigh the set up.

My favourite all time tool/technique is WHITEBOARDS!! Having my students work in random pairs daily at vertical whiteboards.

Whiteboards fit all of my criteria!

A whiteboard. Students can easily show off their learning. They are quicker to get to writing on a whiteboard than on paper. Especially when the boards on the wall. Students get to defend, argue, justify their thinking with each other. I can easily see if students are understanding and the set up ratio is a no brainer. Here’s a whiteboard, marker….Go!


I’ve had students use small personal whiteboards at their desks before, but I couldn’t believe the change in active engagement and cooperation once they were standing. The discussions they were having about the math was much more insightful and meaningful.

Our whiteboard uses usually started as soon as the bell rang. In their random pairs they would put up a few homework questions from the previous day. I could see students looking around verifying their work with their peers. They were self assessing.

We continued to make use of the boards while we worked through our new challenges. Students had no problem leaving their space to go and talk to another group to gain some insight on new strategies. I can easily circulate the room to engage students in conversations and challenge their reasoning.

So….if you can, get some writeable surfaces on those walls of yours. This will be your next My Favourite  post!

[update May 2018] Check out (in Canada) Wipebook.ca and their education pricing! and check out (in US) Wipebook.com and their education pricing!

I found some stick on whiteboards from http://writeyboards.com

I also bought some boards that lean against the wall from Home Depot 

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10 thoughts on “My Favourite 

  1. Jon, I’m in complete agreement! Being a math coach, I’m in the process of persuading teachers to go vertical. There’s a huge shift in attitude when students are standing, which I document in my post: http://jennvadnais.com/2015/10/06/the-vertical-classroom-project-seeing-is-believing/.

    I have one teacher who’s been holding back because of logistics. He finally agreed to forth with the idea knowing it will be a work in progress and knowing I’ll be there to support him every step of the way. His 2 main concerns are: Classroom set up and accountability. We figured out classroom set up but I’d love to gather more information about accountability.

    Do you have students reflect on paper at the end of the period? Do you have class norms when working vertically? Do students ever take notes? Any insight into running a smooth flowing vertical classroom lesson would be helpful!!! Thank you.

    1. Jon Orr

      Thanks Jenn,
      After problem solving at the board we usually head back to our seats to consolidate a bit. That’s hell where they’ll write some notes. Some students will take pictures of their whiteboard work before erasing. Lately I’m under the impression that notes are over-rated. I’ve been trying to get kids to just solve as many problems as possible instead or worrying about taking notes.

  2. Nat

    It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly it is, but my experience has been the same. Asking students to work up on a vertical whiteboard is like magic. They get right to work, they check their work, and they talk with each other about math. Do you let them all write, or do you give anyone who wants one a marker? I generally let them all write at once, but I have heard some recommendations to force communication by only allowing one marker per pair.

    The daily random grouping has been highly successful for me as well. A few complaints right at first, but they died off after the first week, and students are vocally grateful for getting the chance to work with everyone in the room at some point. The cross pollination of ideas is truly great.

    1. Jon Orr

      Nice! I always make partners with one marker to force discussion. While they’re working on a problem I’ll yell out “marker switch” and they’ll have to pass the marker to their partner write with.

      1. Nat

        OK, I’m convinced. I’ll have to try the one marker per pair. “Marker switch” was the piece that was missing for me. Totally makes sense now that you’ve said it out loud. Thanks!

    1. Jon Orr

      Hi Jennifer,
      I leave them up…I teach 3 classes a day and we use them in every class. Some I had attached to the walls, others are just leaning up against the wall on a ledge.

      1. I love that fact that students’ reaction to VNPS is the same whether it’s 6-12 or K-5. In terms of getting the boards to “stay put”, I drilled a hole in the top of each board and hung them up around the room using heavy duty command hooks.

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