Creative Ways to Use Your Interactive Whiteboard

Shake up your classroom with fresh ideas for engaging your students. Try these tips for interactive group games and note-taking.

by Ben Rimes, NEA member, K-12 Technology Coordinator for the Mattawan Consolidated School District in Mattawan, MI

After years of interactive whiteboards being touted as the next best thing for engaging students, the unfortunate reality is that while they have become common in many schools, they are often used as glorified projector screens. Interaction may take place with the board, but more often than not it’s being directed by the teacher and students merely consume the interaction in a passive way.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

I use interactive whiteboards (IWB) in my classrooms regularly and conduct best-practice training sessions for my district’s staff. Based on my experiences, I’ve put together a few tips, techniques and tricks you can use to start making more effective use of your interactive whiteboard and get your students actively using it as a part of their daily educational experience


Group note taking

Use the board as you would your plain old regular whiteboard, but with one difference. SAVE the notes! Most IWB vendors include software that serves as a blank canvas for creating presentations and taking notes. Encourage your students to come up and jot down a few discoveries they make during independent work time or notes that might help the rest of the class on a particular topic or project. Save the notes at the end of the class—you now have a digital record of the day’s learning! Print out the notes or publish them as a PDF to your website for later student consumption. 

Online interactives

It’s tough to find time to learn all the bells and whistles of your IWB’s software, so tap into the thousands of online flash-based activities and interactives that are already available. Below are a few of my favorites:

  • - A great place for emergent readers to explore letters and words and play with them. Interactive multimedia books, complete with narration, make this website a great fit for IWBs.
  • National Library of Virtual Manipulatives -A wide range of virtual manipulatives that work with almost all IWBs. Interactive digital tools for exploring data, algebra, geometry and more can be found here ready to be “played” with on your IWB.
  • Interactive Whiteboard Resources from Topmarks - a useful UK-based website that includes an index of dozens of websites, online activities and web-based resources that play nicely with many IWBs.


Check your vendor’s lesson sharing community

Most of the IWB vendors now have interactive resource and lesson sharing communities to help teachers find new ways to use their boards. Many of these lessons are already tied to teaching standards and often include many engaging activities, interactive assessments and tutorials for building your own interactive lessons. The sites listed below not only have great resources for your particular software and vendor, but they also have forums, blogs and other community features that allow you to connect with other educators using the same products as you.

  • Promethean Planet  - Download interactive “flipcharts,” search through interactive web links and find images, sounds and movie resources in downloadable resource packs for Promethean ActivInspire software. (Note that Promethian is migrating it's content to ClassFlow but is still supportring ActivInspire.)
  • SMART Exchange - Download SMART “notebooks,” connect with other teachers and find lessons tied to your standards. You can also create notebooks online using the SMART Express site and then save them directly to your computer.

Give students control via center time

Once you feel comfortable navigating the tools and the new learning opportunities your IWB has to offer, turn it over to your students. Pull up one of the lessons you’ve downloaded from your vendor’s lesson plan sharing community and let your students work in small groups with the IWB. Your IWB can be a math, science or language arts center instantly by adding it to the rotation of learning centers in your classroom. If you use an interactive lesson that you’ve already used in class, it can serve as a practice or reinforcement tool. Often students love to repeat interactive lessons when they’re the ones doing the “driving.”


Student created interactives

It’s my experience that almost everyone loves games. Mix some gaming elements with study materials and you can begin to encourage students to create their own interactive learning resources. I’ve seen students create fully functioning interactive mazes, matching games and other games using our IWBs at school. By manipulating the learning material and exploring how to integrate it within a game or simulation, the students are exposed to the content in new ways over an extended period of time. Allow students to use your tools to see what they can create, but give them some guidelines. For example:

  • The activity must include text and image, and may include video (most IWB software allows for video embedding)
  • The activity must be able to be completed in one class period
  • The activity must cover all important learning objectives and/or vocabulary for a unit

Capture lessons using screen recording tools

Being able to make a lesson more interactive through your IWB’s tools is a huge boon to engagement in your classroom, but being able to capture the learning experience to share with students is even better. Many of the IWB software tools include a screen recording tool, complete with audio capture via the computer’s microphone, but there are also tons of free screen recording tools available on the web. Snagit, Screencast-o-Matic or Quicktime X included with new Macs are all ways to capture what’s happening on your computer screen. Have students capture what they’re doing on their computers, or capture something on your own machine, and then embed the video into your flipchart, notebook or other IWB presentation software. Now you’ve got powerful firsthand full video learning experiences embedded directly into your lesson!


NEA member Josh Smeader, 6th grade social studies and science teacher in Mattawan, Michigan is new to interactive whiteboards, but has already discovered the key to making them work with his students:

“We put our notes, games, reading and pretty much anything possible on the board so we can write on it and manipulate it to fit what we are doing. Also, the students are much more willing to get involved in what we are doing. Many of the students who would normally just sit and listen will be willing to get involved to be able to come up and use the board. If you just turn the board on it doesn't do anything to involve them.”

Just having the students come up and take control is a big achievement—a great first step that can lead to more advanced uses of interactive whiteboards.

Ben Rimes is an NEA member, K-12 Technology Coordinator for the Mattawan Consolidated School District in Mattawan, MI and a technology advocate blogger for The Tech Savvy Educator.