Improve Student Thinking in the Classroom Using Vertical Whiteboard Teaching

Feb 29, 2024

Improve Student Thinking in the Classroom 
Using Vertical Whiteboard Teaching

Introduction to Vertical Whiteboard Teaching 

In the dynamic world of education, teachers are always looking for innovative ways to foster a high level of student engagement in their classrooms to get students excited to learn and become successful in mathematics. One simple, practical, and easy-to-implement approach gaining popularity in schools is the use of vertical whiteboards, also referred to as vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPSs). These boards offer many benefits that lift the learning experiences of students at the elementary and secondary levels. 

What are some of the benefits? 

In this blog, we’ll share top reasons and tips that help create cultures with a noticeable lift in student thinking, collaboration, and discussion amongst students. Don’t believe it can happen? Read below to discover what these versatile tools can offer beyond providing your students with a non-permanent writable surface. 

Let’s dive into this approach that is based on research by Peter Liljedahl in his book Building Thinking Classrooms. His research shows that for students who completed the lesson (that offers many entry points) on non-permanent surfaces like whiteboards and in particular when students were standing in a vertical position, there were improvements in learning when compared to students working on more permanent writing surfaces like chart paper, notebooks, or workbooks.

Communication and Collaboration with Vertical

Whiteboard Teaching  

Learning is a social process that requires students to interact and collaborate. Lev Vygotsky’s research suggests we need to present tasks that allow for interaction. Instruction that requires students to communicate their thinking, while reasoning and making sense of concepts will progressively move their understanding to higher levels. 

Vertical non-permanent surfaces are ideal for this collaborative, social process of learning. Setting up interactive learning stations where students work in small groups, rather than individually, standing around a vertical whiteboard, rather than sitting at a desk, can be used to explore these types of tasks that encourage open discussions and peer-to-peer learning, as they solve problems. They also allow teachers to showcase students' work to the entire math classroom. This can be particularly helpful for discussing different methods. The teachers’ role shifts toward supporting and orchestrating collaborative experiences among students, they hand over more of the thinking work to students.

Peter Liljedahl also cites improved communication (allowing for more non-verbal expression) and increased knowledge mobility (ideas and learning to move amongst students/groups) as a result of working on vertical whiteboards. Along those lines, standing reduces the feeling of anonymity. When students feel anonymous, they tend to check out — which leads to less collaboration, thinking, and learning, understandably. 

From my experience, eagerness, discussion, participation, and persistence are all winners when students use VNPSs. These surfaces promote more risk-taking and the fact that they are vertical can prevent students from disengaging.  But what about the student who appears to be disengaged (not talking, not sharing, or brainstorming ideas)? This is a common question often asked by teachers. Keep reading for helpful tips. 

The Power of Visualization in Mathematics

Moving on to the next point, visualization. Visualization plays a crucial role in mathematics, helping students better understand and express concepts and relationships. Vertical whiteboards give students a blank canvas to express their ideas, visually. They provide large, clear spaces that allow students to engage in math, by writing out math problems, equations, and diagrams making it easier to see and understand the steps involved.

Unlike traditional paper or notebooks, these boards along with a dry-erase marker allow for dynamic representations. Students can quickly erase and change their work, making it easy to explore different methods and mistakes can easily be removed, in real-time. Students can use gestures, illustrate, draw connections between ideas, and manipulate representations. These acts of physically interacting with a vertical board can reinforce conceptual understanding. They can also work collaboratively with others.


For geometry problems, a vertical whiteboard allows students to draw shapes, angles, and geometric constructions more accurately. These visual representations can enhance understanding of spatial relationships and geometric concepts.

Graphing becomes more intuitive on a vertical surface. Students can easily plot points, draw lines, and visualize functions working on boards, helping them grasp the graphical representation of mathematical concepts.

Tips for Using Vertical Whiteboards in the Math Classroom

Now let’s talk about some helpful tips to set all students up for success. 

Classroom Setup for Thinking Classrooms

First, take stock of current space and maximize existing vertical workspaces, for instance, a large chalkboard, or whiteboard mounted to the wall, or a mobile board with an easel. Arrange student tables to leave plenty of space around these areas; cluster them in the center leaving room for students to work and work on the boards. To have the optimal number of students stay on each whiteboard, add a few smaller vertical non-permanent surfaces on some blank wall space. Consider seven to eight interactive workstations where students can work in groups of three problem-solving. Make adjustments according to class size.

The company,, offers dynamic and reusable, non-permanent surfaces that enhance the engagement of groups working out problems. Consider filling up your walls with Wipebook Flipcharts. Short on wall space? These charts offer flexibility; they can easily be tucked away and then taken out when needed. Because the whiteboards are made of paper, you essentially have more writing space than a conventional whiteboard. 

Material Use

Shared materials promote collaboration and communication which leads to higher levels of engagement and thinking. Provide one marker per group for students to share. Set expectations that students “pass the marker” to show other people’s thinking. When group members aren’t passing the marker,  the teacher simply approaches a group and moves the marker from one student to the next to promote accountability for collaboration. 

Small Groups for a Student Thinking Classroom

Now let’s talk about how to group students. Peter Liljedahl also argues that creating visibly random groups (VRG) for students is the best way for students to think and collaborate (Liljedahl, 2019). When students are placed into a random group, it helps to build the mindset that every student is capable. These random groups also need to be created in front of the students, so they can witness that the groups are truly randomized. To lift the level of engagement, create groups of three students. Here are just a few ways to make many groups.

  • Playing cards-students find teammates with the same suite or number
  • Popsicle sticks- the teacher selects three sticks with students' names on each stick
  • Team Maker Tools- check out websites or apps that form random groups right in front of your class

Teacher Expectations

Last but not least, support student success in "thinking classrooms" by establishing clear expectations for behavior. Post a graphic at each learning station as a reminder for accountability; for example, only one marker per group, take turns with the marker and be a team so that everyone is responsible for everyone’s learning. 

To promote discussion, provide prompts for students who get stumped with what questions to ask or ways to contribute during a discussion. Teach into and post questions and prompts that they can reference when working with a team. 

Lean into these tips when setting up learning spaces, establishing group norms, or ways to empower reluctant learners. It’s worth putting in the hard work of creating a collaborative math class, full of inquiry, communication, and reflection. Give it a try!


To wrap it up, as we witness the transformative impact of vertical whiteboards in the classroom, it's evident that these tools go beyond traditional instructional practices. By fostering risk-taking, encouraging collaboration, and providing interactive learning experiences, they have become essential in lifting the level of student engagement. Embrace the use of vertical whiteboards and notice how students love working and learning elevates. 

What are your thoughts on vertical whiteboards? How are you using them with your students? Join the conversation by sharing your experiences in the comment box below. By leaving a post you will be eligible for a free class set of Wipebook Flip Charts or a copy of the book Building Thinking Classrooms by Peter Liljedahl.

Coming Soon

Want to learn more about key practices for building thinking in your classroom? [Math]odology is offering the two-day workshop,  Deep Dive into the World of Building Thinking Classrooms, with Sarah Schaefer and Peter Liljedahl. This exciting workshop is based on the research practices that author and researcher, Peter Liljedahl has included in his book Building Thinking Classrooms (BTC). Join Peter and Sarah and you will walk away with practical knowledge and strategies for using vertical whiteboards with your students along with other key practices that can be applied from the start of the year. Set your students up for success from the start!

 Thanks for reading my post!

-Sarah Schaefer