How to Use a Blackboard

Thomas Henry Huxley at the blackboard Some old-school teachers shared their wisdom with me, that this dying art might be preserved.

  • Divide the board into sections.
  • Hold the chalk horizontally, so as to avoid squeaking.
  • Use the same colours for headings and subheadings each time.
  • Underline with a squiggly line rather than a straight line (because nobody can draw a straight line).
  • Reserve a section for first appearance of terms and new vocabulary.
  • The blackboard duster makes a useful missile.
  • Chalk, though, is light and tends to veer about when thrown; it might bounce off a desk and fly up a student’s nostril. Theoretically.
  • Erase section by section, so slow scribblers can catch up on copying what you wrote ten minutes ago.
  • Learn the Jedi trick of writing whilst keeping your eyes fixed on the class.
  • Have blackboard monitors or helpers, because kids love erasing and clapping out dusters.
  • Completely colour in a brand-new blackboard with the side of a piece of chalk, then erase normally to “prime” it for use.

Fun fact: chalk is not actually made from chalk rock (calcium carbonate), but from calcium sulfate in its dihydrate form, gypsum. So now you know.

Thanks to Maureen Bell (University of Wollongong) and Alan Hoskin & Gregor Ronald (UCTL, University of Canterbury).

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