Teach podcast

#29 Elevate Your Whiteboard Mini Lecture (aka Chalk Talk)

May 2, 2023 | By


Download the Transcript

With Dr. Ryan Nelson

Join in as Dr. Ryan Nelson, @RyanNelsonMD, teaches us how to create effective, engaging whiteboard mini lectures (WMLs). He provides tips and tricks for incorporating cognitive multimedia learning theory into WMLs as well as common pitfalls and how to overcome them. 

Claim free CME for this episode at curbsiders.vcuhealth.org!

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon| thecurbsidersteach@gmail.com | Free CME!

Show Segments

  • Intro, disclaimer, guest bio
  • Guest one-liner/ Best piece of advice
  • Picks of the Week
  • Case #1 from Kashlack Memorial Hospital
  • Designing a WML
  • Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning
  • Engaging Learners
  • Common Pitfalls
  • Case #2 from Kashlack Memorial Hospital 
  • Tips for creating your WML library 
  • Outro

Chalk Talk Pearls

  1. Don’t be afraid to teach at the whiteboard! Preparation is key – actually draw out ahead of time what the board will look like.  Consider your title, headings, and visual representations of each segment. 
  2. Teach a smaller portion of a larger topic. Narrow down your WML to 2-3 learning objectives.
  3. Incorporate the principles of cognitive theory of multimedia learning to promote deeper learning.

Elevate Your Whiteboard Mini Lecture (aka Chalk Talk) Show Notes 

Whiteboard Mini Lectures (WMLs) vs Chalk Talks?

WMLs are interactive, small group teaching sessions, typically 30 minutes or less where the instructor uses a whiteboard and markers as the primary teaching tools.  A WML is a type of chalk talk.  Other types of chalk talks include teaching at the bedside with a notecard or online digital whiteboard modules (Orlander 2007). 

Steps for Creating a Whiteboard Mini-Lecture.  

Creating a WML takes around 4-5 hours. Utilize the following steps. 

Steps to Create Your Own Whiteboard Mini Lecture
Start with broad topic (i.e pneumonia) and narrow it down to a focused topic (i.e diagnosis and treatment of CAP)(30-45 min)
Determine the learning objectives, typically 2-3 per WML(30-45 min)
Dive into the literature and map a rough draft of the content onto one piece of paper. Try to use only 1-2 sources to avoid source overload. (2 hours)
Take a second piece of paper and map the WML into a whiteboard layout (title, headings, visual representations of each segment). (1 hour)
Design the final draft of the WML to use as a reference.(1 hour)
After giving each lecture, update using feedback and changes in guidelines. (15-30 min)

How to set yourself up for success when giving a WML 

  1. Establish the educational agenda with your learners at the start of the rotation by stating a WML will be part of the learning experience. Ask learners what topic they would like to discuss as it relates to the patient census.  
  2. Find time for your WML. Dr. Nelson usually gives his WML in the afternoon before running the list at the end of the day. 
  3. Incorporate active learning techniques into the WMLs
    1. Multi level questioning (broadening, targeting, probing)
    2. The 3 minute pause (summarize key points, add your thoughts, ask clarifying questions)
    3. “Erase, Space, and Replace” where you  fill out a diagram or table, erase the content, then ask learners to fill in the gap later in the session

Elevating WMLs using Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning 

Cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML) says that we encode information through two channels- the visual channel and auditory channel.  As we bring in information, there are three types of cognitive load (extraneous, essential, and generative) we must successfully navigate (Multimedia Learning by Richard Mayer) . 

Cognitive LoadDefinitionApplying CTML to WMLs
Extraneous Unnecessary details that we need to weed outSimplify the text (use arrows and symbols)Organize with headingsIntegrate in labels 
Essential Information related to learning objectivesDivide whiteboard into segments of contentFamiliarize learners with terms used prior to the WML
GenerativeLinking new information to previous experiences in order to encode deeper learning Create advance organizersEngage the audience (use learners names, linking topics to patients, varying pitch of voice, and using expressive body language)

What is an advance organizer? 

Advanced organizers are diagrams, concept maps, or outlines that act as tools for learners to integrate new information with their preexisting knowledge–a concept first introduced by David Ausubel. He believed that meaningful learning occurred when new information was connected to existing knowledge in a logical, coherent way. 

Learners have so much existing knowledge, whether that is from preclinical courses, a patient they are following on the wards, or a practice question they did the night prior.  The WML is a prime opportunity to create a framework for them to connect all of those moving pieces into a succinct, logical outline. 

Some examples of WMLs created by Dr. Ryan Nelson: 

How to keep learners engaged

  1. Narrate with style and emotion: Vary pitch, loudness, and tempo of your speech. Add dramatic pauses, use transitional phrases, and enumeration.  Dr. Nelson credits Dr. Brad Sharpe for this teaching pearl. 
  2. Use effective body language: maintain open posture, avoid talking into the whiteboard, and point to key points on the board. 
  3. Ask “how/why” questions to involve quiet learners. Examples include: “Tell me about your experience with pleural effusions” or “why do you think it is important to have an approach to bacterial meningitis?”

After the WML

  • Allow time for reflection after the WML. During the reflection learners can ask questions, discuss different approaches to the clinical topic, and identify what they learned and what they struggled with. 
  • Ask your learners for feedback. 
  • Take a picture of the WML for use in the future and to send out to your learners via email with a summary of the teaching points.

Routinely running over time during your WMLs? 

Dr. Nelson recommends visually segmenting the content to allow for natural stopping points. This allows you to seamlessly pick up the WML at another time. 

Week 4 of Dr. Nelson’s tweetorial discusses this in detail. 

Advice for Educators who are new to WMLs

  • Teach content with clinical utility (things learners will see on regular basis)
  • Play to your strengths
  • Set a goal to make a new WML every time on service as a new faculty to create a library of WMLs
  • Don’t be afraid to teach at the whiteboard! 

Other Stuff


  1. “10 Weeks of Whiteboard MedEd Tips!” on Twitter. @RyanENelsonMD
  2. “Strategies to Elevate Whiteboard Mini Lectures” by Dr. Ryan Nelson, et al. 
  3. Era’s Pick of the Week: The Law According to Lidia Poet
  4. Charlotte’s Pick of the Week:  Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
  5. Molly’s Pick of the Week: Emily in Paris
  6. Ryan’s Pick of the Week: The Great British Baking Show: The Professionals    


Listeners will appreciate the ways to create an effective whiteboard mini lecture also known as a chalk talk using principles of cognitive theory of multimedia learning and the common pitfalls and ways to overcome them when designing and delivering chalk talks.

Learning objectives

After listening to this episode listeners will…

  1. List the key elements of an effective whiteboard mini lecture also known as a chalk talk.
  2. Describe how the key elements apply to Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. 
  3. Describe common pitfalls (and ways to overcome them) when designing and delivering a whiteboard mini lecture. 


Dr Ryan Nelson reports no relevant financial disclosures. The Curbsiders report no relevant financial disclosures. 


Chaiklin C, Nelson R, Heublein M, Kryzhanovskaya E. “#29 Elevate your Whiteboard Mini Lecture (aka Chalk Talk) with Dr. Ryan Nelson.” The Curbsiders Teach Podcast. https://thecurbsiders.com/teach May 2, 2023. 

Episode Credits

Written and Produced, CME: Charlotte Chaiklin MD Show notes, Cover Art, and Infographic: Megan Connor Hosts: Era Kryzhanovskaya MD, Molly Heublein MD, Charlotte Chaiklin MD Editor (audio materials): podpaste Guest: Ryan Nelson MD

CME Partner


The Curbsiders are partnering with VCU Health Continuing Education to offer FREE continuing education credits for physicians and other healthcare professionals. Visit curbsiders.vcuhealth.org and search for this episode to claim credit.

Contact Us

Got feedback? Suggest a Teach topic. Recommend a guest. Tell us what you think.

Contact Us

We love hearing from you.


We and selected third parties use cookies or similar technologies for technical purposes and, with your consent, for other purposes as specified in the cookie policy. Denying consent may make related features unavailable.

Close this notice to consent.