I read that the chalkboard was invented in the 19th century in the UK. What did teachers write on before the invention of the chalkboard?


2 Answers 2


Copied from my answer in another forum HSM...

the first mounted classroom chalkboard was pioneered in Scotland in the early 1800s,
... Teachers would usually have to individually transcribe the problems onto each individual slate, which took up a lot of time. All of this changed when teachers began mounting bigger boards onto classroom walls.

This leap forward is widely believed to have first happened in a geography classroom in Edinburgh, Scotland; that teacher, James Pillans, is said to have taken a rough piece of raw slate and mounted it himself up on the wall behind his desk.

[I am not talking about a separate small slate for each student. That is much earlier.]


Before the invention of chalkboards, teachers used a variety of methods for instruction and display of information. The most common methods included:

  • Hornbooks: These were small wooden paddles with a handle, where a printed sheet of paper, often containing the alphabet, syllables, and the Lord's Prayer, was pasted and covered with a thin layer of
    transparent horn for protection.

  • Slates: Individual students used small handheld slates to write and erase text. These were particularly common for personal student use rather than for teaching to an entire class.

  • Manuscripts and Books: In the absence of large writing surfaces, teachers often relied on manuscripts and books. They would read from these texts and provide oral instruction to students.

  • Sand Tables: In some cases, especially in early education, sand tables were used. Students could write and draw in sand, which was a practical and reusable method.

  • Blackened Boards or Walls: In some instances, a piece of wood painted black or a wall smeared with a dark substance was used to write on with chalk or a similar substance.

  • Lecture and Rote Learning: Without visual aids, teaching often relied heavily on oral instruction and memorization.

Each of these methods had its limitations, which eventually led to the development and widespread adoption of the chalkboard in the 19th century.

  • How they learn math with just oral instruction?
    – 22flower
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 20:01
  • 2
    Fascinating. What are your sources so I can read more?
    – J W
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 7:04
  • 2
    Welcome to Academia.SE. Just for future reference, please note that this policy exists.
    – cag51
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 21:11
  • I have heard that professors, such as Isaac Newton, had to file a copy of their lecture notes before the start of a term. Students could copy the notes. Lectures were usually just oral. For hundreds of years it was all in Latin. Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 4:54

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