How to support visual learners in the language classroom
Picturing your current students, you’re probably already clear on who your visual learners are. They’re the imaginative souls who more readily remember what they see (rather than hear) and are motivated by puzzles, writing, crafts, and movement. Incorporating techniques that speak directly to these students helps even out the playing field—but where do you begin? Use these eight foundational tips to help your visual learners study better.
1. Write down new vocabulary
You don’t have to be an artist to support your visual learners! Simply making a habit of writing down new words and adding a few quick context clues (e.g., putting the part of speech in brackets or underling the stressed syllable) will help immensely.
2. Use the whiteboard efficiently
Designate roles to certain areas of the board and using colors to organize information during the lesson. (Here are more tips on good whiteboard use!)
3. Use charts and graphs
These engage visual learners and allow them to more easily recall information, organize concepts, and articulate their thoughts. Try:
Venn Diagrams (that represent comparisions and contrasts)
Timelines (to visually represent the tenses, or a series of events)
Inverted Trianges (that progress from broad topics to more specific ones)
Story or Essay Planners (that guide students through the steps necessary to complete these tasks), and
Charts to list word families (add columns for verb, adjective, adverb, noun and fill in all that apply as words come up: e.g., engage, engaging, engagingly, engagement)
4. Add symbols and movement to flashcards
The alphabet cards you may have seen in your own primary school play into this technique (remember, “A” is being walked over by ants; “C” is a cat’s tail curled into the shape of the letter…) When teaching vocabulary with flashcards, visual cues really help your learners. For example, “yummy”, may be drawn into the swirls of an icecream cone, and your students taught an easy-to-remember action associated with the idea of deliciousness (such as licking their lips or rubbing their belly).
5. Play flashcard games.
A number of classic games involve flashcards (think celebrity heads or memory). Getting students up and moving, or interacting with these cards in pairs or small groups supports your visual learners’ preference for touching and interacting with educational materials.
6. Experiment with realia
These real life items make new concepts memorable (think fruits and vegetables) and provide a practical, visual cue to draw from in real life (think maps, brochures, business cards, advertisements, packaging, menus, and photos). Visual learners will appreciate being able to see and touch these items, and find cues within to retain language.
7. Use slide shows and videos
8. Encourage them to sit at the front
Visual learners take in a great deal of information from facial expressions and body language. Use that to their (and your!) advantage by diving into humor, exaggeration, and gesture when teaching.
As an educator, understanding how your students prefer to learn is an essential element to helping them on their path to fluency. With these tips, your visual learners will feel looked after—and your other students will have fun as well!