Teach your students visual literacy

Children understand visual literacy at an early age.

Most parents can tell you that although their two-year-old children cannot read how many billion hamburgers McDonald’s sold, they instantly recognize the Golden Arches. Toddlers who can’t even read are able to interpret that the arches are a symbol for food.

That’s visual literacy.

If children seem to understand visual literacy innately, why teach it in school?

Visual literacy skills are integral to 21st century learning goals, especially the Common Core Standards. Learners must “integrate visual information” and evaluate content from “diverse media and formats.”

Media marketing and visual content bombard children daily. Interpreting what they see is an essential skill for children, especially as they become consumers in our digital world.

Strategies for teaching visual literacy

You can incorporate visual literacy strategies into almost any lesson, and you should.

Try some of these techniques to get your students thinking about images as well as the texts they read:

  • Picture analysis. Before reading a book or a chapter, talk about the picture on the cover or at the beginning. Ask open-ended questions about what might be going, on, the time of day or the season. Ask students to identify clues that support their responses.
  • Note sketching. Visual note taking reinforces concepts students are learning. Have your students sketch a quick picture or graphic image to supplement the words they’re writing. Students will often remember what they’ve written because they remember the image.
  • Take a color test. Students love taking personality tests, and color tests can reveal a lot about someone. People associate specific characteristics with each of the colors. Marketers know this, and they capitalize on the associations with color. Once students learn about their own preferences, direct their attention outward to see how color is used in various places. Consider teaching about the function of shapes and lines, as well.
  • Insert memes. Merging image and culture produces understanding. Figuring out what a meme means is almost like getting an inside joke. Memes stir emotions, unite people who feel the same way, and they make people laugh. Teach your students how to analyze them. Are you familiar with the meme that begins, “Brace yourselves”? Under the picture of the Viking are the words, “Winter is coming” or “Pumpkin spice is here.” Replace those words with “The test is today.” You’ll hear laughter when your students get it.

The benefits of visual literacy

Images product a powerful impact. They convey information, emotion, and attitude. Visual information like images:

  • Create understanding quickly. As a result, they’re excellent tools for communication.
  • Provide meaning for second-language learners who often know a word or concept in their native language but not in the language they are learning.
  • Serve as a communication device among groups of people. Consider how popular memes have become.
  • Provide enjoyment., especially when students understand how design and color can be applied to develop meaning.
  • Stimulate deeper learning. Students who can analyze texts and images are less likely to be manipulated because they interpret what they read and see from multiple perspectives.

Ultimately, people tend to remember images longer. Students who learn how to interpret visual information can make their way through a complex world vying for their attention.

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