In a world full of visual communication, it is important that we teach our students how to be visually literate. Much like building text-based literacy skills involves both reading and writing, building visual literacy skills includes both decoding and encoding visuals.
Here are five ideas for how to build student visual literacy skills in your classroom.
- Photo a Day (or Week) Challenge: Give your students a daily (or weekly) photography prompt. Every student takes a picture based on the prompt and shares it with the class. Discuss how each student interpreted the prompt. How were they different? How were they similar? Be sure they use their visual vocabulary as they discuss. How did the photographer use line, texture, color, and all the visual elements in their interpretation? Need prompt ideas? Use your current vocabulary list or words or phrases for the book you are reading. Have students take photos of math concepts. Use a mix of concrete prompts and abstract ideas. For example, how would you photograph blue? Join the global Photo A Day Challenge by following blogger FatMumSlim. Every month she publishes a new set of prompts and a hashtag for sharing. It is fun to see how people around the world interpret the prompts differently.
- Tell a story in Five: Start by showing your students five images. Place them in an order and have them tell the story that they see. What happens when you change the order of the pictures? How does the story change? Next, have students tell their own story using only five images. These could be their own images or ones they find online. Have them show their stories to the class and see if their classmates can verbalize what they see. Check out the Flikr group Tell a Story in 5 Frames for some excellent examples of five photo stories.
- Wordless Videos: Using your favorite presentation/video creation tool, have the students tell you about their favorite place using only images, editing techniques, and music. No words allowed. This will encourage them to use the visual elements combined with the power of music to help the viewer understand why this is their special place.
- Compare and Contrast Picture Books: Many of our favorite classic children’s stories have been told through picture books over and over again. Go to your library and pick up several different versions of the same story. Classic fairy tales are perfect for this. You can even select international versions of the same story. Have the students look at how the different illustrators interpreted the story. How do the illustrations change the story from book to book? Look at the artistic style, use of color, line, tone, and the choice of medium. How do those choices change how you interpret the story? How much of the story is told through the pictures? Do the pictures help you understand the story or do the pictures conflict with what they are reading? Be sure they use their visual vocabulary in their explanations.
- I write you draw: Similar to using pictures books, then I write you draw strategy helps students see the connection between written language and visual language. Have each student write a couple sentences describing a setting or a character. Tell them to use good descriptive detail. When complete, they exchange their writing with a partner. Each student then illustrates their partner’s passage. When complete, have them discuss the results. How well does the drawing work with the passage? Based on the drawing, is there any editing that the author could do with the passage? To take it further, have students work together to write and illustrate picture books. Each student writes their own story and illustrates their partner’s story. This not only builds visual literacy skills but also collaboration skills.
Below are a few (five because it’s Friday!) of my favorite visual literacy resources and informational sites.
- My Visual Literacy Pinterest Board – I’ve curated a bunch of resources for teaching visual literacy.
- Why Visual Literacy? – Toledo Museum of Art – Excellent source of videos that explain visual literacy and why it is important.
- International Visual Literacy Association – Love this organization. Such an eclectic and amazing group of creative people.
- 10 Visual Literacy Strategies from Edutopia – More great ideas for building Visual Literacy skills.
- Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education – With the release of the new Star Wars movie less than a week away, read about George Lucas has to say about Visual Literacy.
Bonus! Visit the Public Domain Review for images to use with your students.
There are so many fun ways to incorporate visual literacy into the classroom. Sometimes it might just be tweaking existing activities to include more image analysis or visual vocabulary. I could keep writing about this topic all day but I will leave some for a future post. How are you building students’ visual literacy skills? Share your ideas and favorite resources in the comments. I’d love to hear them!