Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Visual Strategies


As we guide learners to interpret authentic text, what strategies might help deepen their comprehension of the text they read, listen to, or view?

This will be the first of three posts on this topic.  This post will address visual strategies that assist students in comprehending authentic text.

Background Information on Visual Strategies

According to Robert Marzano (2001), learners use dual coding to store information in their brains: a linguistic form and an imagery form.  That means that when you learn a word like “hamburger,” you not only have a memory of how it is spelled in your mind, but also an image.

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Imagery involves:

Imaging:  the visualization in the mind’s eye of something that person has actually experienced

Imagining:  visualization in the mind of something the person has not yet experienced

David Sousa (2001) describes visualization as:

  • When the brain creates images, the same parts of the visual cortex are activated as when you process what you see with your eyes.
  • Imagery can be used in the classroom in the form of notetaking, cooperative learning groups, and alternative assessments.

9 Reasons for Using Visuals


As illustrated by the infographic above, there are many reasons for using visuals in teaching and learning.  Perhaps, some of the most powerful reasons have to do with the impact they have on students by reducing anxiety and building independence.

Benefits of Using Visuals in Teaching and LearningVisuals_Brain_cut
Benefits of using visuals include:

  • Enhancing long-term memories
  • Faster message transmission
  • Improving comprehension
  • Better critical thinking
  • Better creative thinking
  • Increasing students’ attention, motivation, and curiosity


Empowering the Brain in Learning Using Visuals


  1. Using visuals for comprehensible input

Visuals are a type of authentic text whether or not they contain printed words.  They are learner-friendly and open up multiple opportunities for student writing and speaking products.  Visuals, particularly those that contain much more than a single item, provide more of a context and a basis for communication such as the one below:

Martin Melogno

Using an image as a follow up to reading a text:

Example: After having read an article in the target language about recycling efforts in a town, the teacher follows up by showing an image in a tweet that contains visual representations of many of the ideas from the article.  The students use the visual, along with their notes, to support their understanding of the text during an interpersonal exchange with a classmate.

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for a collection of images, click below to visit this Pinterest page:

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To read a post about how to use visuals like infographics to teach new vocabulary in context, click here.

2. Using word clouds, word splashes, and word pictures to reinforce meaning and isolate key words and phrases.


Making vocabulary words visual is a very brain-friendly strategy.  By adding a visual element to a word or phase, it causes an emotional connection and is more engaging.  As students create word clouds, word splashes or word pictures, they make physical and mental connections between the visuals and the words.

By inputting a section of text into a word cloud generator, the words that appear most in the text appear larger and by eliminating all of the non-meaning bearing words (the, a, and, etc.), often the big ideas and supporting details become emphasized.

Students can also create word clouds to demonstrate their comprehension of a text by inputting all of the key words and phrases into the generator.  After, students might review each other’s word clouds to compare the key words each student selected.

Popular word cloud generators include:

3. Creating visuals through visual notetaking and sketchnoting to capture ideas from a text

Visual notetaking and Sketchnoting are strategies whereby students draw symbols and pictures to indicate their understanding of a text.  The result is a visual version of the text that was read, listened to, or viewed.

For example, a teacher plays audio text and students draw what they hear in any type of non-linguistic representations. This could be shapes or stick figures, etc.  Using their drawings only, students must retell the main events of the audio text.

What is sketchnoting?  According to Mike Rhode, author of The Sketchnote Handbook:

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The sketchnote below might represent notes a student took while listening to a video clip of a student talking about what he/she wants to do during Spring vacation:


4. Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are handy tools to support learners as they view, listen, and/or read.  In addition, graphic organizers provide students with a visual way to organize notes and information.  In many cases, you can find graphic organizers on the web in the target language.


You can find lots of graphic organizers on this Pinterest page:

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Foldables or 3-D graphic organizers are a hands-on way for students to visualize and organize information.  By folding, cutting, labeling, and drawing pictures, students create a product that represents their learning from a particular text.

Here’s an example of a foldable for a unit on houses and homes in Spanish:


Fore more on foldables, click the image below to go to my Pinterest page on Interactive Notebooks and Foldables:

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One thought on “Deepening Students’ Comprehension of Authentic Resources: Visual Strategies

  1. Outstanding!!! I will be using this information at the beginning of the year so I can start a conversation with students about strategies to learn a foreign language.

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