Visual literacy is the ability to construct meaning from or communicate meaning through information presented in the form of an image. While it may seem like this could only be applicable to the elementary student, visual literacy pervades all subject areas, disciplines, and grade levels in schools. From identifying patterns, to understanding modern art, to interpreting and creating graphs, visual literacy is one of the most widely important skills students should develop while in K-12 schools.
Teaching and practicing visual literacy, as well as making students’ thinking visible to others, has never been easier. Many activities and methodologies exist for incorporating visual literacy and making thinking visible in the classroom, but now mobile apps are able to help support the practices of visual literacy and visible thinking even more. From creating a thematic collage to storyboarding and from data visualization to image categorization, visual literacy is an engaging practice when paired with modern technologies.
If you’re new to visual literacy or visible thinking, there are plenty of resources out there online to get you familiarized. To get an idea of what teaching visual literacy could look like in a classroom setting, check out this interactive tutorial on the Three Brain Networks. In this tutorial, you’ll see an image and be prompted to infer some meaning from the image. Through a series of questioning prompts, you will revisit the image through the scope of each of the three information networks of the brain. In the end, your integrated understanding of the image will leave you with a great sense of visual literacy and one way to teach with images in your classroom, regardless of technology. Possibly one of the most stunning displays of visual literacy comes from an image-based personality test, called Visual DNA.
If you have a block of time free, try the Visual DNA test to see the potential of using images to communicate and interpret information can actually be in visual literacy. Finally, if you are into mobile games, or have seen the trends with students in mobile gaming, you might have heard of 4 Pics 1 Word on iOS or Android. While this app is definitely geared toward the 12+ crowd, I wouldn’t recommend the app itself as a teaching tool as much as a way for you to get a sense of visual literacy. The activity involved in 4 Pics 1 Word is that you are shown four images and must determine the word that has to do with them all. Besides being a highly addictive game, this idea is a great teaching and learning activity you can use with your students. There are many levels to play and coins award for progress, which you can trade in for hints in difficult levels. They even have an online solutions manual for gamers. At any rate, visual literacy is something that has made its way into mobile gaming and can be a powerful learning tool.
Here are a few key apps and activities to get you started with visual literacy in your classroom this fall. A Visual Literacy Handout is available for you to download, if you’d like to share or repurpose these ideas.
Apps That Support Visual Literacy:
- Lino – collaborative corkboard for posting notes, images, and video
- PicStitch – easily create picture collages
- Symphonical – an collaborative organization tool with a common workspace for sticky notes
- Flayvr – automagically generated dynamic media albums synced with your calendar
- Kanvas - add text, stickers, painting and sound to a background image
- Over – overlay captions and icons onto images
- Write About This – an app for emerging writers that prompts the student to write about what they notice in a picture
Activities That Teach Visual Literacy
1. What’s Going On In This Picture? (Lino)
Inspired by the New York Times Learning Network series, an interesting image with a lot of rich contextual detail is shown to students and they are asked to use Claim-Evidence-Reasoning to speculate what’s going on in the picture. Through discussion with other classmates, students can try to achieve a consensus or maintain their separate ideas. Using Lino, the teacher would post the picture in the middle of a Lino canvas and students would post notes with their speculations about what’s going on in the image all around. Through discussion, notes can be added, edited or deleted until consensus is reached.
Students will make a storyboard of images that communicate the sequence of events of a story. Each image should be chosen to capture the essence of the most important elements of the story. A story can be told using approximately 5-6 images (Intro/Setting, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution.) With PicStitch, or another collage-maker, students can choose the layout of their storyboard to emphasize the relative importance of each image. Using Flayvr, students can additionally add video clips into their storyboard. Students would tell their story in images and could present it, almost like a narrated comic strip, to their classmates or teacher. With either PicStitch or Flayvr, students would take their photos/video in their native camera app on their device and save to their photo library. Photos can be imported manually into the apps, or Flayvr has a feature to automatically import media grouped by calendar event, e.g., makes an album of all media taken during Brad’s birthday party (2-4pm.)
Using the Over or Kanvas app, or another photo caption tool, students can select an image and overlay words on that image to create a story. Students can select an image and write a six-word story about the image. Stories should be exactly six words long; no more, no less. They can then challenge other students to try and interpret what their six-word story is based on the image. After 2-3 guesses, the author could reveal their story and explain why they chose those six words for their image. Alternatively, a teacher could post an image for the entire class to view and have all the students create their own six-word stories based on the same image. After creating their stories, students would share and compare their six-word stories and talk about why they selected those six words.
4. Collaborative Concept Attainment (Symphonical)
Create a Symphonical wall for students to use that has 3 columns labeled: WHAT IT IS, WHAT IT IS NOT, OVERALL. In each column, have students post pictures illustrating a concept. For example, for ‘freedom’ the students might put a picture of a prisoner in the WHAT IT IS NOT column and a picture of an eagle flying. After posting their pictures in each column as a group, students should discuss an overall working definition for the concept based on the images. Alternatively, a teacher could post select images on the wall in each column and students could try to generate an overall definition for the concept in question based on the images. A full description of doing a concept attainment lesson can be found here.
Students can find four photos that share a common trait or are all examples of a common theme. This could be vocabulary they are learning, or it could also be more open-ended. They would put together a four-pane collage of their photos to share with others. The objective is to determine the word that stands for what they all have in common. Students could share their PicStitch collages with each other, or a teacher could share one with their class, and others could use the Over or Kanvas app to try and determine the one word. Through discussion, students can arrive at a consensus about why the images have that one word in common.