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Seven Instructional Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know, Part 3: Combining Words and Graphics
posted by: Alana | June 08, 2016, 10:12 PM   


We’re continuing today with our series on essential teaching strategies.  These strategies are research identified, simple to implement, flexible across age groups and subject areas, and intensely powerful.  You can see the previous strategies that we’ve covered on our blog here and here.


The strategy that we’re adding today may seem like it’s an obvious one.  It’s one that almost all teachers already implement to some extent, but as with our other strategies, a little more tweaking can take what is good practice and make it great practice.  What we want to make great today is pairing words with graphics.  Teachers have known to use pie cut-outs for fractions and number lines in math for years, while science teachers will often use tables and diagrams, and teachers of all stripes have used humorous comics to emphasize certain points.


Research shows that using a text description matched with an appropriate graphic, such as a chart, diagram, table, or even a comic-like sequence of pictures can help with both comprehension and retention.  These learning gains can be magnified even more if the way that graphics are used gets slightly tweaked.

The Institute of Education Studies recommends the following for using graphics efficiently in classrooms:

  • Always include a brief text description or caption with the graphic that explains what is being shown.

  • Position the graphic as close as possible to the text that it’s illustrating.

  • When explaining a graphic out loud, point to the relevant part of the graphic while talking about it.

  • When choosing a picture or graphic, choose the one that best illustrates the concept, not necessarily the one that is graphically interesting.

  • Likewise, the most realistic or artistic graphic isn’t always the best.  Choose graphics that are easy to understand and follow over complex or realistic ones.

  • When teaching abstract concepts, use multiple graphics and pair them with explicit explanations of how each relates to the concept.

With these few tweaks to an already proven strategy, teachers can take their practice to the next level.


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