Ten Ways to Engage Students Using Graphics and Color

Ten Ways to Engage Students Using Graphics and Color

Education November 05, 2014 / By Kathryn P. Haydon
Ten Ways to Engage Students Using Graphics and Color

Graphic recording and visual note taking are new ways to interact with content. As a teacher or a student you don't need to be an artist to benefit from these strategies. Try them--they're fun!

    The teachers in my workshop were delighted.  As we talked, graphic recorder Jane Harvey visually depicted the session with colorful words and images on a large sheet of butcher paper affixed to the classroom wall.  Teachers were invited to add their ideas to the “portrait of a highly creative student” that Jane visually guided us to create together.  They got into the spirit, choosing colors and forming interesting fonts for the words they contributed.  At the end of the workshop, most teachers stopped to snap a photo of the illustration as a learning takeaway. 

    We all know about so-called visual learners, but do we realize that for all of us this skill is native, and an important part of problem solving?  Research in the field of creativity highlights visualization as an essential creativity skill, which includes the ability to “mentally manipulate images and ideas” (Davis, 2004, p. 101).  As a result of his own comprehensive research,  E. Paul Torrance asserted that it is important in the creative process to be able to “visualize richly and colorfully” (Torrance, 1979; Torrance & Safter, 1990).  In fact, this creativity skill is one of the 18 that Torrance identified as essential to integrate into curriculum to help develop student creativity.  Sunni Brown (2014) has issued a call-to-arms (or call-to-pens?) in her book The Doodle Revolution, asserting the importance of visual literacy for thinking and problem solving.  This intention aligns well with research in the fields of creativity, innovation, and education.  

    Jane’s inspiring graphics helped me to see how rich visuals and color contributed to success of the teacher workshop.  We, as a group, were involved in successful creative collaboration as the note-taking process unfolded around us.  Curiosity was sparked; engagement was strengthened; and understanding and memory were deepened.  Aren’t these the fundamental goals of teaching?  This led me to ask, “What might be all of the ways that teachers might use the principles of graphic recording to add rich, colorful imagery to their own schools and classrooms?”

    Before we dive into ideas, please note one thing: You do not have to be an artist to embrace visual note taking in your classroom.  Remember the bubble and block letters that you used to draw all over your own notebooks in elementary school?  Bring those back, add some color, and draw stick figures like I do if that’s your style.

Ten Ways to Inspire Students with Graphics and Color

  1.   Embrace intentional and purposeful doodling in class.  Show students graphic recording images (Google “graphic recording images kids”) or visual note taking such as Sketchnotes. In a free PDF, Mike Rohde provides a few simple principles from The Sketchnote Handbook here.  
  2.   Encourage students to use visual note taking as a study strategy.  Have them take their original notes in one color (such as black or blue).  They can add color later as they review their notes.  
  3.   Engage your class in an experiment: Ask students to take notes with words one day, and graphically the next.  Have a class conversation about the experience.  Do students notice a difference?  Which do they prefer?  Do you see a difference in terms of student engagement and retention?
  4.   Draw your own slideshow images or handouts.
  5.   As you deliver content information to students, pause and sketch the concepts visually.  
  6.   Take graphic notes of student speeches or presentations to hand back with their grades.
  7.   Ask students to create visual summaries of chapters or assignments.
  8.   Have a student graphic record a lesson on the board as you teach it; after the lesson, invite other students to add color or additional concepts.  Encourage students to take photos of the notes to help them retain the information.  Create a rotation so interested students can all have turns at the board.
  9.   Take graphic notes of your next staff or team meeting.  Give each attendee a copy or send them an image as a follow-up gift.  Students can try this at their activity meetings as well. 
  10.  Be open to student ideas on more ways to incorporate graphics and color in school.  They might lead to surprising and inspiring outcomes.


Brown, S.  (2014).  The doodle revolution.  New York, NY: Penguin.  

Torrance, E. P. (1979). An instructional model for enhancing incubation. Journal of   Creative Behavior, 13(1), pp. 23-35.

Torrance, E. P. & Safter, H. T. (1999). Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

Copyright 2014 Sparkitivity.  All Rights Reserved. 

Article Featured Image Caption: A clip of Jane Harvey's graphic recording from the teacher workshop. 

comments powered by Disqus