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    Bringing English Alive: Using Visuals to Teach Comprehension

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  • Bringing English Alive: Using Visuals to Teach Comprehension

    Bringing English Alive: Using Visuals to Teach Comprehension
    Admin - Jul 23 2017

                      Visuals help to enhance any lesson, but are a large benefit to students who are learning English as their second language. Because TEFL students are able to connect to their prior knowledge using visuals, they are more likely to understand and retain what is being taught. Some visuals work better than others depending on the material. To help you feel more comfortable using visual aids in your classroom, we will discuss possible visuals to use when teaching single words as well as which visuals to use when teaching phrases or concepts. Remember, visual aids are a terrific component to add to your teaching practice in order to aid in comprehension.


    Single Words

                      Single images, like pictures, are a great visual when teaching single words. Moreover, pictures are great to use as a substitute for the actual item. For example, you cannot bring a house or a boat into the classroom with you. So, a picture (or even a toy) helps your students recognize the item you are talking about and form connections to their prior knowledge.

    Pictures are also great to use when talking about things that relate to the student. For example, when teaching about a child’s family, they can use pictures of their family members to demonstrate their knowledge of the new terms. This can be done orally by pointing to “mom,” “dad,” “sibling,” etc., or by creating a poster or drawing. Both ways incorporate visuals and help the student to develop deeper connections to what they are learning.

    Videos are great for teaching single words as well. You can show a clip of a cat, breakfast, running, etc. The clip does not have to be long. It could be animated or live footage. Regardless of the kind of video being used, as long as it demonstrates the concept being taught and is on the level of the student, it will be effective.


    Phrases or Concepts

                      Videos or clips work well when teaching phrases of concepts. Especially when teaching verbs, videos of the action help to express the verb and create connections to the student’s prior knowledge. Instead of trying to show a picture, a video captures to verb in it’s true form. You can demonstrate the verb and/or have the student act it out as well. It is different than a still picture because it engages the students and fully demonstrate the concept.

                      Videos or PowerPoints can also be used for teaching concepts like similes and metaphors. A video comparing dancers to the leaves blowing help to demonstrate and explain the comparison. The visuals are important as they help to form the connections that they may be missing due to the lack of understanding of the language. Other forms to teach literary concepts are using song lyrics or poetry, especially if couple with images.

                      While it is controversial, using videos (animated or real) are great to help reaffirm comprehension of stories. Videos are great for beginning stories, all the way up to complex novels. Some students have difficulty visualizing the text and by incorporating videos it creates a more comprehensible version of the stories.


    Other Visuals

                      Pictures and videos are not the only options available, but they do appeal to 21st century learners. Other, more common visuals that are great for teaching comprehension and enhance teaching English Language Arts are: maps, posters, and picture books. While these may seem common place, especially in the classroom setting, they are there for a reason. Tried and true for visual learners, each holds concrete value for all students.

                      Maps help students to visualize other countries and geographic concepts. You can use maps to introduce roads, landforms, and major landmarks. For students who have not had the opportunity to travel beyond their home town, maps also offer a view into a new world. Learning to read maps also help to promote spatial reasoning and awareness. Understanding how to use and read maps help to translate to other subjects, but also to allow the student an understanding of the world to aid real world discussions.

                      Posters can contain words, pictures, or both words and pictures. Posters are great for reference points, or to be available as reminders for students. If teaching online, instead of posters you can use PowerPoint slides and encourage students to refer to their notes. Posters can be used as a visual reference or teaching aid if they contain new vocabulary. Ideally, posters that are used to teach new vocabulary will contain pictures of the term being used (when applicable).

                      Picture books are great for young students, but also work for older students. They depict the character(s) and setting, as well as story structure, in addition to containing important vocabulary terms. Picture books can be read to students and used as a reference for them to create their own picture book. Picture books also help to engage students while helping them to further develop critical thinking skills.


                      While visual aids may seem juvenile for older students, it is an important component for all students – especially for ESL students. Visuals not only develop connections to students’ prior knowledge, but they also help to engage students and to develop a concrete understanding of what is being taught. Ensuring comprehension is key to overall learning and growth in student. While they may have seemed like a fun way to decorate your room, visuals are an important component to learning.

                      For older students, be sure to point out, reference, and/or discuss the visuals used in any textbooks or materials that you use. Visuals are used in newspapers, informative pamphlets, and important buildings (like the doctor’s office). Because of how often visuals are used in everyday life, recognizing and knowing how to use visuals is an important life skill. ESL students may not have a great command over the English language, but knowing how to use visuals can help them navigate the English language, as well as further develop their understanding of their own language.

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