You know that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, this week I learned that to be very true. As a result, my goal is to write this blog post by using a large variety of purposeful images that help to get my point across and help you to understand it better as well.


What is visual literacy?

Let me leave it to the experts to tell you this…


Why is visual literacy important in the classroom?

Our world is visual! From the very first drawings inside caves long ago until this day and age of all things visual, we have relied on images to explain our thoughts and ideas. ISTE’s book, Media Literacy in the K–2 Classroom by Frank W. Baker puts it well (emphasis added):

“Because so much information is communicated visually, it is more important than ever that our students learn what it means to be visually literate. Those who create visual images (such as photographs) do so with a purpose in mind, using certain techniques. In order to “read” or analyze an image, the audience (our students) must be able to understand the purpose and recognize the techniques. Just like media literacy, visual literacy is about analyzing and creating messages. Images can be used to influence and persuade, so it is incumbent upon educators to learn how to teach with and about images and to help our students understand the language of photography.”


Like they said, not only do we need to teach students about how to read images, we need to teach with them whenever possible. To show the true importance of image use in classrooms for learning I made this infographic of a quote from John Medina author of Brain Rules.

For more on why infographics are so great for our brain and learning, check out this infographic that does a phenomenal job explaining it.


Teaching WITH Images

Since I teach lower elementary where students cannot read at high levels, I naturally tend to teach with images on a daily basis in order to support the curricular content in all subject areas. They could be images I have found searching online, images I have created digitally, or images I have hand-drawn on class anchor charts. Another reason I do this is because I know that my English Language Learners really need the images to anchor them. I also encourage my students to show their thinking by using both images and words so I can better see their understanding of the content. I know this is an area of strength for me, but I am always looking for ways to improve to make learning better for my students. Here are a few examples of me and my students teaching with images in different contexts:

Teaching ABOUT Images

Teaching students about images is an area that I am just now beginning to explore. At the start of this year I added a few activities into my morning routine in order to help facilitate this.

‘Tuesday Times’– Every Tuesday when my students enter the room I have an image posted from the NY Times section, What’s Going On in This Picture? My students then discuss with their tables to try to figure out what is happening in the photograph. This has allowed us to have some interesting conversations about many topics and has developed their ability to read images more carefully to notice the details.

‘Webcam Wednesday’– Every Wednesday when they enter the room I have a live webcam playing from somewhere around the world. Students then discuss with their tables what they see, think, and wonder as well as try to figure out where the webcam is located in the world. This has allowed my students to understand how to pay careful attention to the details of video to notice what is happening. It has also become a springboard for individual student inquiries in different content areas. Here are a few webcam databases I pull from.

Both of these activities have been highly engaging for my students. They always come into the room excited to find out what new photograph or video they get to figure out for that day. I just love to see how this sparks their passion and curiosity about the world around them while also giving them a real world context to practice visual and digital literacy skills.

Trying Something New

This week I wanted to try something new in regards to integrating visual literacy practice with other core content areas.

In our current reading unit we have been learning that ‘reading is thinking’ and how to show that thinking about reading using sticky notes. Our current unit of inquiry is about how groups of people work together in different ways to achieve common goals. Also the International Day of Peace occurs each year on September 21st, which happens to be on Friday. To merge all of this together I chose to have my class look at and evaluate 6 images that I found from Unsplash that represented the idea of peace.

Students went around to tables where the images were posted with 3 questions to answer.

  1. What do you see?
  2. How does it make you feel?
  3. Why do you feel that?

After giving them some time, I called everyone back to the carpet to discuss what we learned. The results were quite valuable for both me and my students’ learning:

Reading- Students realized that images are like books and can give us different strong feelings just the same.

Unit of Inquiry- Students discovered that the United Nations is a group that works together and one of their goals is to have world peace. Using the peace images really helped my students to understand the concept of peace much better than it would have without them.

Visual Literacy- When students evaluated the images for feelings, they noticed that they all made them feel happy, calm, relaxed, or peaceful. This led us to some amazing discussion about how the color on the photos affect our feeling as well as the lighting and composition of what was in each photo.

This week has really opened up my eyes to the integration of visual literacies into all subject areas. I know I am only just touching the surface now, but as I go throughout this year I hope to dive deeper into these ideas with my students to enhance their engagement and learning.