19. Learner Generated Visuals


Learner Generated Visuals

So I’d like to just talk about images for a moment…

What is an image?

The Macmillan dictionary, as well as referring to the picture you see on a computer or TV screen, or a photo, painting, etc, describes image as a picture or idea of something in your mind


Scott McCloud, a very well respected American cartoonist and comics theorist, says:

Slide3… which in terms of learning is really important.  But just going a little deeper, Nick Sousanis, a comics artist and educator who wrote his thesis (in comic book format) about modes of understanding, said:

Slide4 Slide5

Which suggests that as teachers we need to be making use in our classrooms of more than just words.

Classrooms are pretty complex places – the context is ever changing.


I’ve paraphrased here, but the applied linguist Kumaravadivelu talked about how:

Slide7 Slide8

So teachers need insight into a variety of classroom strategies that are considered generally effective for learning – a toolkit, if you will.


Robert Marzano, by the way, is an education researcher.  He and John Hattie are the two big names in Evidence Based Teaching.

So graphic representations led me to thinking about …


I use the term visuals (rather than images) here, as the term includes images but steps into the realm of images that help to explain something.

I use visuals a lot in my own studies and thought processes.  In my blog posts, lesson reflections, and note making.

Slide11 And what I find is that:Slide12 (some of these are extracts from my reflective essay, by the way)Slide13 As Nick Sousanis says:Slide14 But how does this relate to teaching?  Well, Tomlinson talks about the positive effects of helping L2 readers to visualise.

Slide15 And describes a variety of instructions and activities we can use to do so.Slide16

Now, just jumping back slightly…


Paul asked us to look into this thing called ‘infographics’.  And I thought, “infographics, infographics, what is that?”

And then I thought about it – information represented graphically.  And I remembered these books I have – one of which I bought several years ago – by this fantastic guy called David McCandless.

Slide18 And he describes his infographics as:Slide19

So then I had a look at Nik Peachey’s blog, and found this:


So I decided I wanted to play around with creating one of these infographics, and I decided on the topic of learner generated visuals – because it’s clearly something I’m really interested in.  So I used a website called VISME.


And this is as far as I got…


Before this happened:

Slide23 But I thought okay, how about I create an infographic by hand – I’m used to working like that, and I find it a much quicker and freer way of working.

And then I decided to recreate it in Smart Art…

Slide24 Which do you prefer?  Interestingly, many of my colleagues said they prefer the hand drawn version, as it has more ‘life’ to it.  But I did wonder whether the computerised version looked more professional.

But not one to give up, I did go back and finish the Visme infographic:

Slide25 And then I got my class of advanced learners to create their own.  Some of them were brilliant – far better than mine.  I’m sorry I don’t have copies to share.

All of which brings me neatly back to my point, which is that whether they be hand drawn or digital,Slide26 And these are just some of the benefits.

So lastly, I’d just like to leave you with a quote – something to think about:Slide27 Slide28


  1. Great stuff. It’s a shame that there isn’t a link to a full-sized verson of your Visme infographic.

    I suspect that there is more learning to be had from learner-generated visuals than teacher-created visuals. In addition, to present information and ideas in a visual form as effectively as David McCandless requires skills and abilities which not may teachers have (as yet). I’d go further and say that even David’s visuals aren’t as intuitive as some might claim but really come alive when he adds other modalities such as his voice and gestures. (And I write as someone who loves and values visuals and thinks they are woefully underexploited in classes and learner materials.) However, we can get there! Paul

    1. I agree wholeheartedly that learner generated visuals are more valuable for learning, as the personal connections built by the learner makes them more memorable. However, I’d also argue that one needn’t be a skilled artist to generate visual representations, although this is an area I want to explore more practically in my classrooms. As the teacher I frequently try to ‘worsen’ my drawings on the whiteboard as I think drawings that learners see as particularly good can intimidate and act as a barrier to them feeling comfortable enough to draw their own. I also encourage ‘private drawing’ where learners are not obliged to share what they’ve done.

      1. I am really fascinated with the method Learner Generated Visuals.I have taken part in your classes in Brighton this Year in August during the course for teachers. I have big request – Could you possibly send some materials for this lesson for us. In my notes I have found only the task of drawing tenses, and drawings of some vocabulary : Friday, jealousy, idea and so on. I am going to present a kind of workshop for my colleagues in my school about this method,but I still feel I don’t have enough materials.
        I am looking forward to your answer, as quickly as possibly.
        Małgorzata Mencel -Owczarek from Poland

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