12 ways a picture can improve the impact of your teaching

12 ways to use a pictureIt’s often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Images take you powerfully into a situation and can tell a story more quickly and directly than language. Children, who struggle with abstract concepts, are always drawn to pictures, as those of us who use visuals regularly in our teaching will know. In fact research suggests that we remember things we see twice as easily as things we hear. Here are 12 ways to use images to increase the impact of your teaching:

1. To Accompany a Story
The most obvious way to use an image is to provide another narrative tool. You tell the story orally but use pictures to cement it in children’s minds. This caters for the visual as well as the aural learner as well as providing concrete impressions of characters, settings and events. Ideally you need a sequence of pictures to tell the story step by step.

2. To Recap
Another option is to tell the children the story first then use the pictures to help them revise the events. This can be done in question and answer format.

3. As a Prediction Exercise
The first two methods suggest the telling of the story comes first. However you can also use pictures to encourage the children to interact with the narrative. Show them a picture and ask them to suggest what happens next. By stimulating them to speculate on events you allow ‘ownership’ of the story and this will increase their involvement and understanding.

4. As a Test of Understanding
Sometimes we think children have understood a story but we do not really know what they have grasped. Giving them a pile of pictures, either copied for individuals if you have a small class, or one set per group, allows them to sort the pictures into narrative order. Children love this! It gives them an opportunity to work with each other, to pit their understanding against other children (you can always make it a quiz and offer prizes) and to test their own comprehension of the story. It also allows you, the teacher, to assess what they have understood and to find and fill in any gaps.

5. To Increase Awareness of Other Cultures
Children find it difficult to imagine what people from other parts of the world look like. Culturally accurate images of characters help them to understand the appearance of people from different races. Pictures can provide a discussion point and help the children fix these differences in their minds.

6. To Increase Awareness of Other Times
History is another abstract concept children struggle with. Some bible stories took place over 3,000 years ago. That is hard enough for adults to grasp let alone children! Historically accurate images can correct any misunderstandings that children may have about the past and teach them a great deal about history without having to labour the point!

7. For Fun!
We mustn’t neglect the importance of fun in children’s learning! Educational experts believe E.Q (Emotional intelligence) to be as important as I.Q. Children who have fun want to come to your classes and if they have enjoyed an activity they will remember it better. Pictures can be cut into pieces to make jigsaw puzzles, which can be reassembled individually, in pairs or in small groups. The children think they are playing a game but you know they are also consolidating their knowledge of the story!

8. To Organise Groups
We all know the sad situation of the child who is never picked for a team (some of us were that child!) Allowing children to organise their own groups can be a hurtful experience for those left out. A solution to this can be to cut pictures into as many pieces as you require team members, distribute the pieces randomly and allow the children to find the rest of their team by working out who has pieces from their picture. This adds a fun and competitive element to the exercise and children often forget to complain they aren’t with their friends! (And of course they are also subconsciously preparing or revising the story as well.)

9. To Promote Life Awareness
Sadly all children will eventually encounter death and illness – and these topics occur frequently in the bible. Appropriate pictures help children meet these ‘rite of passage’ situations in a safe way and as teachers we can prepare them lovingly, often helping children to practise coping strategies before they are needed for real.

10. To reach Children with Special Needs
Pictures are great for children with special needs. They can communicate powerfully to the deaf, help mentally handicapped children grasp a story in a simplified way and cross cultural and linguistic barriers.

11. To Help Children to Empathise
We often say ‘ what would you do if you were x?’ or ‘put yourself in their shoes’ but children are generally self-centered and find it hard to imagine being someone else. Again, pictures can help with this. If you can ask parents to donate copies of the child’s photo (or take them yourself with permission) you can cut them out and stick the child’s face over a bible character’s. Literally putting the child into the situation helps them to interact with it on a personal level and encourages skills of empathy and understanding. It also promotes some very interesting discussion…!

12. To Promote fairness
Pin the pictures from the story around the room. Give each child a post it sticker. If they are old enough, get them to write a question on the sticker and attach it to the relevant story. If they are too young to write, ask them to put a tick on the sticker and attach it to a part of the story they like or a question mark by something they don’t understand. You can answer the questions anonymously. This gives the shyer child a voice and ensures everyone has a chance to contribute without a few children being allowed to dominate.

4 thoughts on “12 ways a picture can improve the impact of your teaching

  1. Thank you so much! I thought I had explored every possible way to use the Bible images (which are a wonderful resource!) but you have given me even more food for thought. I love the idea of cutting pictures into pieces to reassemble as a way of finding your team. I also thought the idea of putting a photo of a child’s face (or a helper’s face) onto a character’s body is an amazing idea to encourage empathy. I shall certainly use both those ideas in the coming weeks! Thank you again.

  2. Thank you for this informative article. I am a retired teacher and still put out a homily,
    or blog whatever. However, one of your pictures or local photo helps considerably to
    emphasise a spiritual theme and softens any offence which may be taken when using
    the Scriptures as an example.
    Beautiful life-like drawings…….well done ! How about producing a young persons
    “comic ” ?. What a great way of teaching the Gospel.

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