A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Visual imagery is a powerful tool, especially in today’s digital age. But how can I make the images I use with my students stand out from the hundreds, or possibly thousands of images my students see on a daily basis?

People are more likely to remember your content in the form of  stories and examples, and they are also more likely to remember your content if your visuals are unique, powerful and of the highest quality.
-The power of the Visual: Learning from Down Under promotion videos

Agreed! A picture paints a thousand words, especially if it is tied to a meaningful or powerful experience. In our current unit, we are studying the Netherlands, and how it changed over time. One of our major focuses is the battle with water that the Dutch have been fighting for centuries, and how technology has impacted it. We tell the students that the Netherlands is below sea level and that without the water management infrastructure 1/3 of the country would be underwater. It’s a powerful fact, but can be difficult to visualize and really understand. So I went digging for some images that would help make these facts really mean something in the minds of my 4th Graders.

Fact: 1/3 of the Netherlands is below sea level!

Fact: The intricate water management system allows cities like Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam exist.

The image below I feel is even more powerful than the two above. The side-by-side comparison of what the Netherlands would look like with and without reclaimed land. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this one on Creative Commons, but hopefully, it’s sited correctly:

How does the ability to use, create and/or manipulate imagery foster effective communication?

The result of using these visual images with my students was powerful. Many of my students are developing their English language skills, and building their academic language. Saying 1/3 of the Netherlands would be under water, and showing them a map which shows exactly what would be underwater (including our homes and school) gave the information meaning that is clear and relevant to their personal lives. Many of the students went on to design their research project around the water management system in the Netherlands and demonstrated an understanding of a challenging topic. Some went on to include water management and the threat rising sea levels could have on the Netherlands in the future. One of my students included this idea in their Genius Hour project and are hoping to answer the big question: How will water management need to improve as sea levels rise?

Visual imagery is a powerful tool that teachers can use to help students

  • engage
  • understand
  • visualize
  • process
  • draw their own conclusions
  • solidify understanding

The list goes on and on!


Jennifer Byrnes

My name is Jen and this is my 10th year as an educator. I am a fourth-grade teacher at the American School of the Hague. I have lived and worked in the US, Uk, Italy, China and the Netherlands. I have taught grades K-4.

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2 Responses

  1. Loved the reminder about the importance of visuals, Jennifer. As an English literature teacher, I think I often forget how powerful images can be when combined with the power of words. I also have many language learners in my classroom in Taipei. Have you thought about asking them to find/source images for homework that might better show things that you’ve discussed or introduced in class? Just an idea! I find that my students are very savvy with technology and images. Often it will take them about half of the time it would take me to find high quality and relevant images. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  2. Brandon says:

    Absolutely – powerful reminders with these maps. That’s even eye-opening for me. Or similarly, the maps that show what cities and areas worldwide would be inundated should the oceans rise by a specific amount. I think this is a terrific example of how images can convey an idea that otherwise would be abstract and easy to dismiss.

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