Why everyone can and should draw in their ELT Classroom

Recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with using drawings in the classroom. In this high-tech era, drawing is a back to basics approach and the perfect excuse to get away from a screen.  My drawings are quick and simple.  They are not attempting to be Takashi Murakami or Christine Clark.  They have at times drawn funny looks (pun totally intended) or initiated laughter, but that’s OK.  Students get the message and we have fun doing so. Plus, imperfect drawings teach students that it’s ok to be imperfect – and encourages them to confidently create their own imperfect drawings.

Using drawings in class is a brilliant multisensory way of adding some fun to your lessons, concept checking, get students thinking critically and as a tool for mediation. It’s also great for memory. The drawing effect refers to a 2016 study by Wammes, Meade and Fernandes which found that drawing can aid vocabulary retention. The study gave participants a list of simple words and asked them to either write the word repeatedly or draw it. The results showed that participants recalled twice as many drawn words as written.

The best bit is that drawing works well online and face to face. Hand-drawn visuals engage participants as they bring a piece of analogue into the digital world. You can prepare the visuals before class. In a live class you can point your webcam at a notebook or flipchart, treat yourself to a visualiser or use the annotate tools. Obviously your drawings won’t be as pretty using a mouse but isn’t that part of the fun? Again, it’s not about artistic magnificence, it’s about communication.

Using annotation tools with a visual template to navigate the digital swamp in a recent webinar.

There are lots of ways to use drawings and visuals in the classroom. You can check out my previous blogs posts, or this padlet where I have compiled some of my favourites from other ELT afficionados. Feel free to contact me with any others I should add.

Neil Cohn has some wonderful research into the use of drawings as a visual language. One of his papers discusses how most people lose their drawing ability in their teens, and with it their visual communication skills. He has found the use of drawings to be beneficial to interaction, motor skills, feedback, culture, motivation and emotions.

This research resonates with me. When I was about 12 or 13, I had to choose which courses to study at school. I swithered a lot between PE or Art but finally chose PE because at the time I wanted to be a personal trainer. When I broke the news to my art teacher, he looked genuinely dejected. I wish someone had told me that learning to draw is a communication skill for life while fitness comes and goes.

A quick diagram to compare my fitness and drawing skills since I was a teenager.

Many people believe that they can’t draw, and I have to admit that until I met Emer O’Leary I had started to believe this myth about myself. Her Secrets of Simple Graphics course put me back on the visual pathway and led me to signing up to go full Graphic Facilitator.

I’d love to support the ELT community to grow their visual vocabulary and add ‘visual’ to their list of lingua francas. I’m now running Online Courses to help you do this!

Why not join me and learn how to engage your learners with simple drawings? Follow this link to find out more: www.emilybrysonelt.com/online-courses/

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