Lesson 4: Introduction to Visual Templates

Visual templates are an underpinning tool in graphic facilitation. They are helpful for visualising and exploring a variety of topics. 

It is essentially a technique which turns a plain flipchart, whiteboard or screen into a visual prompt to guide and focus students’ attention. It uses simple iconography to represent topics and bold text to catch their eyes and imaginations.

Using visual templates will make your lessons stand out from the crowd and engage your learners. I also find they are a great way to interact with learning in an accessible and memorable way. 

You can use visual templates in many ways. If you create a template on a flipchart, you can roll it up and store it for the next time you need it. You can also do this by taking a photo of your work or using digital tools to save it. 

At the end of this lesson, I’d like you to create your own visual template, then upload it in the ‘Upload Coursework’ section of this module. If you get an opportunity to use it first, I’d love to hear how you used it and your reflections. Share your reflections and lesson ideas in the forum. 

Let’s look at some visual templates. 

The mountain and the hot air balloon

Visual templates are often based on metaphors. In this example, the mountain signifies challenges while the hot air balloon represents ways to overcome the challenges. 

The beauty of visual templates is that they can be used in many ways. I created this visual template for an action research project I was mentoring. The tutor was exploring the impact of meditation on trauma experienced learners. 

Students were given an A4 photocopy of the template. They each wrote what challenges they faced that had an impact on their daily lives. They then considered things they do to lift themselves up or overcome the challenges. 

I have also used this template to: 

– Discuss challenges students have with their language learning.

– Explore everyday challenges teachers have at work.

– Brainstorm challenges students with literacy needs face. 

– Help students consider their goals (the top of the mountain) and how to achieve them. 

– Talk about likes and dislikes – We just used the hot air balloon for this. The balloon itself was ‘things that lift me up/I like’ and the weights were ‘things I want to cut off/dislike’. This is a good way of using more complex language for like and dislike (e.g. I’m (not) a fan of, I’m really into, I feel great when, etc).

Do you have any other ideas for how to use this template? Share them in the forum. 

Balloon Mountain



The road map

No course on graphic facilitation would be complete without a journey map template.  As with many visual templates, the journey map (a road, river, pathway or even a set of stairs) can be used in many ways. 

Here’s two examples which I’ve used successfully multiple times. 

The road map on the left is from my 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills book. It supports the development of organisation, self-awareness, goal setting and planning. There is evidence to suggest that having clear goals and plans for how to achieve them makes success more likely. Supporting learners to identify their goals, then map how to use them can be motivating and empowering. 

Start by considering where they want to be in a certain time period (e.g. 5 years), then add where they are now. Students can collaborate and share ideas on what steps they might take to get there. 

You can draw the road map on the board and ask students to copy it, or provide them with a photocopied template. Some learners may wish to draw their future plans, while other may simply like to add their own words. As a follow up, you can ask them to present their plans or write about them. 

Throughout the process draw attention to emergent language. I find that this works well for future forms such as ‘I want to’, ‘I will’, ‘I’m going to’ and ‘I need to.’ If you’re asking students to collaborate and support each other, you could also teach some useful language for giving advice, e.g. ‘Have you thought about…?’ or ‘Maybe you could try…?’.

I’ve also used the road map with teachers. I created the Action Research Planner on the right to help teachers plan and deliver an action research project. Participants start at the bottom with with a problem (e.g. how to improve vocabulary retention). Then, in the lightbulbs, they note three ideas for possible solutions (e.g. vocabulary notebook, weekly tests, revision activities). After that, they cross to the  other side of the road and look for help. This involves reading around the problem and talking to experts and peers. They then decide on a course of action, trial it and collect the evidence. Throughout the process they’ll be encouraged to reflect (perhaps using another visual template). My mentees all said that they found this template very useful in the initial planning stages.  

You could also use this map to: 

  • tell a story
  • share the course curriculum
  • teach sequencing language (e.g. first, second, then, finally)

How would you use the journey map with your classes? Share your ideas in the forum. 

The container flipchart

In Module 1: Build your visual vocabulary, we looked at containers. These are icons that we can use to give some white space for participants to complete a task or add their ideas. For example, in the Action Research Road Map, I’ve used a lightbuld as a container for ideas. 

In these flipcharts, I’ve used icons as prompts or containers. This activates the imagination and adds a bit of intrigue to the activity. 

You’ll notice that I’ve made each flipchart are little more pleasing on the eye by adding a border and some pins or tapes in the top corners. This also adds a little fun and turns the flipchart into it’s own container. You can also do this with a whiteboard. 

Here are some ways I’d use each template: 

Energy sources: 

– Display it on the wall. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups. Give each group some post its. Ask them to write the advantages and disadvantages of each energy source on their post its. Discuss all the responses as a whole class. Students could then do some research to find out some facts, write a report or deliver a presentation. 

Reduce Plastic Waste: 

– Display the template in an online whiteboard such Jamboard, Mural or Miro. Ask students to think of ways they could reduce plastic or ways they do reduce plastic. Ask them to add their ideas using annotation tools in the video conferencing software or using virtual post its. 

Ways to save electricity. 

– You could use this in a similar way to those above. You could also use all three templates together as a ‘paper carousel’. Ask students to work in three groups. Give each group one of the templates. Ask them to add their ideas using post its. After five minutes or so, pass the template to the next table (or ask them to walk to the next template if they’re hanging on the wall) and ask them to add any additional ideas. Repeat the process until each group has interacted with each visual template. Then share ideas and discuss as a whole. 

How would you use these in class? What language points might you focus on? 

Graphic Organisers

A graphic organiser or ‘one pager’ is a teaching tool which helps learners organise information and ideas. It can help them to understand and remember information. It can also reduce processing load, which is particularly useful to learners who may feel overwhelmed by too much text. 

As with most templates. There are multiple uses. Here’s a couple that I use often with my students. 

You’ll notice that both are quite quick and drafty. I wanted to include these as I want to remind you that graphic facilitation is not art. Students and teachers don’t have time to create masterpieces. And my class certainly doesn’t want to watch me draw an intricate hummingbird on the whiteboard. So here they are in all their glorious, real life scrappiness. 

The Hummingbird organiser is an adaptation of a lesson in Voices (beginner), a coursebook I wrote for National Geographic Learning. I wanted to have a bit of fun with the listening activity, and reduce processing load on my students. I teach a lot of learners with limited literacy so reading questions whilst listening to an audio can be distracting. 

I find that creating a template where they have only a few words, with sections to complete is very supportive. When I did this, not one student asked to listen to the audio for the third time – which is a first! It didn’t even take any preparation time. I simply drew the template on the board and asked them to copy it, then listen and complete. 

The vocabulary organiser on the right is a technique I use to train learners in effective notetaking and to aid their vocabulary retention. For every new word, learners can interact with it multiple times in a variety of ways. First, they write the word, then the meaning in their language, then they draw a picture and add an example sentence of the word used in context. 

Have you used techniques like this with your students? Share your experiences and ideas in the forum. 


Over to you!

I’ve given you lots of examples of visual templates and how to use them with your learners. 

Now it’s time to create your own. 

Think about a lesson or training session you are delivering soon. Create a visual template for that lesson. Share your work in the forum or submit it directly to me in the ‘Upload your work’ section.