Using Visual Materials in EFL classroom

17/05/2010 09:03

 Presented at PEKADE seminar December  2010

by Barbara Crespi PhD

School Advisor for Teachers of English A’ Athinon


Students learn in many different ways. Research has shown that children do better if they are allowed to follow their own personal learning styles. Some students best remember materials they’ve seen, some remember things they’ve heard, while others remember things they’ve experienced. Visual learners are those who learn through seeing things. A visual learner likes bright colors, flash cards, charts, computers and videos. Providing extra visual material brings interest and variety, a change from the course book and will attract the attention of the otherwise, very often, poor learner. 


Today’s children have been raised in a visually stimulating world, surrounded by   noise, colour and movement. Many of them are hyperactive and in consequence have learning difficulties. Their attention span is limited to a few minutes, depending on their age of course. However, even at secondary school the slightest movement will have them annoying their neighbour and disrupting the rest of the class. To help these students we can provide extra visual stimuli.


Traditionally, the ‘good’ teacher prepares cards of pictures using old magazines etc., pasting the pictures on old cereal boxes and the like. Today however, with the advance in technology, we are also able to use a lap top computer and a video projector and to project a greater variety of more interesting and relevant visuals. For example, we can begin a lesson with a series of images downloaded very easily from the Internet and shown as a slide show to brainstorm ideas and to generate discussion.


The computer can also be used simply and easily as a word processer. For example, linking words can be practiced by getting students to put a jumbled text in the correct order. We can download or write a text in one tense or one person and ask students to change them to another. The required language can be written in a different colour. By using brightly coloured fonts and highlighters to focus on the grammatical function or the vocabulary, we can attract the visual learner to the text and help them to learn more easily.


Likewise, we can help students to improve their writing. For example, by downloading a simple text from the primary and gymnasium course books ( and getting pupils to highlight all the adjectives one colour, all the adverbs another, and so on, will help them to understand how to improve and elaborate their writing. Chunks of language and expressions can also be focused on in this way.



For example, see the letter on page 148 of the B Gymnasium advanced level book.


Dear Lydia,

After two lovely days in Athens, I’m all packed and ready to go. I’m waiting for the rest of the group to come down, so I’m writing this final e-mail before we come back home. At last! It’s been an amazing trip, an unforgettable experience, the journey of a lifetime. It was extraordinary seeing the endless variety of cultures, customs and traditions, and the differences that exist in the ways people look and behave. And although we couldn’t agree on what country was the best, or where we had the most fun, we did all agree on one thing: no matter where they come from and despite their endless differences, people everywhere are basically the same, with the same needs, fears and hopes for the future … It’s a comforting thought, I think …

See you in a few hours!



Similarly, letters can be downloaded to focus on the format (see below, B class gymnasium, advanced level, page 141).


Dear Frank,                                            opening greeting                             

I know I promised to send you a letter            reason for

right away, but we’ve been on the go              (not)

 non-stop – we’ve barely had time to             writing

catch our breath! Anyway,here we are                  

in London, sitting in a pub on the banks        telling the

of the river Thames, eating fish and                news

chips and watching the people go by. I’m

still pinching myself! … London is

everything we thought it would be,

and more! Tomorrow is going to be a

busy day… Some of us are visiting

Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-

Avon and the others are going to Thorpe

Park –if it doesn’t rain!...

But …..

Okay, have to go now! It’s almost time         reason for

for ‘me tea, dearie’! (Did that sound              ending the

 British?). I’ll send you your next                  letter

update from Helsinki and

I’ll try to fit in some pictures!

Lots of love,                                              ending

Stefanos                                                 salutation



The Internet is a marvelous source for materials and many sites are free or at least give a free preview so that you can get ideas.

Useful sites for finding materials on the Internet (search with Google) (Dave Sperling) /linguascope free preview (hot potato 6 - free authoring suite)


However, where advanced technology is not available young children especially should be encouraged to find pictures themselves for projects. Personal photos may be used to allow them to talk about the familiar. Simple stick drawings on the board by the teacher can illustrate people and objects. These can create amusement and improve self-esteem if a child recognizes that they are more talented than the

teacher. (the drawings below were downloaded free from ‘clipart’)


Young children like to move around the classroom and learn through doing as we know. Role plays can be prompted by pictures of situations (like the ‘clip art’ drawings) easily mounted on simple flash cards.

Flash cards should be clearly drawn and large enough for the whole class to see if blu-tacked to the blackboard. Use a thick pen to draw. They can be cut from magazines etc. They must be simple. They can be made on a piece of white card and used again and again. Commercially made flash cards are a little expensive but if they can be used for many different activities it may be worth investing in a pack.


The OHP can and should be used for helping the visual learner if there is no computer available. They are available in all almost schools (look for them) and you will find that the hyperactive learner is always willing to carry it to the classroom for you. The advantage of the over head projector is that the teacher need not turn his or her back. Thus exercises can be done while facing the class and can be prepared at home so that less time is lost. Transparencies of basic EFL teaching topics such as the difference between formal and informal letters (for lyceum students) can be copied from the course books, saved on WORD, added to, in order to highlight where dates, addresses and so on are written, then they can be printed in colour on good transparencies from the computer and used over and over again. Other less expensive transparencies can be used with water soluble (non-permanent) pens in a similar manner to the white /black board.


Finally, the Internet is, as I have already mentioned, a brilliant source of material. ‘You tube’ video clips are easily downloaded and can be shown to great effect to all ages and levels. English is the world’s foremost, second language and we should be exploiting the benefits it offers us. We no longer ride a donkey to work, we use washing machines with ease, I’m reasonably sure that every single Greek, irrespective of age or economic viability, uses a mobile telephone. Computers bring their share of problems along with unsuitable television programmes and mobiles. However, the benefits to learning, especially for visual learners (like me to count one), if used judiciously, are not to be ignored. For example see the wonderful video of deaf children singing Imagine below.

Glee_Imagine.wmv (5,7 MB)




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