Monday, April 1, 2013

Visual Literacy - Investigate and Play with Images

Visual Literacy - Investigate and Play with Images

by Susan Stephenson,

Our world is becoming more complex visually. We must help kids think critically about what they see. (We also need to help them develop the skills they need to consciously produce visual content that targets an audience appropriately. I'll be discussing ways we can do this next week.)

One of the simplest ways to develop children's visual literacy and help them think critically is to incorporate questions into the picture book readings we share with kids. I remain adamant that the first read aloud of a book is purely for entertainment, and for sharing the sheer joy and wonder of a story. That means I read with all my skills - voice, face, acting - and forget about questions that interrupt the flow. But good books demand a re-read, and that's when I try to focus on helping kids think about the visual aspects of a picture book.

Here's my very simple method with picture books: TAKE A CLOSE look at the special features of picture books with kids after a re-reading. Encourage visual literacy by discussing illustrations and thinking aloud.

Obviously, picture books are not the only kinds of visual texts. When working with kids, we encounter maps, tables, graphs, story boards, diagrams, street signs, posters, ads, TV shows, movies, websites, and more. It makes good sense as a parent and teacher to take advantage of all these different formats by pointing them out when we notice them in daily life. Encourage kids to share what they notice.

If children are involved with activities centred around images online, it's an excellent time to talk about copyright and Creative Commons licenses with them. Digital literacy and visual literacy both need to incorporate messages about being a responsible consumer and keeping safe online. The Copyright and Copyleft Wiki is a great starting point.

By encouraging kids to play with images - to manipulate them, examine them, use them to tell a story or transmit a message, we're also helping them develop visual literacy skills. This can be done in real life, for instance at an art gallery, at the shops, with kids' own artwork. It can be done with digital image software like ComicLife. It can be done with iPad apps like Haiku Deck or Strip Designer. OR it can be done online.

Websites like Wonderopolis really encourage kids to learn with visuals and text. With the Wonderopolis Wonderizer, kids are presented with a daily image and encouraged to customise that image by adding vocabulary words, text, videos, photos, more images etc. The customisations lead them to explore a subject further, and delve into different formats. I love the idea of encouraging kids to wonder - to speculate about what might be, or what might cause something.

Introducing kids to an online photo editor like Ribbet is another fun way to help them investigate while they play with images. Make sure kids understand the different purposes for using an image - do they need it to prove or demonstrate something or perhaps to add interest to a poster or other project? Most online photo editors are fairly intuitive but sharing a simple project with your kids will teach them a lot.

Another website that helps kids to think critically about images is Image Detective. It helps kids work through a process with some scaffolding where they first pose a question about an image, then gather clues about it to find an answer. Image Detective helps kids tease out answers and supplies further information that leads to a conclusion. Kids can also see the model of a scholar 'reading' an image.

Be sure to check out the wonderful resources on Visual Literacy produced by Frank W Baker as part of his Media Literacy Clearing House. I particularly value the resources Frank has gathered on Is Seeing Believing with questions to ask about media messages.

Next week I'll bring you Producing Visual Content Online with Kids with some more of my favourite places kids can do this.

Here are some articles at The Book Chook with more ideas for visual (and often digital) literacy:

If you've enjoyed this post, or any others at The Book Chook, I'd love you to help me spread my fun with literacy, learning and literature ideas by promoting via Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, StumbleUpon, G+ or any other way you decide. 


  1. Great post...a topic that is often ignored but is so important!

  2. @Loreen Leedy Yes, I think you're right, it is often ignored, but once we're aware of the importance of visual literacy, it's easy to incorporate into our parent/teacher toolbox!

  3. Hope you and your readers will peruse the resources I have gathered on my visual literacy page, part of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse

  4. @Frank I love your work, Frank - your site is a tremendous resource for teachers and parents. I particularly value the questions to ask to help tease out media messages:


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