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Why Visuals Are Important for ELLs

There is no doubt that visuals are a significant aspect of learning for any student. They support the communication of key concepts throughout a topic or unit, function as a memory aid, and engage learners with lesson content by holding more appeal than simple text. The power of imagery in instruction is highlighted by the fact that 65% of the population are visual learners.


With all this in mind, however, visuals are not only important for all learners but vital for supporting English language learners (ELLs). The extra support visuals can provide to ELLs still developing English vocabulary and usage skills can turn unfamiliar concepts into familiar ones and help with understanding.

In this blog, we explore more about visuals and why they are important for multi-language learners.

How can visuals be included in lessons?

Visuals can include many items that can be found in the classroom. Specifically, these are any items that students can look at to support them in recalling and understanding a concept. The following is not an exhaustive list but a good outline of how visuals can be implemented in lessons.

  • A copy of the text – having the passage, extract or the reading book as a copy of the text you are covering in front of the student helps them follow along with the words as you read them. This is ideal for ELLs as it can help them fully comprehend the content in the text and enables them to practice reading skills.
  • Worksheets with imagery – sheets that include images to align with important concepts or vocabulary you are teaching are ideal for ELLs to support the recognition of words.
  • Vocabulary posters – sheets with images and vocabulary under them displayed in a classroom are ideal for encouraging recall and instilling the understanding of objects.
  • Activities involving imagery – lessons that include tasks such as drawing, diagrams, or graphics to support the explanation of concepts are valuable for recollecting vocabulary and aiding understanding of content.

Why are visuals important for ELLs?

There are so many ways visuals can be adopted in lessons. However, it’s important to know why we should focus on implementing them, especially for multi-language learners who need to develop their vocabulary and attain the confidence to speak another language.

Reduce nervousness and support confidence

Schools can be a place that induces anxiety for some students. This could be for academic or social reasons. For ELLs, this may be even more so as they might not be used to the culture and the language around them. With learning content, visuals can provide that stimulus to support ELLs’ recognition and recall. They’ll be put at ease as they can see the content you are teaching and have more of an idea of what is being discussed.

Support comprehension

Visuals are very important for some students to fully comprehend concepts as they inspire imagination and affect cognitive capabilities. It’s a good idea to include them at the right time during a lesson, such as before an activity is implemented. By introducing visuals earlier, multi-language learners can better understand what is being discussed in order to grasp the concept and aid their understanding. The right visual aids can encourage patience which is ideal for instilling at the start of your lesson.

Fosters emotions

There is a link between emotional response and visual stimuli. They are both processed in the same part of the brain and generate memories. This highlights that the power of images cannot be underestimated for multi-language learners as they act as visual metaphors to improve retention, create long-lasting impressions, and stimulate images from their own experiences to use in learning.

Cements information

According to Dr. Lynell Burmark, an education consultant who writes and speaks about visual literacy: “…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory, where we can only retain about seven bits of information.”

Dr. Lynell goes on to say: “Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”

Images can support the instilling of information in long-term memory, which is ideal for supporting ELL students as it shows that images can help the retention of information and learning of a language more quickly.

Promotes motivation

Adopting engaging images that captivate and have interesting statistics in a lesson can transform an unengaging topic or task into an interesting task ELLs want to take part in. Images can support learners in fighting the urge not to pay attention and motivate students to perform better.

Supports decoding

To support multi-language learners with fully understanding sounds and words, they need to hear and see text while reading. By allowing students to circle words or grammar to support them with grasping words, you are giving them another visual cue that can support pronunciation and the decoding of vocabulary.

Visual supports are present in technology

Many digital tools can support learning with visual tools and techniques. Edmentum’s Courseware, flexible digital curriculum for 6-12 students, includes highlighter tools and incorporates images and videos. These are important for ELLs as they support them with understanding vocabulary and content to better their English language learning.

Visual aids are essential for teachers to have in their toolkit to support ELLs and their learning. They can help ELLs to improve their English language proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They are ideal for speeding up ELLs’ language learning and academic accomplishments. Although students should be reminded and comforted that learning a language can take a long time, the process can certainly be made easier by implementing visuals in lessons.

If you are looking for more information on how to support ELLs, read our blog for advice on how to help newcomer students settle in and feel welcomed.


Questions about visual learning


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