When I first discovered the world of visual supports as a new teacher, even though I was SO excited about the positive changes that they brought to my classroom, I admit that sometimes I felt overwhelmed. Because whenever I heard someone say ‘visual supports would be great for this student’, I had visions of being up till the week hours, searching the internet for suitable images, taking photos, printing, laminating, cutting out tiny boxes, adding Velcro, remembering to bring them to school, etc, etc, etc.
But what I learnt (after I stopped catastrophising this fiction!) is that not ALL visual supports have to be pictures! Whilst the use of pictures and symbols is ONE form of visual supports, there are so many other visual supports which don’t include any pictures – visual supports that are quicker to prepare AND visual supports that you can seamlessly integrate into your teaching day!
Don’t believe me? Keep reading:
What Are Visual Supports?
Visual supports are a visual tool to communicate information, concepts, rules and procedures, routines and other details for students.
Visual supports can be in picture form, such as photographs, symbols or images but visual supports can also be in written form, such as written words.
Who Benefits from Visual Supports?
There is a LOT of evidence to demonstrate that visual supports benefit many different groups of students. Visual supports were originally used with Autistic children and other children who are known to learn in a visual way.
However, research has shown (and my own classroom experience has shown!) that the use of visual supports actually benefits ALL students.
Think about it – when you use visual supports, you are essentially reinforcing your verbal message. This means that the students who have missed your verbal message can still take in the information via the visual supports.
This means that you are spending less time prepping your students for activities, rules, routines and steps involved in a task and can actually teach more!
My Top 3 Visual Supports That Are Not Pictures
Whilst I’m a huge fan of using visual supports in the picture form, sometimes in your classroom, the visuals that you need don’t ALWAYS have to be pictures. Maybe you ran out of time to print those visuals you needed for today’s lesson. Or maybe you couldn’t quite find the right pictures. Not to worry! You can still have structures in place within your classroom that allow you modify any lesson to make it more visual for all your students:
In my opinion, a hard copy calendar should be a staple in every classroom! Whilst Smartboard calendars are wonderful, students really benefit from a physical item that is CONSTANT (meaning they can refer to it at any time). They can put stickers on special days, they can touch each day to count down, the list is endless.
Calendars are brilliant for talking about passage of time and prepping your students for what’s ahead, whether it be tomorrow, next week or next year.
Boom! A visual support that is not a picture!
#2: WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS FOR TASK STEPS
Once we move on from the preschool and Kindergarten ‘colour/cut/paste’ visual picture schedule, it is still so important to provide a visual of the steps involved in a classroom activity.
Instructions become far MORE COMPLEX in the upper primary years which means we need to support this increase in cognitive load! When you are teaching a spelling activity, you might write the following instructions on the board:
1.Open OneNote document ‘Books are better than Screens’ persuasive text
2.Check your text for high modality words (words like ‘definitely’ or ‘absolutely’)
3.Exchange texts with a partner
4.Read your partner’s persuasive text
5.Write 2 things they could add to make their persuasive text stronger
No pictures required! But you have just provided some FANTASTIC scaffolding for your students.
#3: A First-Then Chart
First-Then Charts, in my opinion, are the staple of any classroom. If you’re constantly wondering what to do with those ‘Fast Finishers’, a First-Then Chart is a great way to them to independently move on their next classroom activity, leaving you free to continue teaching those students who need additional support. It also saves your voice!
Try blowing up a First-Then Chart to A3 size and then laminate it. All you then need to do is simply write one or two words in each box that represents the activity you need them to do. Here’s an example I used with my students just this week!
No time to reinvent the wheel? You don’t have to!
You can grab a free First-Then Chart right here to start using in your classroom right now: