A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words … Or At Least The 10 Repeated Regularly

I’ve been thinking a lot about visuals lately. Even with short gathering times, we can easily give a lot of instructions to students. Sometimes we repeat these instructions constantly.

Put your lunch bag on the hook.

Push in your chair.

Quiet voices.

Hands to yourself.

Remember to pick up your garbage.

If I really think carefully about my day, I’m sure that there are many more phrases that I say often. Why keep repeating myself?

I can’t help but think about Ross Greene‘s saying that, “Children do well if they can.” With this belief, then wouldn’t students choose to follow the oral directions and/or regular routines if they could do so? Maybe not all students can remember the steps or hear and understand the oral instructions. If we think about it, even adults use pseudo-visuals as they create To Do Lists and complete agendas or daybooks. Visuals work.

That being said, I know that I’ve wondered before how I’m going to transition individual students with visuals or remember to refer to the visuals instead of talking so much. I wonder if using more visuals with the class — for even just some routine reminders — could be the answer. I’m not suggesting that we micromanage every behaviour, but instead, reduce stress, limit talking, and increase predictability with some simple picture and/or written word cues. I wonder how many other strategies that help some students, might actually benefit all. How might this thinking impact on our use of these strategies in the classroom? What do you think? 


16 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words … Or At Least The 10 Repeated Regularly

  1. I know they are so young. But wonder if internalized when they claim more ownership of this behavior. Whether self-regulation or executive function challenges might need time to develop. I wonder who will direct them to look at the visuals? So a developmental lag at the moment maybe. BTW I like visuals. Can they be in charge of creating them & in the discussion of why the visuals are needed. Just thinking as I read your post.

    • Thanks for the comment, Faige! I definitely think that students’ self-regulation skills are continuing to develop. Also, for students where English is a second language and language skills are still developing, the visuals provide an understanding of some concepts that may be more difficult to understand without them. I’ll admit that I’ve used a combination of teacher-created and student-created visuals. I love when students can take ownership over the visuals and make them on their own, but for some students, more “true to life images” are needed to aid in understanding. This could certainly change as the year goes on.

      As I read your comment, I thought about having the students take some photographs of items that could be used for visuals. We could then do some shared writing, using these images and text in an app like PicCollage. We just need to print the collages, and then we have the visuals. You’ve now given me a new idea, and a purpose for those iPads hidden in the cupboard (connected with my last blog post). 🙂

      Sometimes timing is the issue, and when visuals are needed quickly, I’ll admit it helps when I can make them. So, like many other things, I hope that these visuals will evolve throughout the year, and more student work can become a part of them. Thanks for getting me to think more about this and about an exciting new option!


  2. I love the idea of visuals and having the students involved in making them. They will still need reminders and to have the “approrpaite” behaviour modeled for them. They are not old enough yet to manage all on their own. They will need time to learn the routines and integrate the expecations into their behaviour. Even with those lessons and the visuals many kindergarten studnets will still need loads of reminders. Building independent students takes time 😃

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I definitely agree with you that this will take time, even with the visuals. But I’m hoping that the visuals will mean less talking time, especially repeating the same instructions multiple times. I also wonder if students can become overwhelmed with too many oral instructions, and if visuals, might reduce this stress. I think this plan will work.


  3. Aviva,

    Overstimulation with auditory stimulus is likely to occur in a busy kindergarten classroom. At some point the voices just become background noise. It makes me think that maybe you need another way to signal that it is time to listen – so that the kids know to stop what they are doing and pay attention. Maybe that would decrease the need to repeat. Just a tought.

    • This idea auditory overstimulation is also a helpful thought process for my grade 6 classroom — thanks Sarah! Sometimes when I’m giving lots of verbal “to-do’s”, my voice becomes like the adult “wah-wah-wah” voice in the Peanuts cartoons on t.v.. Unintelligible backround noise 🙂

      I have a colleague who used to have a music box in her grade 4 classroom and she would open it to get students to stop & listen — the “twinkly” music really caught the attention of her class and students stopped to listen every time.

      • Thanks for the comment, Michelle! I hope that my reply to Sarah helps clarify things a bit. Using music for attention has certainly been beneficial from what I’ve observed (whether in the case of a music box or an instrument).


    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! Sorry! I don’t think I was very clear in my last response. We do use a musical sound to get attention, and that works very well for quieting students and focusing on the speaker. A quick phonemic awareness activity or even a short game of Simon Says, really works well for bringing down the excitement and ensuring that students are ready for follow-up instructions.

      What I meant is that oral instructions can be hard for some students to follow. It’s almost like too much to take in. The visuals can just act as the quick reminders, so that we can simply point to what to do next: speaking less, or less of the same thing, and still communicating the idea (e.g., visuals to maybe depict quiet sitting or the three steps in the morning entry routine). For some students with language needs, the visuals can attach meaning to the words being said. I hope this explains things more!


  4. Hi Aviva,
    I love the idea of visuals to support routine behaviours! Reducing the noise clutter in busy classrooms will give students a chance to process the initial directions if they are followed up with a visual reminder. Repeated instructions eventually become almost inaudible for many students. A great idea, and one which I am going to try to implement.

    • Thanks Ruth! These are the reasons we’ve started using some simple visuals, and we’ve found that they really do work well. I’m curious to hear how they work for your students!


  5. I am completely in the same place with my grade 6 class. If I had a dollar for every time I repeated instructions…….

    I have been much more intentional this year about explicity teaching/co-creating and referring to anchor charts for learning skills — clean-up routine, accountable talk/collaboration skills, in particular.

    Here are some of my random thoughts:

    1. Some students don’t have the self-regulation (developmental?) to take the initiative to refer to the reminders/visuals I provide for them…..I always struggle to know how to best help them. They need prompting in the way of visuals….and then prompting to refer to the visuals.

    2. Some students (e.g. with central auditory issues, ADD/ADHD) need to repeat the steps back to me….but I am only one person and there are many of them. I wonder if I could have the class of 32 chorus the steps/instructions back to me? (what’s good for one might be good for all….). That would be pretty noisy

    3. I catch myself assuming that all students use pictures as a visual reminder, but some students don’t think in pictures, and prefer a list of words as a visual reminder.

    • Thanks for the reply, Michelle! Here is some of my thinking about your three main thoughts:

      1) Could pointing to the visuals act as the silent reminder about them and about what to do?

      2) Could written as well as visual instructions help instead of repeating steps aloud? Do students that need to repeat, have to do so to you? Could they quietly tell a partner what to do, and could that partner help correct misconceptions? Then students are supporting each other.

      3) Could pictures be accompanied by simple text? This is what we do as well. Then students can use what works best for them.

      Thanks for sharing your Grade 6 experiences!

  6. I love the idea of visuals for our learners and having them be a part of putting it together. While reading your post, I immediately thought of my primary classroom when I was little that had a picture posted by the door of a mouth with a zipper! Talk about powerful!

    • Thanks Sylvia! Yes, some simple visuals can communicate a very powerful message. How might you use visuals in the classroom? What visuals do you think you might add to the classroom and why? I’m always curious about different options.


  7. Aviva – more clear and I totally agree with the processing and comprehending for the visual learners and those with langauge learning challenges.

    Love that challenges in K also translate to challenges in grd 6! Maybe there is more to the issues we are seeing around language processing… Is it all about the attention or are our students struggling on a deeper neurological level?

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I think that we’re having some similar thinking here. I don’t think that it’s all about attention. I really wonder if all students understand and/or remember the oral instructions. Or are we, as educators, just talking too much, such that students begin to tune out the instructions that are frequently repeated? I think of myself at a meeting. If somebody talks to me for too long, I stop “hearing” what they’re saying. I’m not choosing to ignore them, but just get overwhelmed by so much “talk.” I wonder how many students feel the same way.


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