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Do's and Don'ts For Teaching Visual Learners in a Language Class

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 10/9/2013

Learning styles have an impact on what and how we teach. Understanding strategies for teaching visual learners can help your ESL students get the most out of your English language classes.

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    Teaching Visual Learners in a Language Class Visual learners are those students who find it easiest and most effective to take in information through the visual medium. Visual learners learn well using formats such as:

    • Looking at whole words printed on a page
    • Using visual recall as a learning strategy
    • 'Imagining' what something looks like so they can remember it
    • Following visual cues and landmarks during a journey or task
    • Watching a video or DVD
    • Looking at photos or images on a screen
    • Watching someone else perform a task or activity
    • Viewing themselves performing a task or activity via filming and subsequent play back on a video camera

    As a tip for teachers, it is handy to get an understanding of how your students learn best, and tailor your teaching strategies for visual learners to include some of the above approaches. This will ensure visual learners are given information in a way which suits their preferences, but also helps them build other learning style skills. Remember it is not possible to learn everything in life (and particularly in an English language class!) through a visual teaching strategy.

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    Turn Offs: Not Recommended

    Visual learners often don't do so well with strategies such as:

    • Listening to a tape of a voice or recording
    • Hearing a teacher say a word and then repeating it
    • Copying the phonetic sounds made by a teacher
    • Following verbal instructions, especially those which are complex or involve multiple steps
    • Using computer programs which involve an extensive verbal or audio component without corresponding visuals

    Many of these strategies are better suited to students who are more skilled at auditory processing of information. Visual learners need a reasonable amount of visual input, so a useful teaching tip is to make sure each lesson includes a visual component to meet the needs of visual learners, even when teaching a strongly auditory task such as language learning.

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    How to Adjust your Lesson Plans

    Learning a language is a highly verbal, auditory task. Working in a visual component is challenging, as one of the key competencies for learning to speak a language well is to be able to hear various sounds and replicate them. But language learning also means making a match between graphic images (graphemes) and the sounds they make (phonemes). This is the key piece of knowledge for teachers looking for some language learning tips. This fact applies regardless of what language is being taught, or what sort of learner a student might be.

    As a handy language learning tip, remember that teachers can help in a language classroom by:

    • Providing visual cues or prompts to aid memory of visual learners
    • Helping visual learners by providing a visual cue at the same time as another learning style cue (such as auditory or kinesthetic)
    • Providing visual learners with displays of information that they can take in as their eyes stroll around the room while you are speaking (posters, displays, language learning tip sheets)
    • Providing extensive practice and recall opportunities to encourage learners to consolidate their learning into their long term memory, regardless of the learning styles they prefer
    • Talking to students about learning styles, and making them aware of the different ways that people often prefer to take in information
    • Remembering that any good lesson, regardless of learning styles, includes reminders about what has been covered previously, an outline of upcoming content, and ample revision and practise of skills.

    Remember that although it is important to develop teaching strategies for visual learners, it is also important to consider if a student in your English language class has a problem with other sensory processing skills which could be masking a more significant problem. For example, some students with a central auditory processing disorder may show a strong preference for visual teaching methods when the real issue is the need to remediate and manage their disorder, not just the need to provide a visual teaching approach.