Visual Strategies

Visual Processing Strategies

David Sousa (2001) uses the term, concept mapping, to refer to a wide variety of visual processing strategies. He says “The key to concept mapping is the clear indication of the relationship that one item has to another.”(196

Concept mapping consists of extracting ideas and terms from curriculum content and plotting them visually to show and name the relationships among them. The learner establishes a visual representation of relations between concepts that might have been presented only verbally. Integrating visual and verbal activities enhances understanding of concepts whether they be abstract, concrete, verbal or nonverbal.  (196)

You might want to read   How Images Transformed History.  It shows how images of space, time, life, and chemistry have changed the way we think.

As I began listing areas of visual processing, one problem was that many different types of visuals could be classified as statistics and then, statistics  could be included as part of Math, The idea of organizing different ways of organizing data is rather mind boggling.

My final way of organizing visuals is fairly simple:

  • Math and Statistics organize numerical data.
  • Diagrams and Maps organize Space. (Yes, I know that’s not always true for diagrams.)
  • Timelines,  Flow Charts, and Cause and Effect  organize Time or Sequence.
  • Concept Maps, Branching Charts and Webbing organize Relationships.
  • Compare and Contrast Charts and Matrix Charts organize information by separating it into categories and looking at similarities and differences.

I assume that some of you will send me lists of other important visual organizers that I really should have included. I really am aware of dozens of “graphic organizers” used in schools, but most of the ones I’ve looked at are used for a very specific type of information like character analysis Others are different ways of drawing a basic concept map.

I’m still looking for visuals that organize large categories of data. If you find some of these please let me know.

How are Visual and Verbal Strategies Related?

Three simple facts:
1. They are both ways of organizing information, both part of the process of study.
2. There is no simple 1:1 relationship between the two.
3. All these strategies will help students  understand  information, remember information, and do better on tests.

Numerical Data in math and statistics do not usually lead to an outline or summary, though both could be used. It would make more sense to DESCRIBE them or EXPLAIN them. One might also compare  statisitics to other Evidence and Examples and then Critique or Evaluate the visuals.

With all of the other strategies, you could use the visual for Verbal Strategies including  OUTLINE, SUMMARY, EXPLAIN, EVIDENCE and EXAMPLES, DISCUSS/DEBATE, CRITIQUE and EVALUATE.

Instead of relating the visuals to the verbal strategies, it makes more sense to relate them to content areas and different purposes.

1. In any subject, when studying changes over time, it would make sense to use a Timeline for long periods, a Flow Chart for procedures, and to analyze Cause and Effect.  Changes over time can also be displayed in  line graphs.

2. While Maps usually describe Geography, they are now used to interpose other kinds of information on geography including election results, poverty statistics, and populations. Diagrams generally diisplay relationships on a smaller scale. We are familiar with diagrams of cells, of the digestive system, or of the geological time scale.

3. All of the other strategies focus on visualizing the main ideas and different relationships between the ideas. Branching Diagrams often show a hierarchy (as in office staff) or changes through time (as in a family or evolutionary tree),  Webbing describes interwoven relationships where there is no main idea or starting point. They include the various environmental food webs.  The Compare and Contrast visual shows similarities and differences, usually  comparing two things or concepts. The Matrix Chart expands this ideas and compares many things or groups.
Comparisons can also be shown statistically, most commonly with  bar graphs.

Visuals can be seen as a way to organize the information and picture it in your mind, but you will have few experiences where you need to draw visuals on a test. More commonly you will use the visual as an outline to write a well-organized essay on the topic.

It is important to practice this skill. Once you are satisfied with your visual organization, use it to write a summary, explanation, comparison, etc. The more often you practice writing well-organized answers, the more likely you are to make high grades on essays and essay tests.

When you use both visual and verbal strategies, you will be storing information and relationships in different parts of your brain, improving comprehension and long-term memory.