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If a picture is worth a thousand words, can you imagine all the stories that a picture tells? When students are able to fully “read” an image, they can go beyond textual understanding and delve deeper into the author’s message. Imagine intensive reading, but not text, but images. Visual literacy includes the ability to effectively discover, interpret, evaluate, use and create images and visual media.
The beauty of visual literacy is that it opens the door for other language arts standards to be integrated into your curriculum, and it works for all learners from preschool through fifth grade.
Promote the link between visual literacy and learning
When I was a child, I developed my visual literacy very early. When I was in primary school, my eyes were caught by the posters in the classroom. I love to see posters on walls covered in color, pictures or drawings. I often try to draw things I see on posters and add them to my worksheet. For me, it was a way to deepen my connection with my learning. If illustrations had an impact on my learning as a child, they will have a major impact on my students when they are incorporated into everyday teaching.
Two years ago, our fourth grade class began incorporating visual literacy into their teaching. As part of our character unit, we introduce visual literacy into the curriculum by using silent text to help students make observations in illustrations. Students test elements of the story, such as the background, and make inferences about the main characters. The goal is for them to practice observation before introducing the guidance text.
Address the six components of visual literacy
When teaching visual literacy, ask students to identify six elements when looking at illustrations:
1. Facial expression: Identify the emotions or feelings expressed by the characters by observing their facial expression, eye expression, mouth expression and eyebrow expression. You can show the students pictures of different facial expressions first, or ask the students to act them out. When I do this with my students, I introduce them to words like scowl, fur frown, and broding.
2. Focus: Ask students: “Where is the center of activity or attention?” Where are the characters’ eyes? As a reader, where do your eyes go first and then rest?” Illustrators often use proportions and proportions to draw attention to a part of an image. Differences in size can indicate power and authority as well as submission and vulnerability.
3. Gestures: Encourage students to observe the movement or position of the character’s body and how it conveys emotion. Are the figures standing or sitting? What is the body movement or posture of the character? Students can look at the hands, arms, shoulders, torso and feet. Gestures can reveal a character’s personality or emotional state at different points in the story.
4. Costumes: Ask students if the clothes the characters wear hint at their character or role in the story. Do they wear uniforms? Students can think about what clothes can tell them about the characters’ daily life or work. Students can also see if there is a connection between clothing and the environment.
5. Background: Ask the students to determine the place where the story takes place. What is the background of the picture or illustration? Does the picture show a particular time of day or season? They can look for things that identify a particular region, continent or country. When and where the story takes place affects the plot, so any clues students can take from the illustrations will help them better understand what they are reading as readers.
6. Objects: Objects enhance illustrations and provide clues to understand various story elements such as character traits and motivations, Settings, problems and solutions. In addition to observing objects, observe color, size, and number. The object can be something held by the character, or it can be something else in the picture. Maybe it’s the suitcase in a character’s hand telling us they’re going on a trip, or a little girl riding her bike to school telling you she lives nearby.