Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures

Robert Harris
Version Date: February 27, 2014


Our brains are designed as picture processors, to take what we see (the visual information delivered by our eyes) and perform processes such as recognition, identification, and comparison. Our brains do that quite well. The challenge comes when we start to read. It seems that when reading text, our brains are still functioning as picture processors, seeing the words on the page or screen as little pictures that must be decoded--recognized, identified, and compared. On top of that, when the little word picture describes an actual picture ("He was standing on a tree branch trying to reach the figs") there must be a translation from word picture to a stored image relevant to the description.

Okay, so what? The bottom line is that actual pictures are easier to process than text, so when you want to learn something more easily, use pictures: drawings, graphs, symbols, sketches, even photographs. You can use something as simple as a stairway to represent steps in a process, or you can include many symbols to represent the process of visual thinking.

Ladder of OBD-II Steps
A simple but effective way to start is to use diagrams that represent relationships among ideas. For steps and sequences, you can draw stair steps, a ladder, a set of organization chart boxes with one on top of another, stacked bricks in a block wall, or any other useful metaphor you choose.

Here is an example of a ladder, with each rung representing a step in the process of using an Onboard Diagnostics, version 2 (OBD-II) engine code reader to determine which codes the car has issued and what they mean. Later, the ladder can be extended to show the steps for resetting the codes. Note how the visual sequence (in this case, from bottom up) helps you to get a sense of context and progress as you read the steps. Then, when it comes time to perform the task, you can simply "climb the ladder."

The use of a graphical representation helps you to remember not only the content of the steps, but their relationship to each other (the correct sequence) and a sense of how far along the process a given step is.

Another example would be to use a spoke diagram to show the connection between cause and effect. For a situation where you have several causes and one effect, such as the causes of the CIvil War, the Effect goes in the middle of the diagram and the Causes go around the wheel. You can draw as many spokes and wheel nodes as you need.

Conversely, if you have a situation where there are many effects from one cause, such as the effects of a flu epidemic, the Cause goes in the hub node and the Effects go in the wheel nodes.

Once again, the power lies in the visual, pictorial representation of the ideas, so that you automatically remember that there are three, four, or six causes (or effects) connected to the concept you are studying.

Cause and Effect Diagram      Effect-Cause Diagram

Now let's say you want to clarify and remember the difference betewen kinds of unknowns--the known unknown and the unknown unknown. It might seem daunting at first, but a simple drawing makes the concepts easy to grasp. Note that the drawing includes a simple example to make the clarification oncrete, and for the unk unks, the "knowledge pages" are drawn with dotted lines, to show that they lack shape or form at this point.

Diagram of known, known unknown, and unknown unknown

You can use symbols from the extended characters of most fonts, or you can use the symbols in Microsoft Word's Wingdings, Wingdings 2, and Webdings. You can create drawings by inserting pictures or clipart, shapes, and smart art from the Insert ribbon in Word.

Conceptual iceberg

Don't forget to check out the use of pictures in the Learning  Strategy on Mnemonics, and the use of graphical elements in the Learning Strategy on Idea Mapping.

High Performance Learning

Several web sites offer free comic-strip creating capability, either by using their software on the site or by offering a free download. Why not create some study materials in the form of a comic strip? It's true it will require some time to create the materials, but remember that during the process of creation you are also studying and learning. So, even if you never read your comics after you create them, you will have learned and will remember much more than you think.

VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
Copyright 2014 by Robert Harris | CCC 7000520813 | How to cite this page
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com