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Visual Language

Road signs, Emojis, logos… visual communication is everywhere, and it is SO important. Although most of my students are able to further explain their thoughts/ideas, some students have difficulties communicating verbally (due to speech delays, language differences, etc.)

Last week, I had a new student in one of my classes. I was informed that he spoke/understood English to some extent, but it was difficult to determine what he did and did not understand when I explained the project we were working on. I later learned that the student was from Nairobi, Kenya. Although he may not have understood what I said, I showed him my art example, and I proceeded to point out other students’ work. The project concept was narrative images: telling a story without using words. The artworks had the main parts of a story, including characters, setting, and action.

The new student began drawing, and from what I could tell, he grasped the main idea behind the artwork. He was also able to point to his picture and say: father, mother, brother, and me.


The rest of the picture is fascinating in the way it is laid out. There doesn’t seem to be a foreground, middle ground, or background (another visual concept that I explained and demonstrated for the students prior to his arrival), but it is telling a story nonetheless.

At first glance, the image below just appears to be a collage of black shapes. Look at the artwork first, then read the caption to learn more. The assignment was to change a piece of rectangular black paper into something else by cutting, arranging, and gluing pieces to a larger paper. The challenge was to use the whole piece of black paper, without having any leftovers. The students interpreted the task in so many different ways.


Models on a runway


Car and road sign


Cat and a tree

Today I attended a training (part of a professional learning series) with a focus on adaptive communication and developing communicative competence in students with Austism and other speech delays. A variety of programs and software have been developed over the years to include visual symbols and combinations of ‘core language’ words. The words and symbols are organized on a board, and then modeled to reinforce communication strategies.


At the end of the workshop, we created our own visual communication board to use with our students.

How do you use visual language to communicate? 

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