Using Images in Teaching: A Quick Guide

Jason Posted by Jason on December 7, 2010

It might be cliché, but it is nevertheless true.

A picture speaks a thousand words.

How We Learn

Butterfly - CorbisThis is of course not to say that words are less important than pictures. But it’s useful to remind ourselves that our brains are essentially twofold, made up of the left hemisphere, which is often described as analytical and verbal, and the right hemisphere, the left’s more creative and visual counterpart.

This means that individuals will absorb information differently depending on how we respond to certain types of stimuli. A textbook or article might serve well in introducing a topic to the learner, but a relevant image to go along with it can then reinforce that learner’s recollection and comprehension of the material. Various studies have shown that this is the case.

This is inherent in what is known as the ‘Multimedia Principle‘, which states that people learn better from words and pictures than words alone.

So the right picture at the right time at the right place is a great way to boost understanding as well as helping your learners build a memorable mental construction around a topic.

However, not all images are created equal. What is one teacher’s trash is another teacher’s treasure. So what should you take into account when using images in your lessons?

Tips for Teachers

Firstly, the image should be relevant to the topic at hand. This requires a judgement call from you as the teacher, and that’s a good thing, as it allows you to be more creative around lesson planning. It’s not very useful to be ultra-prescriptive in aligning an image to a specific area or unit of the curriculum. The beauty of images is that they are ambiguous and can be repurposed across a range of different topics.

Secondly, be creative in how you use an image with your students. A picture is a snapshot in time with clear boundaries but as well as being informative they can also offer great opportunities for opening up wider debate. For example, asking the children to imagine or explore what might have happened before the picture was taken, what happened afterwards, or what might they be able to see just outside the edge of the picture to the right or to the left?

Thirdly, it is always important to bear in mind the origination of an image, and its associated copyright. Copyright is complex, but it can be broken down into a simple rule of thumb: assume everything is copyrighted and approach it from there.

Lastly, you should be aware of the limits imposed by the rights associated with an image. With GGfL, our license allows unlimited use, editing and repurposing of images for educational purposes. But not all sources will offer this flexibility.

Summary – The Hallmarks of a Good Image

Images are a great way for teachers to spice up a lesson and engage visual learners. However, there is a lot of uncertainty around the vast amounts of information available via the world wide web. So to be sure you are using images effectively for teaching, bear in mind the following:

Relevancy: The image should directly relate to the topic at hand. It should reinforce a concept in a way that words alone can’t.

Authority: Make sure the image is coming from a trusted source. As mentioned, there are a lot of known unknowns online. So be sure the source is a reliable one and that it won’t throw up any inappropriate or offensive content for your students.

Copyright: Not an easy issue but one teachers and schools need to be cognizant of nonetheless. Make sure the image is copyright-cleared for use so that you don’t end up on the receiving end of a hefty fine for copyright-infringement. Also be aware of what you can and can’t do with an image, even when it is copyright-cleared.

Are you a teacher or education professional who uses digital images for teaching? Let us know your views and opinions or even share some of the imaginative ways that you’ve used images in the classroom.


2 Responses to “Using Images in Teaching: A Quick Guide”

  1. narimane says:

    Good afternoon,
    I’m really impressed about what you wrote
    I will be gratful If you could help me more about the use of pictures and visual aids in teaching english as a foreign language and give me more details
    Thank you

    E-mail is

  2. marni zinab says:

    I would like to thank you for this article i found it very helpful since my research paper is about the importance of visual literacy in communication an education. I’d be very glad and thankful if you would send me any extra information.

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