The Power of the Visual Sphere


Doodling has never been the nemesis of intellectual thought, it has been its greatest ally

Sunni Brown


Doodling, drawing, colouring in the classroom,  until what age is it acceptable? Just as Sunni Brown points to the intellectual nature of doodling, how receptive are we to it in our learning environments?


You can usually spot the doodlers, the colourers, the drawers.  They have hard core pencil cases, with an array of upto date pens, of varied labels and thicknesses in an impressive array of colours.  They usually also have an equally carefully chosen armament of stationary and post-it-notes.  That alone says to me that these learners have come to the classroom prepared to unleash their visual, kinesthetic learning style on the their work, to splash it with colour, to draw meaningful images and push that knowledge into their memory.   However, sadly, unless it’s a poster day or vocabulary notebook time they might not unleash their true potential into their learning.


There are a few students I guarantee are waiting for permission to get those pens out in public, but they are slightly afraid.  You see as Sunni Brown points out, doodling, drawing and colouring are seen as something that belongs to the child, to primary school, even early teens but particularly at 16 or in the university years study, text becomes colourless.  Examinations encourage the grey leaded pencil and the classroom recedes into endless streams of text to be compiled in linear bullet pointed notes in monotone black and blue.  This is fine if your brain works that way but what if you need the colour.  What if this how your brain works?  How can you help learners with this need to work within an increasingly formal environment?


1-Spot the learners in question:

a-The pens, the doodles will be the first indication

b-A loss of interest at long dense text


2-Encourage them to colour and draw:  I was a student that needed colour and pictures and spaces to draw.  It was not until I was 15 years old that a teacher actively encouraged me to use it.  It was such a relief to be free and to be validated by someone in education.  Before that I would get in trouble for drawing and colouring.  That happened once and it took me until 36 to confidentially walk into a lecture or into a meeting with my A3 pad and the full host of coloured pens.


3-Actively use with learners for their study:  How?


a-When making worksheets see if there are ways that you can include areas to colour in, such as arrows or numbers.  A learner actively colouring and drawing is kinestheically putting the information into their head.  They will rarely forget the information.


b-For Reading: Allow them to colour long reading texts:  I usually cover mine in colour, sleep and the next day I see it all in my head categorised into the key themes and words.


c-For listening notetaking: Let them experiment with colourful mindmaps while listening. You will be surprised at what they produce.



d) Vocabulary:  ı have a learner who might take unknown words from a reading, draw the theme of the reading (alternative summary) where the minute pictures are all the words she did not know in the text.  These are fully contextualised vocab notes.


e) Writing: non-linear, coloured paper planning.  Over the years when learners trust that you are ok with their colourful, sketchful learning style they hand in some amazing writing plans.  The best was an A2 blue sheet, blasted in bright colour and pulsating with post-it-notes.  The learner was in the zone because this was her learning style.


f) Examinations:  If the exam board has no restrictions make sure on exams that they are underlining and working in colour.  If they start losing concentration on text in long readings or writings train them to have a doodling break to work through the issue.



  1. Over the last few years, I’m sure I’ve begun to fall short, into the monochrome-ness of handouts, probably in part due to an attitude of seriousness surrounding EAP (see our recent #EAPchat: I must admit I find it challenging to consider the elaborate colourful doodling of a mindmap for lecture notes an efficient or effective method for lecture note-taking, but that isn’t to say that others’ brains don’t work differently nor that I don’t value colour, only that when looking at notes like that in the photo above, contains enough information to be that helpful in information recall.

    I do, in fact, love colour. I use it continuously in my boardwork, if for no other reason than aesthetics. I do use it myself too represent different lexical items in my questions, depending on what we study ((see the board here,, for examples of both purposes).

    Come to think of it, we once asked students to colour code their readings for various reasons, but I can’t fully remember what those were.

    Where I have lapsed into black, white and grey, is on handout creation. I used to spend much time inserting colour and visuals only to have them lack luster when photocopied. Today, I instead opt for clean design with Georgia for title fonts and Segoe UI for base text, though I realise not everyone shares this particular aesthetic.

    In the end, you’re right: we all learn differently; we all acquire and categorise knowledge differently. Sometimes we forget that this is true.

    • Sharon says:

      Hi Tyson,
      Thanks for stopping by. It was funny. While writing this post I clearly had your boards in my mind from that ARC post. They are beautifully crafted.) I will let you into a secret. Those notes in the picture are mine and I can remember the whole lecture from those, in very accurate detail and usually for years to come. Each stroke of the pen records the lecture in my brain. So if I want to recall what was said around a key word I focus in on the movement of the pen drawing, the colour, the image and suddenly I can play the lecture word for word at the part that I want to. Or after doing that I can see the whole lecture segmented like a data base and if I click on the key word I can see all the detailed notes in my brain. Usually once I have been in the lecture and written it I very rarely need to look at the physical paper again. For me bulleted notes make me feel strange. I can’t access them. It is something to do with the linear nature. My brain works in a non-linear way so it goes against what is natural for me. I have been reading an excellent book on this which when I finish I am planning to condense into a post. For handouts, even simple block letters or arrows the learner can colour in themselves while doing the work is all that is needed. For students like me it is the act of doodling or colouring that cements the knowledge into the brain. We need to feel it and visualize it. As for ‘seriousness’ I think I want to discuss this one in another blog post. I am actually in the middle of writing of it .)))

      Hope your conference preparation is going well.))


  2. ann foreman says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish facebook page, if you’d like to check there for comments.


    • Sharon says:

      Dear Ann,

      Thank you very much for the shortlist and the heads up. I will definatly come over and check the comments.) Thanks again.


  3. David says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Glad you mentioned doodling, something students enjoy so much! It, along with the rise of the graphic novel/comics is a sign of the ascendancy of the visual learner.

    I have promoted teachers doing “doodle” videos and given a few workshops on this over the years. Some amazing examples teachers submitted. I outline how to make one here but it is simple enough – each student has a line in a song and they make a doodle for it. The class photographs/scans each doodle and puts them together as a video with the music. See my fav. that a teacher made after one of my workshops –

    • Sharon says:

      Hi David,

      Thank you for sharing the link. It’s great.) I love graphic novels and they are a great way to getting really visual students to read. I have been learning quantum physics and maths that way through a grahic series. Long live the doodle!!

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