Instructional Graphics: A Key to Teaching Today?

Let’s take a stroll back (again) into my past life as an assistant professor at the Defense Language Institute. I had a few roles there: teaching Russian, vocabulary retention, study strategies, etc. I had to develop mini-workshops for students on how to be a better second-language acquisition student. Through trial and error I found out that a majority of the (military) students were visual learners. I had to take a step back and figure out how to use this information, and unite that with the insane amount of information that was pushed towards them on a daily basis. For example, Russian students were expected to be fully proficient in the language in one year, whether or not they had any sort of language training background or prior knowledge of Russian beforehand. Anyway, I started to use graphics to demonstrate ideas (grammar points) and vocabulary acquisition.

As for learning the vocabulary (generally about 100 new words or so every week), I generated a plan to allow students, these visual types, to associate the unfamiliar words with anything that would allow retention of the vocabulary. I almost regretted it immediately, because I would come across some words that would just throw me for a loop. However, I would persevere somehow. I came to find that these instructional graphics were pretty successful, and some of them were popular. For example, in teaching the names of vegetables in Russian, I was able to create a cartoon character for asparagus (спаржа, or sparzha, in Russian). I noticed that the word sounded similar to Sparta, so I decided to have some fun with it. I found a cartoon version of asparagus and a screen capture of the scene from “300” when King Leonidas booted the Persians into the large well. Quickly I drew little legs on the cartoon asparagus, and placed him over the image of King Leonidas. Above him, I created a speaking bubble with the phrase “Это спаржа!” (Ehto sparzha), which means “this is asparagus!” It was notable enough that students at the end of the year remembered the Russian word for asparagus, but had trouble with other vegetable names.

Another example I found that expresses my point here, is an instructional graphic I found once:



And here is what the above graphic would look like if it were only typed out:


So, which one do you think that your students would prefer to study? Take a look at any materials you give to students, and see if there is anything you can do to assist them by turning it into an instructional graphic. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be effective.

Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425


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