The Colour-Symbol-Image routine helps students to express their thinking non-verbally. Especially in the case of younger learners, this taps right into their natural creativity and desire for expression. It is a routine that encourages them to identify and capture the heart of ideas they have explored through reading, watching or listening to the selected source material. As they make their selections of colours, symbols, images, students are pushed to make connections and think metaphorically.
Metaphors are a powerful way to develop our understanding of ideas by associating a new concept with a more familiar one and making comparisons. The connections and ideas students come up with need to be understood as highly personal. Therefore we should not evaluate them as they occur. All ideas are possibilities and students should generate as many as they can before identifying degrees of merit.
This routine is best used after students have read a passage from a book, a short story, or a poem, listened to a radio essay or watched a short film, reached the end of a topic or unit. Language level-appropriate, students explain and justify their choices in writing.
After having gone through the source material, ask students to take the following steps:
Choose a colour that they feel represents the ideas discussed. Explain why they chose it. (One or two colours should be chosen by students.)
Choose a symbol. Explain why they chose it. (A symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else. For example, roses stand for romance, a heart stands for love, a dove stands for peace.)
Choose an image. Explain why they chose it. (Students may use a photograph or sketch their own drawings. They should not worry about their drawing abilities as it can be something very simple that captures their idea.)
Have students work individually, in pairs or in groups. Working with a partner or in a group has the advantage over individual work in that students learn to offer arguments and negotiate meaning.
Share the thinking and ideas. Use the student-made output as a teaching input. Have individual students, pairs or groups present their choices and hold a plenary discussion.
We tried this routine at the end of the topic of war/peace. Students organized themselves in small groups and chose what they wished to represent – war or peace. In my mixed ability primary school classroom this organization worked well. Students shared their ideas with the other members of the group before deciding on the final outcome. Members of the group could contribute in diverse ways. Some were stronger at the verbal part while others at the non-verbal, drawing part. Students first kept notes of their ideas, then shared them among their groups and we used sheets of A3 paper size for the final outcome.
Examples of students’ ideas include:
Things to note: Some groups may find it easier to start with the other parts of the routine first, i.e. symbol or image. The order is not binding.
Papalazarou, C (2015) ‘Making thinking visible in the English classroom: nurturing a creative mind-set’ in Maley, A and Peachey, N (eds) Creativity in the English language classroom. British Council: 37-43. Available free as a pdf file.
Ritchhart, R, Church, M and Morrison, K (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Visible Thinking, Colour, Symbol, Image Routine
War/Peace: Colour-symbol-image, Art in the English Class project