Learning the Right-Brain Way: Visual Strategies to Help Students Remember

by Hannah Johnson

Some students memorize letters, words, and concepts quickly: a few repetitions and they have it. Other students, especially those with special needs, depend on visual reinforcement. Hannah demonstrates the image-based teaching strategies she uses in her resource room. Whether your students struggle with phonics, spelling, or memory work, take a few moments to explore how you can empower them to master the topic.

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In working in a resource room with children with special needs, I’ve discovered there’s some things that help them specifically. One thing is [that we may be] working with visual learners. A lot of kids are auditory learners and you can tell them something, you write it on the board and they can learn it. They learn it with a few repetitions. With some kids, it’s like a lot of repetitions and it’s just not sticking. I found when I was teaching kindergarten last year, actually, some of my kindergarten students were really having trouble learning the letter sounds and blending them together to make words.

Basically, the concept is that right-brain learners really need visuals to stick with letter sounds, with things that are auditory. For the sound ‘o’ in octopus, most curriculums would have an octopus up here and ‘o’ down here. You’d say ‘o’, an octopus, right? But for a visual child, they’re not going to connect that octopus with the ‘o’ sound and with that shape of that letter.

And so when you have a card that superimposes the letter on the picture, they can connect that more easily. So I started with my kids doing these flashcards, instead of the curriculum flashcards, where the letter is smack on the word. It was amazing the progress I saw just in the first few weeks of doing that. When they knew that this is ‘a’ and this is ‘o’, then I would start making words by putting these together and not even just writing letters yet. We just use these cards so they can connect already, they can connect the picture and the sound and start making blends together. But they still have it real visually.

The idea is that they see this picture enough that they get it in their head and they have a picture of that. So if they see the letter ‘a’ with no picture, they can visualize that apple and be reminded of that sound ‘a’.

So that’s the idea and I’ve taken that to a lot of different aspects of learning.

I was familiar with this program by Diane Craft, this Right Brain Phonics Program, and I took the concept. So when you get to sight words that are not phonetical, then you can create stories and drawings that go with the word. For the word ‘away’, we have like two garbage cans here, and a fan and this girl plugging her nose. The little story is like, “That trash stinks. Take it away from me. Get it away.” You tell them this little story and then you show them these flashcards. It’s a visual reminder.

Then, when they start seeing this or spelling this without the picture, they are visualizing these two garbage cans in the ‘w’ and they’re thinking, “Get that away from me.”

It’s hard to keep up with the demand sometimes when you get on to spelling. I’m working with a fifth grader who is really struggling with spelling. He wants to spell everything very phonetically because he knows the sounds. So when you get to harder reading, words are not phonetical. This is really helpful for him. I mean, I just make flashcards and I scribble them down with markers or whatever. I do whatever silly crazy thing I can do on that word to make it come alive and to just get it to stick in his memory. Whatever it is, I don’t draw the picture next to the word, I draw it on top of the letters. I highlight letters, I make them different colors, and he really sees those pictures.

Another aspect of that is you want to be encouraging your students. You always make them feel really successful. You never say like, “Oh, that’s wrong,” or something. You say, “Oh, try again,” or, “Are you sure about that?” Then they’ll notice it themselves.

If I show them a word, and they can’t read it, I immediately will flash them the flashcard. Or if he can’t spell the word, I immediately show it to him, always giving him that information that he needs until he can have the picture in his head. For the first few days, when he gets a new word-building Pace, and he has 25, 30 new spelling words, we do a pre-test and see which ones he already knows and we skip those. Then, the ones he doesn’t know, we make flashcards for them. Then for the first few days, I just flash the cards and have him spell them. I don’t try to make him spell it on his own because I want him to get that picture in his head. I just give him a lot of visual reinforcement. Let him see that card. Then I will start hiding it and saying, “What color is the ‘W’?” Or “How do you spell this word?” Then while he’s thinking of it, I’ll try to ask him to describe the colors or describe the story behind the word or whatever.

Also, he’s started to come up with ideas on his own, of how to give himself memory tricks because he’s starting to learn this skill and see that this helps him. I hope that in a while, he’s able to make all his flashcards himself, and he will come up with things that he knows will trigger his memory and will be effective for him.

When I was in Bible Bee—I competed for several years in the national Bible Bee—the references were always really hard for me to remember. I would use the same concept. I would draw some kind of picture on the numbers or make them different colors.

I guess sometimes with things like a memory verse if you can just make it visual, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to you, even if it seems silly and absurd, if it’s going to make it stick in the child’s memory, that’s the point. That’s going to be useful and helpful.

This is called the Right Brain Phonics Program or Right Brain Phonics Book. It’s a whole curriculum. I just bought the reading set. I think there’s math helps too, but this is just the reading set. It would come with a phonics book. This has list of words that are big and with lots of color. The special sound or whatever would be in that color and it would also often have the visual cues for them so if they’re forgetting that sound, they can look up and have that. Then it comes with the set of alphabet cards. Also, there’s special sound cards in that set like ‘i’ in night, ‘o’ in cow. They have both different spellings on the same because it makes the same sound.

Then, also these right-brain sight words. This is—it says www.diannecraft.org. She also has some incredible videos about working with right-brain children, working with dyslexic children, ADHD, behavior problems. She has all kinds of incredible stuff, information about how the brain works and what can help these children remember things and succeed in their education.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Hannah Johnson

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