Can drawing improve reading and spelling skills? Yes!!!


At CodeBreakers, we’ve been using a reading card technique, to help with automated recognition of sounds in isolation, for over 10 years and students have always been asked to draw a picture on the reverse of the card to represent their key word.  Here are some videos we use to train teachers and TAs, using the CodeBreakers intervention programme.

Watch our “How to make a Reading Card” video HERE

 You can learn how to use the reading cards in the routine HERE

During my training we were taught that the picture provided a semantic link.  A semantic link is a range of meanings which can be attached to a word and helps stimulate the memory.  For example, if you say the word ‘cat’, what does this word mean to you?

A smell, the touch of the fur, the motion of stroking the fur, a memory of your own cat, an experience with a cat, the sound of it purring?

Immediately you are taken to your own personal experience and have brought to the fore of your memories, the association to the word ‘cat’. We can now teach and link in to that knowledge which a student has and this way learners can store knowledge linked to this information.  In teacher and psychology language ‘the existing schemata’. It helps learning stick.

As my students have drawn their ‘cat’ or which ever other word they link to the letter ‘c’ making a /k/ sound (my personal favourite is cake!!!), they link their own experience to the word and sound.  The aim is when they see the ‘c’ they will know if makes a /k/ (in this instance) and be able to recall a clue word which reinforces the sound.  We often have a quick chat about the picture they’ve drawn, just to bring in a little more experience and memory to the key word.

I saw a recent head line about drawing and memory.  You can read the article here.   It made me think a little more about the additional benefits which the reading card routine brought to students.

The article directs the reader to a specific study on drawing and memory

I’m sure in your experience as teachers and parents you’ve introduced mnemonics to learning to try to help learners recall how to spell words.

The article states “drawing is superior to activities such as reading or writing because it forces the person to process information in multiple ways: visually, kinesthetically, and semantically. Across a series of experiments, researchers found drawing information to be a powerful way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double”.

It’s not just spelling and reading which the article suggests drawing aids. The researchers have studied the ability to increase learning through drawing as a study skill.   The researchers compared two methods of note-taking, writing words by hand versus drawing concept.  They found drawing to be “an effective and reliable encoding strategy, far superior to writing.” The researchers found that when the undergraduates visually represented science concepts, their recall was nearly twice as good as when they wrote down definitions supplied by the lecturer.

Don’t worry if you can’t draw, the researchers state it’s the process rather than quality of drawing which aids memory.

The researchers explain that it “requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture).” Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image, activities in which students passively absorb information, drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.

When a student draws a concept, they “must elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect their created picture (pictorial processing).”

They state, when we draw, we encode the memory in a very rich way, layering together the visual memory of the image, the kinaesthetic memory of our hand drawing the image, and the semantic memory that is invoked when we engage in meaning-making.

As a student myself, I can still recall my lecturer suggesting we draw a picture in the margin to help us recall the point was important.

The researchers have provided some fabulous ideas for learning through drawing:


There are several ways that teachers can incorporate drawing to enrich learning.

  • Student-created learning aids: Ask students to make posters that reinforce learning, through maps, charts, or diagrams
  • Interactive notebooks: Don’t let students take notes verbatim—push them to be creative. One side of their notebooks can be used for written notes, the other for drawings, diagrams, and charts.
  • Data visualisation: Asking students to collect, analyse, and present data in visual form can deepen their understanding of a topic. Examples include visualising concepts in math, analysing classical literature, and exploring fractals.
  • Bookmaking: Blending academics and art, students to visually represent topics in subjects ranging from science to English language arts. Students can also create comics books to tell stories or describe events.
  • Assessing learning through art: Challenge students to show their understanding about a topic through art, making it less about finding the “single correct answer” and more about crafting a response they can stand behind.
  • The takeaway: Encourage students to draw. Doing so is a powerful tool to boost student learning because it improves recall by challenging students to explore an idea in different ways.

Would you like to learn more about supporting students in the classroom or at home? You will receive a very warm welcome at SEN Jigsaw Conference, June 8th 2019. We look forward to chatting with you.

Tickets available via Eventbrite