Visual Literacy

Theo Kuechel, Jeff Beaudry and Sarah Ritz-Swain | View as single page |

What are the constituent parts of visual literacy?

In order to understand how we decode the visual data to interpret meaning we can deconstruct visual literacy into the categories below. Nearly all visual resources will fall into one or more of these. Being familiar with these will offer teachers a solid foundation with which to design learning opportunities.

  • Instructional: how to accomplish a task or carry out a process, eg first aid charts, traffic signs.
  • Explanatory: Scientific Diagrams, schematics, maps, infographics, presentations, timelines.
  • Warning: Use of symbols and colours, - sometimes ‘shock’ imagery used.
  • Narrative: This includes the full canon of the worlds art, illustration, cinema etc, that have been created to tell stories, create empathy and
  • Representational: as in a realistic; drawing, painting or photograph to be as objective as possible.
  • Visualisations and models: Architectural drawings mathematical models, virtual worlds, computer games. maps, interactive digital maps, spatial models and information.
  • Notes: Visual notes and records eg hand sketching, using hand sketching on a device or photographically recording, scanned images, x-rays.
  • Metaphorical: Many images are metaphors for concepts, ideas or
  • Symbolic: religious and organisational; includes symbols of faith, logos, brands and other specific identities.
  • Codes: visual cues that are convey meaning to those, or system that can read them, this includes writing and text, signage, bar codes.

All above the elements exist in digital formats, and within some of the categories they are more frequently accessed/used than their analogue versions. Even if created in an analogue format their dissemination is most likely to be digital.

The following references are part of the evidence base for this resource.

Sinatra, R. (1986). Visual literacy connections to thinking, reading, and writing. Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas Press.

Baker, F, W,. Media Literacy in the K–2 Classroom, ISTE

Beaton, B,. The key to media's hidden codes accessed 3/11/2014 (Video)

The Word as Image (video)

Applying Communication Theory and Imagery to Enhance Persuasive Presentations

20 Gifs That Teach You Science Concepts Better Than Your Teacher Probably Can (online)