Drawing to learn

On the sciencegeekgirl blog (which, if you don’t follow it already, you should definitely start now!) there recently was a post on “drawing to learn sketching and peer instruction“. She there discusses the paper “Drawing to Learn in Science” by Ainsworth, Prain, and Tytler (2011). The authors give five reasons why students should draw in science classes:

  1. Drawing to enhance engagement. Drawing gets students engaged in a different way than “just” listening to lectures. Drawing creates emotions towards and involvement with the content you are drawing. Drawing enhances motivation to learn about the topic.
  2. Drawing to learn to represent in science. Drawing your own diagrams or representations means that you learn to better read other people’s diagrams, that you recognize what is important in different types of representations and how they work. I have often asked students to translate temperature and salinity profiles to T-S-diagrams, or vice versa, and seeing how differently the depth-axis is represented, for example, is really powerful.
  3. Drawing to reason in science. Drawing sketches of concepts helps understand them more deeply as now for example directions of forces or characteristic shapes of graphs have to be committed to paper.
  4. Drawing as a learning strategy. Converting a concept from its verbal description to a graphic representation makes it clear very quickly whether or not the concept has been understood or where there are still gaps in understanding.
  5. Drawing to communicate. By drawing, you make your own thoughts visible to the world in a very powerful way, and visualizations help making sure that you and your students or peers are talking about the same thing.

I’m a very visual learner myself, and I always draw everything in order to understand it (see, for example, the header of my blog if you need proof). But somehow I thought that was a learning strategy that everybody uses anyway, so it was really eye-opening to me to read all the reasons why we should use drawing more in instruction to support learning. And there are more reasons for drawing – stay tuned for the next blog post discussing a different paper!

Finally, sciencegeekgirl offers a way to bring the individual drawings back into a large classroom, by suggesting multiple choice questions of typical representations students might come up with, where students pick the one that most closely resembles their own drawing. It is probably not easy to come up with good answer choices the first time you use drawing in your classroom, but if you browse student answers or even collect them, it’ll get so much easier the next year… ;-)


Ainsworth, S., Prain, V., & Tytler, R. (2011). Drawing to Learn in Science Science, 333 (6046), 1096-1097 DOI: 10.1126/science.1204153

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