Looking Good: Better Visual Aids

16 Mar

Visual AidsI prefer Goldilocks-sized conferences—not too big, not too small. I always meet energized, creative teachers and leave with ready-to-use ideas, as well as broader pedagogical questions to ponder. Earlier this year I attended the ELMLE 2014 conference in Berlin. One of the highlights was a session with Joyce Valenza, librarian extraordinaire whose human-centered, practical use of technology was very inspirational. The wiki she created for the session is filled with so many wonderful tools and ideas, I find myself needing to curate her curation in order to focus in on what really matters to me. I’ll write several posts condensing this session, but in this post I want to focus on some sites and tools Joyce shared that can improve the visual aids we use in our teaching and learning.

recite this


Turn quotes into more visually appealing images. This free site does not even require a log in, and you can quickly download your image or share it through a variety of methods. It’s a great way to make presentation or Animoto slides more unique and arresting.

Rooney on Teachers


Illumination of text for the 21st century learner without design skills or a crew of monastic buddies with extra time on hand. This free site requires a log in, but after that simple step, any student or teacher can use it without instruction. The variety of iconography available is impressive, too.

Spell With Flickr

Spell with Flickr

Now write all your ransom notes in a snap! This nifty bit of programming allows you to spell out words with random letters pulled from Flickr. If you don’t like the look of individual letters, just click on each letter for a quick change.


Trust me. You never want to try to teach students how to remove the background of an image using Photoshop. It takes days, and they still struggle to do it successfully. This free website literally does the same thing in seconds. I am incredibly excited about sharing this one with my students. Clipping just got very, very easy.

Teaching Quote


I no longer mourn the demise of picnik.com, a site my students and I used to add text to photos. (I will write my next blog post about this activity.) The free version of Picmonkey allows user to do this and much more. Paying users get even more bells and whistles, but I am happy to use the free version.


Google Doc Add-ons:

Finally, I didn’t learn about these new features from Joyce, but did you know that Google Docs has just loaded add-ons? There are several visually related add-ons there, and I am particularly excited about Texthelp Study Skills (improved highlighting features). I am also going to ask my grade 9 students to experiment with ProWritingAid tomorrow.

All of these free tools can improve the visual impact of abstract ideas and help any individual, despite his or her design skills, add impact to the way he or she communicates. I am excited to use these tools with my students, and I would love to hear from you as to which tools you like for helping students make their ideas look good.

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