What Is Visual Thinking Strategies: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a powerful approach that harnesses the human brain’s inherent inclination towards visual stimuli to enhance learning, critical thinking, and communication. At its core, VTS is a method that employs art and visual images to prompt discussion, encourage observation, and stimulate analytical thinking.

This method was developed with the intent to improve critical thinking skills by engaging individuals in thoughtful dialogue about artworks or any visual representation. Participants, often in groups, examine a piece of art and are encouraged to share their observations, interpretations, and reasoning behind their perspectives. The facilitator does not provide information about the artwork, encouraging participants to explore their own interpretations and ideas.

VTS operates on three primary questions: “What’s going on in this picture?” “What do you see that makes you say that?” and “What more can we find?” These open-ended questions elicit a range of responses and interpretations, fostering a sense of curiosity and a desire to delve deeper into the visual material.

The process of engaging with visual stimuli in a structured and collaborative manner has been found to enhance critical thinking, communication skills, empathy, and even cultural understanding. It’s applicable across various settings, including classrooms, boardrooms, museums, and beyond. By stimulating discussions and encouraging participants to articulate their thoughts, VTS promotes active learning and a deeper understanding of the subject matter, ultimately enriching the overall learning experience.

What Is Visual Thinking Strategies

What is a visual thinking strategy?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a collaborative, student-centered teaching method that improves critical thinking skills and fosters inclusive community-building dialogue through facilitated discussions of visual images. You do not need any special art training to use this strategy.

A visual thinking strategy is a cognitive approach that emphasizes using visual aids, imagery, and spatial reasoning to enhance understanding, problem-solving, and communication. It leverages the power of visuals, such as diagrams, charts, maps, and infographics, to help individuals or groups organize, analyze, and synthesize information. This strategy encourages individuals to visualize concepts, ideas, and data to grasp complex relationships and patterns more effectively.

By employing visual elements, individuals can simplify complex concepts, make abstract ideas more concrete, and facilitate better comprehension and retention of information. Visual thinking strategies are widely used across various fields, including education, business, design, and science, to aid in brainstorming, planning, decision-making, and conveying information in a compelling and accessible manner.

The use of visual thinking strategies promotes creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. It encourages individuals to think visually, make connections between concepts, and represent information in a way that engages both hemispheres of the brain—enhancing both analytical and creative thought processes. Overall, visual thinking strategies provide a powerful tool to harness the human brain’s natural inclination towards visual processing, leading to improved problem-solving and innovative solutions.

How do you use visual thinking strategies?

Here is a typical VTS session process: The teacher selects an appropriate piece of art or photograph and asks the students to spend a few moments looking at it before the discussion begins. After students silently examine the art, the teacher asks, “What’s going on in this picture?” The teacher calls on one student.

Utilizing visual thinking strategies involves employing visual elements to enhance understanding, communication, and problem-solving. Here are the steps to effectively use this approach:

Identify the Objective: Determine the goal or problem you want to address. Whether it’s brainstorming ideas, explaining a concept, or planning a project, clarify your objective.

Gather Information: Collect all relevant information, data, or ideas related to the objective. This can include written material, verbal discussions, or any other source of information.

Visual Representation: Create visual aids like diagrams, mind maps, flowcharts, or sketches to represent the collected information. Arrange and connect elements to showcase relationships and patterns.

Iterate and Refine: Continuously refine and iterate your visual representation based on insights gained. Add, modify, or rearrange elements to improve clarity and coherence.

Analyze and Interpret: Study the visual representation to analyze the information in a more digestible format. Extract key insights, trends, or connections that may not have been apparent in the raw data.

Communicate and Collaborate: Share your visual representation with others to facilitate discussions and collaboration. Visuals make it easier for others to grasp and contribute to the discussion.

Iterative Process: Use feedback and insights to refine the visual representation iteratively. and adapt the visuals to incorporate new information or perspectives.

By following these steps, visual thinking strategies enhance comprehension, communication, and problem-solving by tapping into the brain’s natural affinity for visual processing

What are the visual strategies?

Visual strategies are a way of supplementing information which is supplied verbally with visual information. They can be used to accomplish a range of goals. You may use something visual to help a pupil to understand a situation, or to provide a visual prompt so a student can accomplish a task more independently.

Visual strategies encompass a range of techniques and approaches that leverage visual elements to enhance understanding, communication, and learning. These strategies utilize visual aids and stimuli to convey information more effectively and engage individuals visually, promoting better retention and comprehension. Here are some common visual strategies:

Infographics and Charts: Visual representations like infographics, bar charts, pie charts, and graphs condense complex data into easily understandable visuals, aiding in data analysis and comparison.

Mind Maps: Hierarchical diagrams that visually organize information, concepts, or tasks in a radial, tree-like structure, facilitating brainstorming, note-taking, and planning.

Flowcharts: Diagrams that illustrate a process or a series of steps in a visual, sequential manner, helping in understanding procedures, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Diagrams and Models: Various types of diagrams, such as Venn diagrams, concept maps, and 3D models, clarify relationships, concepts, or spatial arrangements.

Visual Note-Taking: Incorporating sketches, icons, and other visual elements while taking notes to represent information in a more engaging and memorable way.

Storyboarding: A sequence of visual sketches or images used in planning for narratives, presentations, or multimedia projects, aiding in structuring and visualizing a storyline.

Color Coding and Highlighting: Using colors to categorize, emphasize, or group information, enhancing organization and quick identification of key points.

Images and Photographs: Incorporating relevant images or photographs to illustrate concepts, evoke emotions, or provide context, making content more relatable and engaging.

Utilizing these visual strategies can enhance learning experiences, improve communication, and promote creative thinking by leveraging the power of visuals to convey complex information in a more accessible and compelling manner.

What are visual thinking strategies for language?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a teaching method that incorporates “open-ended yet highly structured discussions of visual art, significantly increasing students’ critical thinking, language and literacy skills along the way” 

Visual thinking strategies for language involve incorporating visual elements to enhance language learning, comprehension, and expression. These strategies harness the power of visuals to aid in reading, writing, speaking, and overall language acquisition. Here are some key approaches:

Word Clouds: Creating word clouds with vocabulary words, helping learners visualize.

Concept Maps: Mapping out language concepts, grammar rules, or related vocabulary in a visual diagram, assisting learners in understanding relationships and connections.

Picture Dictionaries: Associating vocabulary words with images, helping learners connect words to their meanings and enabling a deeper understanding of the language.

Sentence Diagramming: Visually deconstructing sentences to analyze their grammatical structure, aiding in understanding syntax, parts of speech, and sentence construction.

Color Coding Parts of Speech: Using different colors to represent nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., in sentences, helping learners grasp 

Mind Maps for Writing: Organizing thoughts, ideas, and the structure of an essay or composition using a mind map, aiding in planning and structuring written work.

Storyboarding for Storytelling: Creating a visual sequence of events to assist in storytelling or writing narratives, enhancing creativity and coherence in language use.

Visual Prompts for Speaking: Using images or visual prompts to initiate conversations, discussions, or storytelling, stimulating verbal communication and vocabulary usage.

By integrating these visual thinking strategies into language learning, individuals can enhance their understanding and proficiency in the language. Visual aids make language learning more engaging, accessible, and memorable, ultimately fostering effective communication and expression in the target language.

How can visual thinking strategies promote learning?

VTS support the development of critical thinking skills and encourage participation in collaborative discussions, especially among students who struggle with traditional text-based or lecture-based learning environments. VTS supports the University’s student learning outcomes.

Visual thinking strategies promote learning by harnessing the brain’s natural inclination towards visual processing, significantly enhancing comprehension, retention, and overall cognitive development. Here’s how these strategies facilitate learning:

Enhanced Comprehension: Visual aids, such as diagrams, graphs, and infographics, simplify complex concepts, Visuals help learners see the “big picture” and grasp relationships and patterns.

Facilitated Information Processing: Visual elements break down information into digestible chunks, aiding in organizing and structuring knowledge. This, in turn, supports better memory retention and recall.

Stimulated Engagement: Visuals grab attention and maintain interest. They can make learning more enjoyable, encouraging active participation and fostering a positive attitude towards the subject matter.

Multisensory Learning: Incorporating visuals along with text and auditory information engages multiple senses, reinforcing learning and accommodating diverse learning styles.

Promoted Critical Thinking: Visual thinking encourages individuals to analyze, interpret, and synthesize information, promoting critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Fostered Creativity: Visuals often inspire creativity by allowing learners to connect concepts in novel ways, encouraging them to think outside the box and generate innovative ideas.

Improved Communication and Expression: Learning how to visually represent ideas helps learners effectively communicate their thoughts and concepts, a valuable skill in academic, professional, and personal contexts.

Cultivated Collaboration: Visual thinking encourages collaboration by providing a shared visual space for brainstorming and discussing ideas, promoting a collaborative learning environment.

Incorporating visual thinking strategies in education taps into the power of visualization, enhancing learning experiences and outcomes across various subjects and disciplines. It cultivates a deeper understanding of concepts, improved problem-solving abilities, and better communication skills, all of which are essential aspects of effective learning.

How do you use visual thinking strategies in the classroom?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

  • Project artwork. Choose a work that is not abstract.
  • Ask students to look closely and silently at it for a minute or two.
  • Three questions guide the discussion. Open with: “What’s going on here?” Summarize student responses using conditional language (“Raoul thinks this could be…”).

Integrating visual thinking strategies in the classroom is a dynamic way to enhance engagement, understanding, and critical thinking among students. Here’s a step-by-step on how to effectively utilize visual thinking strategies:

Visual Aids and Materials: Incorporate a variety of visual aids like charts, diagrams, images, and videos related to the topic being taught. Display them prominently in the classroom.

Interactive Discussions: Engage students in interactive discussions about the visuals, encouraging them to analyze and interpret what they see. Ask open-ended questions to stimulate critical thinking.

Collaborative Mind Maps: Organize group activities where students create collaborative mind maps to represent their understanding of a topic. Encourage them to connect ideas and build upon each other’s contributions.

Visual Note-Taking: Teach students how to take visual notes during lectures or readings, using symbols, icons, and diagrams to represent concepts. This aids in information retention and understanding.

Conceptual Mapping: Introduce students to concept mapping, guiding them to visually map out relationships between key concepts, terms, and ideas in a structured manner.

Creative Projects: Assign projects that require students to create visual presentations, infographics, or posters. This encourages creativity and a deeper exploration of the topic.

Visual Writing Prompts: Use images or short videos as writing prompts, stimulating students’ creativity and enhancing their descriptive and narrative writing skills.

Periodic Reflection and Review: Allow students to reflect on the use of visual thinking in their learning. Encourage them to review how it has influenced their understanding and academic performance.

By incorporating these strategies, educators can create an engaging and interactive learning environment that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and a deeper understanding of academic content. Visual thinking strategies empower students to visually represent their thoughts and ideas, enhancing their overall learning experience.

What are visual thinking strategies at work?

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a powerful, research-based methodology for facilitating discussions about complex, ambiguous materials. A robust yet simple set of techniques, this methodology is designed to deepen attentiveness, curiosity, critical thinking, self-awareness, and mutual appreciation within a group.

Visual thinking strategies at work involve utilizing visual tools and techniques to enhance problem-solving, communication, and innovation within a professional setting. Here’s how these strategies manifest in the workplace:

Data Visualization: Representing complex data through graphs, charts, and infographics to facilitate better understanding and decision-making. This makes data more accessible and actionable for the team.

Process Flowcharts: Creating flowcharts to visualize workflows, processes, and procedures, aiding in identifying bottlenecks, improving efficiency, and ensuring smoother operations.

Mind Mapping for Planning and Ideation: Using mind maps to brainstorm ideas, plan projects, and organize thoughts. This technique fosters creativity, collaboration, and structured thinking.

Storyboarding for Presentations: Structuring presentations or proposals using storyboards, which help in creating a cohesive narrative, engaging stakeholders, and conveying a clear message.

Visual Collaboration Tools: Utilizing digital platforms that facilitate real-time collaboration through visual elements, allowing team members to work together on projects, share ideas, and provide feedback visually.

Visual Note-Taking in Meetings: Encouraging participants to take visual notes during meetings, enabling better retention of key points and promoting active engagement.

Visual Project Management: Implementing project management tools that utilize visual boards, kanban systems, or Gantt charts to track project progress, allocate resources, and meet deadlines effectively.

Visual Training and Onboarding: Incorporating visual aids, videos, or interactive tutorials in training and onboarding programs to enhance learning and retention for new employees.

Visual Problem-Solving Workshops: Organizing workshops that use visual thinking techniques like fishbone diagrams, affinity diagrams, or Six Thinking Hats to address challenges and generate innovative solutions collaboratively.

By employing these visual thinking strategies, workplaces can streamline processes, encourage creative thinking, improve communication, and ultimately drive productivity and success across various projects and initiatives. Visual aids help in simplifying complexities and fostering a shared understanding among team members, promoting a culture of visual literacy and effective collaboration

What is the purpose of visual thinking strategies?

Why Does It Work? VTS is a rigorous and fun research-based approach with measurable growth in all learners across all areas. VTS is an effective teaching method because it: uses visual images to engage, puzzle and intrigue students while building ability and confidence in decoding complex and diverse material

The purpose of visual thinking strategies is to enhance cognition, problem-solving, communication, and creativity by leveraging visual elements. These strategies harness the brain’s natural ability to process and interpret visual information, providing a powerful tool to facilitate understanding and engagement in various contexts.

Enhanced Understanding: Visuals simplify complex concepts, making them easier to comprehend, particularly for intricate or abstract topics. They aid in clarifying relationships, connections, and patterns within the information.

Improved Memory and Retention: Visuals aid memory retention by providing a mental image that can be recalled easily. 

Facilitated Communication: Visuals transcend language barriers and enable effective communication, making ideas and information more accessible and engaging for a diverse audience.

Stimulated Creativity and Innovation: Visuals inspire creativity by encouraging individuals to think visually and make unique connections between ideas, fostering innovative thinking and problem-solving.

Enhanced Decision-Making: Visual representations of data or information allow for better analysis and informed decision-making. Patterns and trends are more readily identifiable when presented visually.

Support for Diverse Learning Styles: Visual thinking accommodates different learning preferences, catering to visual learners and complementing auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, thus making learning more inclusive.

Promotion of Collaboration: Visuals provide a shared platform for collaboration, allowing individuals or teams to work together, brainstorm, and ideate in a more organized and efficient manner.

In essence, visual thinking strategies serve to optimize the human cognitive process by presenting information in a format that aligns with how our brains naturally perceive and interpret the world. This leads to improved learning outcomes, effective problem-solving, and enriched communication in a wide range of personal, educational, and professional contexts.

What Is Visual Thinking Strategies


Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a transformative tool that utilizes the universal language of visuals to unlock creative thinking and cultivate analytical skills. By centering the discussion around visual imagery—whether it’s art, photographs, or diagrams—VTS transcends linguistic barriers and taps into a fundamental aspect of human cognition: our innate ability to process and interpret visual information.

Through discussions and strategic questioning, VTS facilitates a journey of exploration and interpretation. It invites individuals to voice their thoughts, hypotheses, and emotions about the visual content, nurturing a rich discourse that enhances comprehension and perspective-taking. Notably, VTS doesn’t impose a predetermined “correct” interpretation, encouraging diverse viewpoints and fostering an inclusive environment where every idea is valued.

Moreover, VTS promotes active engagement and participation, making it an effective educational tool across diverse age groups and disciplines. It empowers learners to approach problems with a critical eye, to think creatively, and to appreciate differing perspectives. The skills honed through VTS—observation, evidence-based reasoning, and respectful discussion—are transferable to many aspects of life, from academia to professional endeavors.

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