5 Novel Ways to Use Color to Teach Students

As an eleventh grade English teacher, it can be a challenging task to engage students who already have a fixed-mindset about learning. It is even more difficult when I have to teach students to analyze and synthesize information from a variety of sources to craft a cogent argument explaining their own views, and not someone else’s. For this reason, I employ the use of the arts, technology, and writing to help students develop a growth-mindset about education through color.

Total Physical Response Activities. My first unit is about the formation of America. I have students read an abridged version of Common Sense, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. Thereafter, in a presentation, I use statistics to show how inequality stills exists in America. I then count off students by color− black, blue, and white. In suit, I provide students with random objects around the classroom such as paperclips, ribbons, post-it notes− whatever I can find and do not mind losing.

I then ask the students to create a community based on the resources that I give to them. What the students do not know is that the colors represent the different socioeconomic classes in America− lower class, middle class, and upper class. Consistently, and every time I do this activity, those who are assigned to the lower class use all their resources wisely by creating schools, fire stations, and police stations. Those who are assigned to the middle class create the same infrastructures, but they space out their community to include lawns and suburban homes. Finally, those who were assigned to the upper class tend to use their resources frivolously by creating all the necessary civil structures, but they tack on movie theatre complexes, high rises, and toss aside any excess materials.

Highlighting. When I am teaching the structure of a paragraph, I use different colors to break down the elements of sentence. In addition to the main idea, students are expected to address the following in the first paragraph of any essay that they are to write in my class− Who (the author), What (the assigned reading), How (imagery, tone, diction, syntax/structure), and Why (author’s purpose).

Example: In Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she elucidates on the racial discrimination limiting African-Americans in present day society. Through the use of imagery, she delineates between the caged bird, representing the Black man, and the free bird, representing the white man. In turn, the caged bird is still shackled not by slavery but by prejudice.

Construction Paper. For argumentative essays, pass out sheets of red and green construction paper to the students. Assign students a topic where they are to agree or disagree with the prompt. Randomly, hand out the green and red sheets to students. Those who are given the green paper must agree with the stated prompt and those who are given the red paper must disagree. This exercise challenges students to see an argument from multiple perspectives, because they may be given a color (‘side’) that they may be at odds with.

If you want to get really fancy, download lined printable paper, and print it out on top of the construction paper.

Photographs. When teaching visual analysis, I use OPTIC (Overview, Parts of the Picture, Title, Interrelationships, and Conclusion). After I use guided instruction to help students analyze the picture, I upload it into a photography program on my computer. I then apply a filter such as black and white or sepia and ask the students to reevaluate the photo. You can also adjust the clarity, focus, and cut of the pictures, if you want to be more advanced. Students are surprised how the adjustment of an image can be easily manipulated and affect the way they perceive it.

Although you can use hard copy photos, I recommend using a digital photography program that allows you to edit on the spot, or at least apply filters.

Paint Chips. Check out your local paint store and pick-up paint chips. Use these as a visual form of analysis to grade student papers: the deeper the color, the deeper the analysis. Besides being free, this resource is excellent for rhetorical analysis. It provides a visual for students to distinguish between ‘surface-level’ analysis and ‘deeper’ analysis. This tool can be applied to both prose and poetry. I also attach a rubric to further define the areas where students can improve:  analysis of reasoning, flow and structure, insightfulness, and originality of thought.

Hue knew color can be so helpful?

My post was originally featured on Edutopia: 5 Novel Ways to Use Color to Teach Students

x-Jennifer