Dual Coding

Dual coding is combining words and visuals such as pictures, diagrams, graphic organizers, and so on. The idea is to provide two different representations of the information, both visual and verbal, to help students understand the information better. Adding visuals to a verbal description can make the presented ideas more concrete, and provides two ways of understanding the presented ideas. Dual coding is about more than just adding pictures. Instead, the visuals should be meaningful, and students should have enough time to integrate the two representations (otherwise, cognitive overload could occur, see this blog). There is scientific evidence backing dual coding, showing that when we combine representations it is easier for students to learn and understand the material.

The dual coding learning strategy is all about using different learning materials in order to learn better. Dual coding is about combining verbal material with visuals in your teaching practice. However, keep it simple: combining more than two types of multimedia can be detrimental for your students. Combine visuals with text OR words, video with audio, video with text OR words.

When you teach this way, students have two ways of understanding and remembering the information later on. When you don’t, make sure to explain to your students that it might help to draw something with your explanations.

Here are a few things your students will have to do:

  • Let your students find some images in their course material and let them examine how the words are describing what’s in the image. Then do it the other way around. How does the image represent the text?

  • Now your students just have to look at the images and explain in their own words what they mean.

  • Then, let them take those words and let them draw an image based on those words. There are different ways to represent information.

(Download the dual coding poster right here).

Research into dual-coding has found that:

  • Students who revised with words and pictures performed twice as well in a problem solving test compared to those who had just revised with just words

  • Students who learn with both words and pictures remember around 50% more than those who revised by seeing words and then separately later seeing pictures

These results do not suggest that all students will make the same amount of gains using dual coding (as things like previous knowledge and the topic being covered will probably make a difference). Rather, that revising with both words and pictures offers a good boost to memory retention and recall.

The work of Oliver Caviglioli, former Headteacher turned information designer, has also been incredibly helpful, informative and insightful in regards to dual coding. There is a wealth of information, useful visual resources ( as shown below) and a great video explanation and discussion about dual coding that can all be found on his website www.olicav.com

Here are some examples of how to use dual coding in your classroom:


Students often get carried away by mindmaps – either that or never set sail only to write and colour a lovely title. If they do produce a mindmap, more often than not it is information and cognitive overload and loses its purpose. Mindmaps need to be kept simple, so students in the long run are able to self quiz using them. Set students a challenge that all branches need to be a certain colour, they must include diagrams, pictures and sketches and give them a maximum word count.

Annotated Diagrams

In science for example, lots of diagrams are used to help explain concepts, ideas and phenomenon. Most if not all diagrams need further labels – but do we as teachers think hard enough as hard enough about how we label as much as what we label. To reduce cognitive load it is important that labels are labelled within the diagram rather than attached to lines pointing to the correct parts or with labels in a box next to it labelled with a, b, c etc.

A to Z

Students use the letters A to Z to write a keyword or term for the topic of choice and then the students are able to draw or sketch something that represent the keyword.


Students write their own or are given a list of keywords. The game can be played various ways students could draw it while other guess it, or one student shows to the word to a group but can not see it themselves. Other groups members then draw it and the student that has the word has to guess what it is. The teacher could also instruct students to draw various concepts on mini white boards as a starter.

Storyboards & Comic Strips

Allow students to create a story board or comic strip to help explain concepts


Timelines are a brilliant strategy to organise dates and times that other wise would take a lot of working memory to manipulate. I have used timelines in science to visually represent the changes to the atomic model and the stages of the big band. History teachers I am sure are already all over this!


An infographic (or information graphic) is “a visual representation of information or data”.

But the meaning of an infographic is something much more specific. An infographic is a collection of imagery, charts, and minimal text that gives an easy-to-understand overview of a topic.

Key Takeaways

  • Visuals are powerful for communicating complex ideas in an efficient way; it takes a great many words to describe the simplest of images

  • Images, if chosen correctly for their clarity, enable pupils to get a rapid gist of meaning; leaving them with more cognitive resources to engage in higher order thinking

  • Cut the amount of content we intend to include on a slide or resource; chunk the information into headings that stand out; line up information neatly to give the reader confidence in its order; use fonts and colour with restraint

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