How to Effectively Use Teaching Aids in the Classroom

Visual aids have come a long way in the past 50 years.

Although flash cards are great, teachers now have other methods of keeping students interested in the classroom.
Although flash cards are great, teachers now have other methods of keeping students interested in the classroom. | Source

Some people say "seeing is believing." This sentiment is true, particularly for students who are visual in nature. Effectively using teaching aids allows for students to better comprehend material and therefore score better on tests.

Here is a brief list of tips on how to use teaching aids in a more effective manner in your classroom— whether your students sit behind traditional desks or just around the kitchen table.

Don't just point to a map and expect students to know what they should be looking for. Consider using comparing and contrasting techniques with old and modern maps.
Don't just point to a map and expect students to know what they should be looking for. Consider using comparing and contrasting techniques with old and modern maps. | Source

What are Teaching Aids?

Teaching aids, also sometimes referred to as “visual aids” add a new aspect to a teacher's presentation, and help shed new light on what the students should be learning.

As one person said, an effective visual aid is "like a window, it should not call attention to itself, it should just let in the light." Indeed, effective visual aids aren't the bulk of a presentation— one doesn't simply plop a poster on a stand and expect students to fully understand— but rather visual aids will help enhance the lesson plan.

Types & Benefits of Teaching Aids

types of aids
benefits
maps
show context or relationship
puppets
adds humor to situation
timelines
shows progression
audio disks
presents info in a new way
posters
easily portable, students can create
flannelgraph
create a story
story books
personalizes actual events
object lessons
allows learning from a different perspective
PowerPoint
graphic presentation with minimal words
Help students understand Texas geography by showing them a photo of the dessert and vegetation.
Help students understand Texas geography by showing them a photo of the dessert and vegetation. | Source

Choose Age-Appropriate Visual Aids

Although not all classroom aids are visual in nature (remember, you can invoke the other senses as well), what you use in the classroom will often vary based on the age group of the students you are teaching.

Just consider the differences in décor between what a kindergarten classroom looks like, what a middle school class looks like, and what a high school classroom looks like. Even things such as maps look different based on the age group. For example, younger students will be able to comprehend a simple map much better than a topographic map that an avid adult hiker would be familiar with.

Sure, pointing to the state of Texas on a US Map, may help students understand geographically where the state is in the US, however showing detailed photos of the rough terrain or oil fields will help students understand more information about the state than a plain map would.

Make each visual aid purposeful in your classroom.

Introduce Teaching Aids Naturally

Visual aids don't necessarily need to be have a spotlight on them, but you shouldn't just have a visual aid in plain sight without referring to it at all.

Remember, if the visual aid doesn't enhance what you are teaching then the visual aid isn't necessarily, and is as such, a waste of time. Superfluous visual aids detract from the lesson. Visual aids shouldn't just be pointed to, or referred to, without further explanation.

Visual aids need to be an extension of your presentation. If it is awkward to work into the presentation (or if you only refer to it once) you may be better off with a different visual, or without a visual aid at all.

This cross-section of the volcano only makes sense if the different parts of the volcano are labeled.
This cross-section of the volcano only makes sense if the different parts of the volcano are labeled. | Source

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing with your teaching aids is so important, that it can't be said enough, and this is particularly important when working with visual aids such as science experiments. Remember, if you are uncomfortable with a visual aid, or if you don't know how to manipulate it, it may cause confusion, as opposed to lending clarity, to the subject you are explaining. Visual aids should add clarity.

When I was in college (taking classes on how to teach elementary students) I was giving a mock lesson to my peers on the subject of volcanoes. I even had a miniature experiment to show the different ways that volcanoes can erupt (some erupt very slowly, whereas others erupt suddenly and violently).

Even though I’d practiced with the materials, the chemical reaction didn’t occur to make my pseudo-volcano erupt. I’ll never forget as I stood there in horror waiting for the top to pop off the lid on my “volcano”. Thankfully my instructor lightened the mood and called out in a nice voice“Try it again!”, and thankfully I’d brought along another set of materials to recreate the reaction. If I didn’t do the experiment again, my teaching assignment would have been a disaster itself (oh yeah, and the “students” I was teaching wouldn’t have benefited from the experiment either). But because I had practiced enough time I was cool enough to try it again, and this time the reaction was successful.

Remember the boy scout motto, and always come prepared!

It's important to remember that all visual aids ought to add support and value to the learning environment. Don’t just include visual aids for visual aids’ sake.

Support the Overall Message

Suppose you are doing a unit on animals and found a cool picture of a spotted lizard. If the kids in your class enjoy lizards it MIGHT be a good addition as a visual aid, but if you are discussing mammals on that day the picture isn’t relevant to the topic and would then be a distraction, and just wouldn't be relative to the topic at all.

Conversely, don’t let the teaching aid be the bulk of your presentation, and don’t let it be too bulky either. In essence, don’t let a visual aid overwhelm the teaching time; make sure that all visual aids are relative to the topic. In short, if it doesn't relate, don't include it; you may confuse students by introducing something unrelated to what they are learning.

Make sure your teaching aids add value to your topic.

Don’t limit your use of visual aids just to overcome the problem of storage.

Consider the Scale

In my freshman speech class our teacher encouraged us to used visual aids that were appropriately scaled to the audience you are addressing. For example, if you are teaching a small classroom of elementary school children it might be appropriate to pass around a dried starfish during your presentation on sea life. However the same visual aid would be inappropriate for a larger college room setting, where the class size could range up to 100 students— it would just take too long for everyone in the class to be able to see the starfish up close.

Small visual aids might be appropriate in a small classroom setting, where children may be sitting around on an area rug, however the same visual aid wouldn't be visible to students seated at a desk at the back of a classroom.

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