Visual Thinking Activities for Remote Learning

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Visual thinking activities achieve different types of learning objectives, and they enhance the learning process as well.

David Sibbett, author of Visual Meetings, explains that visual activities move learners through a cycle of learning that “begins in the imagination with intention and task focus, moves through exploration and engagement, then thinking and pattern finding, and finally decisions to move to application” (Sibbett, 2010, p.11). In other word, visual activities can have a holistic impact on learners because they connect seeing with thinking, feeling, and doing.

Visual Thinking for Learning

Learning outcomes establish and clarify the goals of the activities (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching, 2020). They can plan and delivery appropriate instruction, and ensure that student evidence reflects learning in those goals.

Activities for learning promote different cognitive processes, including imagining problems, exploring patterns, organizing solutions, and sharing ideas. These processes are described and differentiated using Bloom’s Taxonomy (Figure 1_.

Bloom's Taxonomy, visualized in a triangle with different colours for each layer of the 6 knowledge domains. From lowest to highest: Remember: Recall facts and basic concepts. Understand: Explain ideas or concepts. Apply: Draw connections in new situations. Analyze: Draw connections among ideas. Evaluate: Justify a stand or decision. Create: Produce a new or original work.
Figure 1: Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Cognitive Domain)

Visual learning activities can develop thinking skills at every cognitive domain level.

Ideas for Remote Visual Thinking Activities

Below is an overview of 6 visual thinking activities. The first 3 (Mind maps, Flow charts, and Fishbone diagrams) provide visual ways to organized text. The second 3 (Supported drawing, Storyboard, and Digital collage/posters) visualize with images and text ideas, concepts, and processes.

Descriptions include what thinking skills these activities build and as how to facilitate them with some or no technology for remote classes. Click the (+) button for each section to learn more.

Mind Maps

A mind map/concept map/cluster diagram is a visual representation of knowledge, a way to visually organize information such as tasks, words, concepts, or items that are arranged around a central idea. 

  • Thinking skills include: recalling information and explaining ideas or concepts
  • Use for content review, pre-assessments, and energizing students
  • Activity idea: Students compare mind maps before and after a lesson, or create individually and compare in groups
  • Low-Tech​ delivery: Students create on a piece of paper, then take a picture and email​ or upload to a discussion forum
  • Some Tech​ delivery: Use a web-based mind mapping tool or a whiteboard and a stylus
Mind map example. By Elan Paulson CC0

Flow Chart

A flow chart is a type of diagram that represents a workflow or process, a step-by-step approach to solving a task. 

  • Thinking skills include: explaining ideas and applying information to operationalize decisions and implement action (a useful industry tool)
  • Activity: You can ask students to prepare a flow chart for any aspect of your course, including how to submit assignments, etc.
  • No tech: Have students create using a piece of paper
  • Some tech: Create and share digital flow chart using LucidChart or in PowerPoint​
Cake Flowchart” by meno. CC-BY.

Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram

fishbone (ishikawa) diagram is a cause-and-effect diagram, in which the problem is listed as its head and the causes and issues (or sub-issues) are feed into its spine. 

  • Thinking skills include: analyzing and drawing connections and making distinctions between ideas and properties to solve problems
  • Activity idea: Good for root cause analysis and diagnostic activities
  • No tech: Have students create using a piece of paper
  • Some tech: Create a fishbone diagram using Miro
A fishbone chart, detailing different reasons why there may be a defect in a microscope. The defect is on the horizontal axis, and the vertical axis items are measurements, materials, personal, environment, methods, and machines
Fishbone diagram describing microscope malfunction By DanielPenfield CC BY-SA 3.0

Supported Drawing

A supported drawing is a visual assembled by the student selecting and placing pre-made objects onto a provided background (Clark & Mayer, 2016).

  • Thinking skills include: understanding information by describing, identifying, and locating relevant components
  • Use for helping students to review information, retrieve and recall information, understand cycles, systems, and processes
  • Lot tech: Create a fill-in-the blank that students print and complete
  • Some Tech: Create a partially created drawing using a Whiteboard or PowerPoint
Supported drawing example. A cartoon drawing of a cake with arrows pointing to different parts of the cake
Supported drawing example. By Elan Paulson CC0


A storyboard is a graphic organizer that plans a narrative. It visually presents information visually in a linear direction using cells. 

  • Thinking skills include: creating a new work by assembling, constructing, and developing a visual timeline, and demonstrating understanding of a procedure or process
  • Activity idea: Use to map out/design project steps or presentation order
  • Low-tech: Share a PDF storybaord template, and have students print and complete​
  • Some tech: Create a storyboard template, or have students create a storyboard, using Canva
A six-cell storyboard about making cake. In each cell is a different step. Step 1 Assemble ingredients, with a picture a bottle and a bag. Step 2 Heat oven, with a thermometer. Step 3 Beat sugar and eggs, with a basket of eggs. Step 4 Add sugar, with a spoon. Step 5 Add dry ingredients, with a bowl. Step 6, Bake for one hour, with a cake or pie.

Digital Collage or Poster

An image collage is a piece of art created by combining photos, clippings, and images onto a surface, sometimes in a particular design.

  • Thinking skills include investigating, assembling, and designing
  • Activity idea: Collage or poster created in breakout groups during synchronous meeting using PPT or Canva; Share all posters after class to eConestoga forum gallery
  • Low Tech: Students share ideas and create a collage or poster on PowerPoint
  • Some tech: Share in an eConestoga forum gallery
An image collage of three different cakes from around the world. A plate of Johnnycakes. A plate of milk cake. A plate of Chigumu, banana fruit cake.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Sibbet, D. (2010). Visual meetings: How graphics, sticky notes, & idea mapping can transform group productivity. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.

Van Meter, P, & Garner, J. (2005). The Promise and Practice of Learner-Generated Drawing: Literature Review and Synthesis. Educational Psychology Review 17(4). DOI: 10.1007/s10648-005-8136-3. Available at ResearchGate 

Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching (2020). Bloom’s Taxonomy.’s%20Taxonomy,Analysis%2C%20Synthesis%2C%20and%20Evaluation.

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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