Nonlinguistic Representation

There are two ways we learn information; Linguistic (words) and nonlinguistic (imagery). You may be thinking linguistic is the easiest way to fully understand the information your learning, but nonlinguistic offers teachers a way to expand the learning process in a creative way. "The more students use both systems of representing knowledge, the better they are able to think about and recall what they have learned (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock,2001).

Key Research Findings on Nonlinguistic Representation:

  • Learners acquire and store knowledge in two primary ways: linguistic (by reading or hearing lectures), and nonlinguistic (through visual imagery, kinesthetic or whole-body modes, and so forth). The more students use both systems of representing knowledge, the better they are able to think about and recall what they have learned (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock,2001).
  • Visual representations help students recognize how related topics connect (NCTIM, 2000).
  • Finding patterns helps students organize their ideas so that they can later recall and apply what they have learned. Research has shown an increase in understanding of geometry when students learn to represent and visualize three-dimensional forms (Branford et al., 1999; Lehrer & Chazen, 1998).
  • After brainstorming to generate ideas, students can improve their reading, writing, and thinking skills by using thinking maps to help them organize key concepts in a visual way (Hyerle,1996).
  • Using visual representation software in a science classroom helps students express their developing understanding of core chemistry concepts in the form of visual representations that are readily created and shared. These representations help students generate explanations of the phenomena they are investigating. (Michalchik, V., Rosenquist, A., Kozma, R., Kreikemeier, P., Schank, P., & Coppola, B., in press).

Strategies & examples of nonlinguistic representations
Nonlinguistic Representations allows for the learner to greater understand and recall information.
Graphic Organizer is the most common strategy used by educators. You have probably used this strategy in an Elementary Language Arts class, or to brainstorm on a project. Examples of graphic organizers are;

Time Sequence Pattern

Process/cause-Effect Pattern

Descriptive Pattern.jpg
Descriptive Pattern

EducationPlace offers help for students to brainstorm ideas and create the appropriate graphic organizer.
Pictures & Pictographs are a great way to represent knowledge. Pictographs use "symbols or symbolic pictures to represent information". (Marzano, 2000) Below is a video showing how pictographs are a unique and understanding way to teach math skills, problem solving, and symbols in our everyday learning environment.

**Mental Pictures**are very important to the learning process because it is one of the main ways we store information to recall it later.
Creating mental images requires more mental energy and therefore leads to deeper processing than creating graphic representations, drawing or sketching. When students create mental images, they must hold them in their working memory while elaborating on them, questioning them, and drawing conclusion from them. The effort required to visualize and manipulate mental images creates a more permanent and more deeply processed record in the brain of the content being studied.
Marzano, R. J., & Heflebower, T., (2011).

Follow these few simple steps to provide practice developing students' mental images:
  • Begin reading. Pause after a few sentences or paragraphs that contain good descriptive information.
  • Share the image you've created in your mind, and talk about which words from the book helped you "draw" your picture. Your picture can relate to the setting, the characters, or the actions. By doing this, you are modeling the kind of picture making you want your child to do.
  • Talk about how these pictures help you understand what's happening in the story.
  • Continue reading. Pause again and share the new image you created. Then ask your child to share what he sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels. Ask what words helped him create the mental image and emotions. By doing this, you are providing your child with practice with this new skill.
  • Are your images identical? Probably not! This is a great time to talk about why your images might be different. Perhaps your child went on a school field trip or had a school assembly that changed the way they created the picture in their mind. Perhaps experiences you've had as an adult influenced what you "drew." These differences are important to understand and respect.
  • Read a longer portion of text and continue the sharing process.
  • Once this is a familiar skill, encourage your child to use mental imagery when she is reading by herself. You can feel confident that these mental pictures will help your child understand the story in an important way.

Concrete Representations are representations of knowledge being learned. For example; math and science use 3-D models and globes. Below is an example of a 4th grade Science class implementing Concrete Representations.

Mrs. Allison helped her 4th grade class to understand why we see different phases of the moon by presenting a concrete representation of the moon's monthly journey around the earth and its relationship to the sun. For the moon, Mrs. Allison gave each student a white Styrofoam ball and had them stick it on the end of a pencil. For the sun, she used a lamp with the shade removed. She told her students each of them would be the earth.

Mrs. Allison placed the lamp in the middle of the room, pulled down the window shades, and turned off the lights. Then she had each student place the ball at arm's length between the bulb and their eyes, simulating a total solar eclipse, which, she explained, is quite rare. Because the moon usually passes above or below the sun as viewed from Earth, Mrs. Allison then had her students move their moon up or down a bit so that they were looking into the Sun. From this position the students could observe that all the sunlight was shining on the far side of the moon, opposite the side they were viewing, simulating a new moon.

Mrs. Allison guided her students to move their moons in such a way that they observed first a crescent moon, then a half moon, a full moon, and a three-quarter moon. At each point, Mrs. Allison pointed out that the sun was always illuminating half of the moon (except in the case of a lunar eclipse) and that the appearance of the these fractions of moon was due to the moon's changing position in relationship to the earth over the course of a month.

Kinesthetic Activity (tactile learning) a learning style in which the learning takes place through physical activity rather than listening or watching."When students use physical movement to role play processes or events, it generates a mental picture of the knowledge in the mind of the learner." (Marzano's Instructional Strategies.)

Putting Nonlinguistic Representation to use in the classroom
Nonlinguistic representation is the least common method used in classrooms. Educators sometimes find it hard to implement these strategies into their lesson plan because of the lack of knowledge given about nonlinguistic representations. In order to take advantage of these stategies you must focus on current classroom practices while looking to engage students in multiple modes. Research from Marzano states the best methods are as follows;

1.Model use of new tools. Activities that involve nonlinguistic representation may be new to students who are accustomed to learning through lectures and readings. Scaffold student learning as you introduce activities such as concept maps, idea webs, and computer simulations by modeling how to use tools that help them represent their thinking nonverbally. Gradually remove the scaffolds so students eventually work independently with the new tool or technology.

2.Use nonlinguistic modes in the content areas. Math and science classrooms offer ideal settings for incorporating nonlinguistic learning experiences. Language arts classrooms provide natural connections from classifying words to modeling plotlines. Models, graphs, imagery, and other tools enable students to engage in actively constructing representations of their understanding.
3.Foster cooperative learning. Encourage students to work in small teams when they are constructing nonlinguistic representations. Students' questions and discussions will help them communicate and refine their thinking.

4.Teach interpretation of nonlinguistic forms also. Finding patterns helps students organize their ideas so that they can later recall and apply what they have learned. Teach students to represent and interpret information in graphs, charts, maps, and other formats that will help them see patterns and make connections.

5.Simulations offer new modes for learning. Use simulation software or online simulations to let students practice making predictions and testing outcomes. Combine nonlinguistic experimentation with verbal discussion, which prompt students to think through their understanding and raise new questions.

6.Stimulate body-mind connections. Kinesthetic learning is not just for primary grades. Older students continue to learn through physical activities. Incorporate dramatizations, dance, music, simulations, and other active learning experiences.

7.Integrate nonlinguistic forms into note-taking. Encourage students to take notes that are meaningful to them. Model use of sketches, graphs, and symbols.