Ideas & Strategies - Nonlinguistic Representations

  • Narrative Input Chart: a strategy from Project GLAD that utilizes a narrative story format to teach high level content vocabulary and concepts
  • Pictorial Input Chart: a strategy from Project GLAD that assists students in the formation of mental pictures by hanging content concepts and vocabulary onto a visual representation that is revealed by the teacher in front of the students
  • Comparative Input Chart: similar to the Pictorial Input Chart, this strategy provides a visual aid for teaching students to compare and contrast attributes of the topic of study
  • Sentence Patterning Chart: a strategy from Project GLAD that provides a concrete structure for creating high level, complex English sentences while also providing students with multiple opportunities for repetition and practice
  • ELD Games; a compilation of 20+ games to deepen vocabulary comprehension and practice language structures


Helping students understand and represent knowledge nonlinguistically is the most under-used instructional strategy (Marzano et al., 2001). Taking advantage of this teaching tool requires focusing on current classroom practice and looking for opportunities to engage students in multiple modes. Research suggests best practices for instruction:

  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. Click here to see an example video (from the Project Connect website) illustrating various types of "Comprehensible Input" in practice.
  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. Click here to see an example video (from Project Connect) illustrating "Realia" in practice.
  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. Click here to see an example video (from Project Connect) illustrating "Total Physical Response" in practice.
  7. Integrate nonlinguistic forms into note-taking. Encourage students to take notes that are meaningful to them. Model use of sketches, graphs, and symbols.