When decoding is overwhelming, illustrations can come to the rescue

When decoding is overwhelming, illustrations can come to the rescue

Combining words with illustrations has various pedagogical and processing benefits. These benefits are magnified in the case of children with dyslexia because their learning style often relies on visual input. This means that if they hear a word, say it, and link it to an image, there is a better chance that they will remember it.[1]  Let us have a closer look at how this mechanism works.

The human information-processing system is made up of two pathways that engrave concepts into our memory.[2] The first one is the verbal channel which consists of words and all things linguistic. The second one is the visual channel which is made up of everything we see. These two systems are structurally and functionally separate in that we can learn things through each one independently, but they can also support and expand each other. If the two systems are engaged in processing the same information, they result to deeper and better processing of this information. In other words, when we see an image which is a reflection of what we hear, the information flows through the two channels, and this creates a deeper and more meaningful representation of the concept encoded. At the same time, when one of the two systems is overloaded, the other one can come to the rescue. Thus, if a learning objective is broken into components, visual content can come to the rescue when verbal working memory is overloaded, so that learning effects are maximised.[3] The working-memory limitations that children with dyslexia often suffer from, explain why accompanying words with illustration is particularly beneficial. 

Another general benefit of images is that they increase learners’ motivation by creating an effect of fun and excitement that focuses attention on the word being learned.[4] Moreover, a study has found that it's easier and faster to map a word to an illustration than to a photograph, because illustrations highlight the most iconic elements of an object or action without overloading the child’s visual system with unnecessary detail.[5] 

For all these reasons, the visual magic of Mrs Wordsmith’s illustrations can very well complement therapeutic interventions for dyslexia, while ensuring that your children will have fun in the process!


[1] Daloiso, M. (2017). Supporting Learners with Dyslexia in the ELT Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2] Clark , J. M. , & Paivio , A. (1991). Dual coding theory and educationEducational Psychology, 3(3), 149–210.

[3] Mayer, R. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist 38(1), 43–52.

[4] Ahikpa, J. N. (2011). The effectiveness of still vs. animated cartoon pictures on learning second language vocabulary.  (M.A. dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest.

[5] Saryazdi, R., & Chambers, C.G. (2018). Mapping language to visual referents: Does the degree of image realism matter? Acta Psychologica, 182, 91-99.

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