Roses are red, violets are blue, colour can be used with adult learners too.

Numerous studies have shown that colour breaks the monotony, adds variety, has a significant impact on our emotion and mood, helps us focus more and remember better. Colour is a powerful tool in the teacher’s toolkit and may have a profound effect on learning.

My today’s post describes 5 ways to use colour in the classroom. This is definitely not the ultimate list but I hope it will help generate more ideas and add more colour to learning.

colours in learning

Checking understanding

Instead of asking learners whether the task/material is clear so that you could move on, you can use the traffic light technique. Equip your learners with red, amber and green pencils/markers (which they may use for other purposes as well, e.g. take notes or highlight different parts in the text), and get them to raise the pencils to show how much they think they understand: red – “I don’t understand, please explain again”, amber – “I understand but would like to go over this again” and green – “Everything’s clear, I’m ready to move on.” This will give you quick visual feedback and help decide whether you need to go through the task/material with your learners again.

There are different variations of this technique. For example, see the post Traffic lights: A free resource for correcting errors and checking understanding, where Jason Anderson describes how he uses traffic light prisms for correcting errors and checking understanding.

This technique can be used as a great self-assessment tool. Watch this Teachingchannel video that shows how it can be used to get students to evaluate their work and receive peer support, rather than only relying on teacher’s assessment.


Colour highlighting gives learners immediate visual feedback showing where they have met certain criteria for successful task completion.

After your students have drafted their essays, ask them to highlight the parts showing they’ve met the criteria set. For example, to get a high score for coherence and cohesion, students should use a range of appropriate linking phrases/words. Before they hand in their essays, have your students highlight all the linking phrases/words they used and reflect on how they used them – Are there too few linking words? Too many? Do they serve their purpose? The same can be done for vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Colour-coded error correction

There’s much discussion about using a different colour than the traditional red pen for error correction. Some educators call for throwing the red pen away and talk about the red pen effect, while others don’t really see the point in doing so (see more in this article). I doubt changing your pen colour alone might significantly affect feedback if it’s poorly planned and doesn’t support learning. Anyway, while rethinking the colour of your pen, you may go further and consider introducing several colours.

Instead of symbols indicating the type of error, try to use colour codes:

E.g. Colour code

colour code

Colour-coded correction may help provide quick feedback and show the pattern of errors to your learners highlighting the areas they need to work on.

Close reading

Highlighting in colour can be used as a visualisation strategy to facilitate reading comprehension. When going through comprehension questions, ask your students to highlight specific elements, such as key words, main arguments, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc. Highlighted parts or key words that contain the answers to comprehension questions serve as visual scaffolding, making words/phrases stand out in the text and thus more memorable.


Image: Robson#, Flickr.com, Creative Commons

Drawing and Colouring

Drawing and colouring are mainly employed with young learners, when they are asked to draw and colour or offered colour sheets with instructions for colouring, which reflects a traditional colouring-is-for-kids-only attitude. Meanwhile, it can be used with teenage and adult learners too. Equip them with coloured pencils and markers and get them to brainstorm ideas and think visually, or turn reading a text into a colouring exercise (e.g. see my recent post LEARNING IN COLOUR).

colouring the house

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Please leave a comment if you have some more ideas to share with us! 

Happy teaching!

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