Coloring with a Purpose: Enhance Learning, Don’t Replace It!

Nothing lights up a middle school or high school student’s face more than the chance to color.  

Well, maybe nothing except a substitute teacher’s presence.  

But what if they have a substitute teacher and they are given something to color??!  Watch out, Alpha Centauri.

But what every teacher struggles with is how to create fun activities where the fun enhances learning instead of replacing it.  Coloring pages are no different.  A big mistake some teachers make is to give coloring pages (to keep kids entertained/busy/out of their hair for 30 minutes) that have no basis in the subject matter and this can only get teachers in trouble.  Coloring a picture of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: bad idea.  Coloring a picture of a mole using ion charges as coloring directions: great idea!  Here are a few ideas on how to make coloring activities that are both great for learning and great fun.

1.  Create coloring diagrams with instructions that help students to remember key details.  For example, a coloring page that instructs students to color different parts of the cell membrane might help them connect in their minds the differences between phospholipids and membrane proteins.  There are biology coloring books at most chain bookstores or available online and they can serve as great supplements to help students visualize how structure and function are connected in living things.

2.  Create color-by-number activities. Color-by-number activities work well when

you have a set of questions where the answers are limited to 2-5 different possibilities.  Each section on the color-by-number needs space for a short question or question abbreviation.  For a free Color-by-Ion-Charge Chemistry Activity, go here, and check out what I mean.  

This type of coloring page is essentially a practice worksheet in disguise!  These types of activities work really well as practice sheets that a substitute could do if you are out. (But make sure you leave a colored-in key, because subs definitely don’t always remember their polyatomic ion charges.)

3.  OK, this is not exactly a coloring page, but I like to have students use color when analyzing their own scientific evidence from a lab experiment or evidence in a critical reading assignment!  Highlight evidence that supports their hypothesis in blue and highlight evidence that does not support their hypothesis in red.  This is a great strategy to help students think about particular pieces of evidence and how they fit into the whole picture.

An important note: whenever I do an activity with color, I make sure to be sensitive to students with colorblindness.  I try not to create activities that hinge on telling the difference between green and red.

How do you like to add coloring to brighten up a random day?

new blog signature

Task Cards: 6 Reasons to Love Them and a How-To-Guide

Teaching About Viruses: Web Resources and a Reading Lesson