Emily Bryson ELT


A visual template by Emily Bryson ELT. A visual tool for facilitators and teachers to use to support learners and pairticipants to set goals, consider challenges and how to overcome them. The template shows ahand drawn mountain, and a hot air balloon, each with space for people to add thoughts and ideas.

What’s a visual template and why are they so special anyway?

There’s much more to graphic facilitation than just simple doodles. It’s not just drawing in or with a class. There is a whole world of visual metaphors, storytelling, templates, visual vocabulary containers and all sorts of other magic!

One of the most important tools is the visual template. In this post, I’ll explore what a visual template is and why they are so much fun to use.

What is a visual template?

A visual template is a graphic facilitation tool. It creates a hand-drawn space for people to add ideas, thoughts, information or doodles. The aim is to use it to guide a task, project, meeting, class or to help solve a problem.

In many ways, visual templates are similar (or perhaps even are) graphic organisers. A graphic organiser provides a space for people to answer questions or focus their thoughts too. They tend to take the form of tables, diagrams, or a series boxes.

Since starting my graphic facilitation journey, and applying it to all things English Language Teaching, I’ve been pondering what the difference between a graphic organiser and a visual template is…

What’s the difference between a graphic organiser and a visual template?

I’ve spoken to quite a few other visual practitioners at length on this and have come to the conclusion that:

  • a graphic organiser uses simple boxes, circles, squares and diagrams to create a space for thinking. They can be quite plain, simple and functional. They usually have text to guide thinking because there are no other visual clues.

For example:


  • a visual template uses visual metaphors, storytelling and hand drawn icons to provide an inspiring space to add ideas. There’s an added magic to a visual template because, instead of a box, a visual template will use an icon such as a mountain, a hot air balloon or a lightbulb as a blank space to add ideas. They don’t need to use text to guide thinking, because the imagery allows the brain to connect with the story behind it.

In short, visual templates are snazzier, more fun and more visually engaging than graphic organisers, in my humble opinion.

Here’s an example from my book Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation and Progession.

In this visual template, there are a few visual metaphors. These help to de-sensitise tricky topics, inspire and add a fun visual story.

  • The mountain – is often used to signify difficulties, challenges or working towards a goal. The summit of the mountain could be an aspiration or objective.
  • The hot air balloon – can be used to represent a method of reaching goals. Adding hot air, positive thoughts or tasks can help the balloon rise and move upwards. Adding more weight, baggage or negative thoughts could have the opposite effect.

The beauty of visual templates is that they can be used in many ways for various purposes. I’ve used the mountain in class, in webinars and to plan my own business. It’s perfect for printing, drawing, interactive whiteboards and online use. And it can be adapted for personal goal-setting, business goal-setting, reflecting on wellbeing and a multitude of other topics, so it’s a winner in terms of minimising preparation time!

If you’d like more ideas like this, you can buy my Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation and Progession. It has sixteen visual templates which you can use, re-use, adapt and re-purpose in as many ways as you can possibly think. I’ve provided some usage notes to get you started, as well as a printer-friendly and a colour version of each template.

Front cover of teaching resource pack by Emily Bryson. Title: Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation & Porgession. The cover illustration shows a mountain with people finding different ways to get to the top (e.g. a hot air balloon, a cable car, a bike, etc).
Emily Bryson ELT – Resource pack for students, teachers, leaders and teams.

If you’d like to try before you buy, check out this webinar recording (start at 7.45 mins to skip the intro).

And, if you’d like to create your own visual tools like this, I have various courses which can help you. You might want to start with Dis(?)Organised Graphics and Graphic Organisers with the fabulous Clare Hayward, where we share some cool teaching tips on using canva, graphic organisers and visual templates!

What’s a visual template and why are they so special anyway? Read More »

Thumbnail of six sketchnotes by Emily Bryson. Created as visual summaries for the IATEFL Young Learners special interest group webconference in January 2024. The sketchnotes provide visual records of a variety of English language teaching topics.

Six Sketchnotes for Teaching Young Learners

I was absolutely honoured to be asked to visually record the IATEFL Young Learners’ Special Interest Group Webconference in January.

It was an incredible event, with a vast array of top ELT Professionals sharing their expertise.

I had the pleasure of visually recording the following sessions:

  • The power of self-regulation: a lesson from Captain Marvel by Andre Hedlund
  • Unlocking potential: exploring play based learning for young learners by Marie Davou
  • Making English language learning socially just by Dario Banegas
  • Empowering Education: nurturing hope and equity in underserved communities by Anju Moses and Dinesha Sinaratne
  • Understanding & embracing uniqueness: nurturing mental wellbeing in education by Nicky Francis & Candace Donovan
  • Extending the walls of the classroom: across the sky by Michael Lacey Freeman

Here’s a quick peek at what I created. If you’d like to know more about each session, sketchnoting or my design choices, check out the blog post I wrote for IATEFL YLTSIG. You can also see the sketchnotes in large size there too.

Thumbnail of six sketchnotes by Emily Bryson. Created as visual summaries for the IATEFL Young Learners special interest group webconference in January 2024. The sketchnotes provide visual records of a variety of English language teaching topics.

If you’d like me to create a sketchnote of one of your sessions, or an event you’re organising, just get in touch via socials or my contact form. I also take commissions for summarising complex reports and research OR making presentation slides snazzy!

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Emily Bryson ELT Blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics

Emily Bryson ELT blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics!

One of the things I love most about blogging is the opportunity to explore different ascpects of teaching English in more detail. It’s a great way to learn and share teaching ideas with the world.

Over the years, I’ve been writing blog posts less for my website and more as a professional blogger. I’ve now written for Ellii ( formerly ESL Library), British Council, Cambridge University Press and National Geographic Learning, not to mention all the magazine articles.

As I feel like I’ve been neglecting my own blog here, I thought I’d write a post collating some of the articles I’ve written for other organisations.

Resident blogging for Ellii (formerly ESL Library)

I’ll start with Ellii, because I’m thrilled to be writing fortnightly blog posts for them. I love their approach to language learning, and their engaging and accessible resources. Their blog is full of ELT related topics from teaching tips to wellbeing advice.

Here are a few of the posts I’ve written them:

Translanguaging: Embracing the Power of Multilingualism in Your Classroom

The Power of Differentiation: Effective Strategies to Support Learners with Mixed Abilities. 

A Quick Guide to Universal Design for Learning

Speaking at an ELT Conference: Top Tips for Successful Presentations

How to Simplify Complex Tasks with Visual Prompts

The What, Why and How of Sustainable Development Goals

Using Graphic Organisers for Language Skills Development

Graphic Facilitation 101: Teaching English through Visual Communication

What’s the Story? How One Image Can Develop Visual Literacy and Critical Thinking Skills

Six Ways to Support English Learners from Refugee Backgrounds

Sketchnoting 101: Supercharge Professional Development with Visual Notes

It was pretty tricky to decide which ones to share here! I think I might have got a bit carried away! I also wrote a series of posts on accessibility, which shares ways to support learners with dyslexia, ADHD, low vision and limited digital literacy.  And you’ll find a lovely hand drawn activity about banishing your inner troll and embracing growth mindset there too!

You can check out my other posts for Ellii by clicking the image below:

Screenshot of a selection of blog posts Emily Bryson has written for Ellii (formerly ESL Library). Posts include topics such as accessible learning, wellbeing. mental health, end of term activities, teaching learners from refugee backgrounds, digital literacy, using images as grammar prompts.
A screenshot from Ellii.com. Click to view posts.

National Geographic Learning Voices Blog

I am proud to be one of the authors of the Voices series for National Geographic Learning. I love its global and inclusive approach to language learning. It seeks to develop students’ voices in English through intercultural communication, engaging topics and impactful images.

It also follows a pronunciation syllabus which embraces accent diversity. As a language teaching professional with a Scottish accent, this is incredibly refreshing for me. For years, I felt my accent was ‘wrong’ but in reality the way I was taught to teach pronunciation was wrong! Every accent is beautiful and intelligibility is the key!

You can read more about the ethos of Voices in these blog posts:

  • Marek Kiczkowiak shares how to teach pronunciation for global communication.
  • Lewis Lansford discusses the importance of teaching authentic listening skills.
  • Chia Suan Chong gives advice on intercultural skills for the real world.
  • Alex Warren provides eight tips for best practice leasson planning.
  • And I share ways to make learning accessible.

Click the image to read the articles:

Images of the front covers of the Voices series of English Language Teaching Coursebooks for National Geographic Learning
Click to read the articles.

Cambridge University Press World of Better Learning Blog

The World of Better Learning site is absolutely full of English Language Teaching related content. It has fantastic posts from Jade Blue, Rachel Tsateri, Peter Fullager and Jo Szoke, to name but a few experts in the field.. So whether you’d like some teaching ideas for Pride Month or ideas for developing Digital Literacy, this is a treasure chest of info.

I was honoured to be asked to write about Graphic Facilitation for them. Here’s a link to my article:

Graphic Facilitation: Getting Creative with Hand-drawn Graphics

British Council Teaching English Blog

The British Council Teaching English site is an absolute staple of any TEFL or TESOL teacher. It has been a tried and trusted throughout my whole career. This site covers every imaginable ELT topic under the sun.

In this post, I share simple ways to use graphic novels, simple drawings, emojis, story graphs and the language experience approach to help students tell their stories.

You can read it here:

How can I celebrate diversity through storytelling? 

Love these posts? If you’d like to know more about graphic facilitation or adding a visual or hand-drawn twist to your lessons, check out my courses. Click the laptop image below.

Hand drawn image by Emily Bryson ELT. The visual shows a laptop screen. Inside the screen a teacher is teaching while students look on in amazement.

Emily Bryson ELT Blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics Read More »

Emily Bryson ELT FREE Active Meditation download

Switching off the overactive mind: an active drawing meditation!

Do you have a brain that won’t be silenced? 

Have you tried (and failed) at guided meditation? 

I have! You’re not alone. 

For years I struggled to quieten my mind. I attended lunch time mindfulness sessions at my college. I downloaded numerous meditation apps. I tried sitting quietly in an empty room. 

Nothing worked. 

I even got into the habit of arriving fifteen minutes early for my yoga class. This just meant that I was usually asleep by the time the instructor arrived! 

An enlightened yoga instructor!

When I told my yoga teacher about my struggles she just looked at me knowingly. She knew me well, and she instinctively knew that meditation wasn’t for me. 

She said ‘You need to get out on your bike. You’re an active meditator.’

Something clicked that day. She was so right. And it was so refreshing to hear that meditation wasn’t for everyone. 

Another muse!

Then Robert Stroud contacted me. He’d seen my work on graphic facilitation for English language teaching and wanted me to write an article on wellbeing for the University Grapevine magazine. 


Emily Bryson, University Grapevine Article, active drawing meditation, doodling for mindfulness

He got me thinking. If I can’t quieten my mind through sitting still, why not doodle my way to tranquility? 

So I got my pens out!

Doodling a body scan meditation

I’d attempted enough mindfulness techniques to know the script. Start by focusing on how your body feels, then bring your attention to the sights, sounds and smells, then consider what you can taste and any emotions. 

I drew an ear, an eye, a nose, a hand, a mouth and a heart. I drew each one big enough that I could add notes and doodles inside it. Then I added what I could hear, see, smell, touch, taste and feel. I added more doodles as I went. 

The relaxing effects of drawing

Drawing is well known for being therapeutic and the aim of meditation has a similar effect. Once I’d spent ten minutes doodling and focusing my thoughts on the present moment, I felt much calmer. 

It was definitely a tool I needed to share with the world, so I tidied it up and sent it on the University Grapevine. 

The calm classroom

I teach learners from refugee backgrounds. When they arrive in class, they can be thinking about a multitude of worries; the safety of their families in other countries, their home office case, homeless, work, children, etc. Focusing on grammar and vocabulary aren’t always top of the list. 

When I did this with my learners, I demonstrated how to draw each icon on the whiteboard. They then took a minute or so to think, listen, feel and add their thoughts in the relevant place. It went down well, and many said that it was an enjoyable activity. 

If you’d like to try it, you can download it and other freebies here: 


You can read the original article in Issue 13 of the University Grapevine Magazine here: 


If you’d like more ideas like this or to develop your doodling skills for the classroom, check out my courses:


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Awesome Alumni!: Eve Sheppard!

Awesome Alumni: Eve Sheppard!

Need some inspiration? Keep scrolling!

Eve Sheppard is an ESOL and functional maths teacher at Oldham College. She’s also a graduate of my Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings course and a regular #DrawingELT (see Twitter) participant. 

I asked her a few questions about how she uses simple drawings in the classroom. Her response blew me away. 

What attracted you to my course?

I wanted to do something creative for myself and for my teaching. Earlier in the year I’d been to a workshop on using comics to teach and had some success using hand-drawn cartoons in Functional Maths classes. I wanted to improve my drawing skills so that I could use them more confidently in the ESOL classroom.

How has your professional practice changed since my course?

Drawing has permeated every part of my professional practice. It is an incredibly useful tool for so many aspects of my work. When I’m planning how to communicate with students and colleagues it’s become a habit to think ‘how can I draw this?’.  I’ve used drawing in student profiles, staff bulletins, templates for gathering action research reflections, event publicity and of course in my classroom.

What have you used your graphic facilitation skills for? 

In classes I often use it to support speaking and writing activities. For example, in one lesson, students were practising using present simple to discuss culture. They talked with a partner to find similarities and differences in their lifestyles. I displayed a slide with lots of simple icons to help generate ideas. As they spoke they made a visual record of their conversations using a Venn diagram. Note taking is a skill that many of my students struggle with, but the Venn diagram and simple drawings allowed them to record their discussions without getting bogged down with lots of writing. They were able to use their notes to report back to the group and complete a writing activity. It worked so much better than written notes as the images were quick to copy and students were able to focus on the spoken element of the task.

I’ve also used drawings as a prompt for writing and to provide a context for grammar points, as in the examples below:

Aside from teaching, graphic facilitation has been invaluable for organising my thoughts and gathering data for action research. When I did an OTLA Action Research project, this visual template gave participants a clear understanding of the kind of information I wanted to capture:

On a personal level, when I was writing my reflective journal for Advanced Teacher Status (ATS), this hastily scribbled visual template stopped my head spinning and helped me to write coherently. 

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Action Plan.

How are the students responding to your simple drawings and graphic facilitation tools?

They understand me more easily and tell me that they enjoy seeing my drawings. The drawings often make us smile and I think they make grammar topics feel more approachable. Students have more opportunities to speak, because I can communicate ideas quickly without unnecessary teacher talk.  My students also appreciate opportunities to draw themselves and have said that it helps them to record and remember vocabulary.

Have you used graphic facilitation for any other aspects of your life?


Yes, it creeps into everything 😀. I created this visual to help my children tidy their bedroom and it actually worked! 

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Encouraging children to tidy their rooms. Hand drawn checklist.

What would you say to anyone thinking about doing my course?

Go for it!  It’s so useful and doing something creative is great for well-being. It has enhanced my professional practice in so many ways and been a source of joy and pride in my work.

Anything else?

I think the feedback fairy says it all 😀

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Feedback Fairy.

Isn’t Eve’s work just so incredibly inspiring? I absolutely LOVE all of it. 

If you’d like to learn to use graphic facilitation skills like these in the English language classroom, check out my courses! 



Awesome Alumni!: Eve Sheppard! Read More »

Self-portrait profile image of Catherine Lindsay, ESOL Lecturer at Clement James Centre

Awesome Alumni: Catherine Lindsay

Awesome Alumni: Catherine Lindsay

Self-portrait profile image of Catherine Lindsay, ESOL Lecturer at Clement James Centre

The more courses and webinars on Graphic Facilitation for ELT professionals that I run, the more awesome alumni I have. 

I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts featuring my AWESOME ALUMNI. 

First up is Catherine Lindsay. She is an ESOL Lecturer at the Clement James Centre. 

When I launched my first group programme, she was the very first person to sign up and make me feel it could be a winner!

Here are her reflections on the course and some great teaching ideas she’d like to share with you. 

How has your professional practice changed since my course?

I now have a new tool-kit of ‘ready-to-draw’ images, which enables me to foster spontaneity in my ESOL classes. I can also help my students to express themselves using drawings, and so encourage creativity in classes. 

How are the students responding to your simple drawings and graphic facilitation tools?

Students have remarked that they really enjoy my sketches and they bring joy into the classroom. When one student left at the end of a course just before Christmas 2021, she said she would miss my drawings!

Can you describe a couple of ways you’ve used your skills in class?

Emily taught us a variety of simple ways to draw people. I felt that each could show a different emotion, so I was inspired to draw them on the whiteboard at the beginning of class when I wanted to check in with how they felt. I left ‘C’ blank to allow students to add their own. This worked really well, as students were free to express themselves and could say more than they would with words alone. 

In one female class, the Muslim women responded by drawing their hairstyles! It was a lovely moment as the students connected with each other in a new way.

Catherine Lindsay Graphic Facilitation for ELT Emotions

Using simple drawings has also been helpful for clarifying language points and pronunciation. For example, students were confused between ‘quilt’ and ‘kilt’. It took me only a minute to quickly draw each on the whiteboard; they could then copy the drawing into their notes because it was easy to copy. The students enjoyed it because it was fun and spontaneous!

Catherine Lindsay Graphic Facilitation for ELT Kilt or Quilt

Isn’t Catherine awesome? I love all of her incredible work. 

If this post left you feeling inspired, why not join one of my courses? I always have something exciting on the go! Click the link to find out more! 



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Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote IATEFL 2022 John Hughes 7 steps to creativity in the classroom

Sketchnotes from IATEFL 2022

I think IATEFL 2022 may have been my favourite IATEFL so far! A bold statement, I know. But:

– I raised over £2000 for Amala Education by cycling from Glasgow.

– I saw Voices (the coursebook series I’ve been working on,) in all its finery on the National Geographic Learning stand.

– My session on Graphic Facilitation for ELT was well received, as was my Pecha Kucha.

– Doroth Zemach of Wayzgoose Press sold every copy of my 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills book at the Indie Authors stand.

– I caught up with long lost friends and met people I know from working online.

– I had the opportunity to create lots of sketchnotes.

Usually, when I create sketchnotes, I’ll use my touchscreen laptop or an A3 sheet of paper. This year, I cycled to IATEFL so I didn’t have such a luxury. Instead I had a black pen and a bendy A5 notepad. But, as I keep telling everyone, they’re not art, they’re communication. So here they are!

Meri Maroutian sketchnote by Emily Bryson ELT - The future for non-native speakers IATEFL 2022
Meri Maroutian – The future for non-native speakers.

Meri is a world changer. I wish she didn’t need to stand up at an International TEFL conference and talk about how so called ‘non-native teachers’ are being discriminated against for jobs. But the sad truth remains that they are. A lot. English is a global language yet still, so called ‘native speakers’ get preferential treatment. I hope that this changes in the very near future. After all, 80% of English language users are ‘non-native speakers’. The demographic of language teachers should reflect this reality. Meri, myself and all the Voices team are with you!

Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote - Paula Barrowcliffe - How diverse are ESOL departments?
Paula Barrowcliffe – How diverse are ESOL departments

The answer? Not very. This is something else that needs to change. The problem is, how do we change it?

Emily Bryson ELT Sketchnote Ola Kowalska IATEFL 2022
Ola Kowalska – How to successfully venture into online ELT-preneurship
Emily Bryson Sketchnote of IATEFL. Charlotte Ellis
Charlotte Ellis (featuring Kath Bilsborough) – ELT & the climate crisis – developing sustainable students.
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote - Margarita Kosior - Tales of strays
Margarita Kosior – Pick a cause and fight for it. Introducing Tales of Strays.
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote Harry Waters Macmillan Education How to develop a respect for sustainability that sticks
Harry Waters – How to develop a respect for sustainability that sticks
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote Andy Cowle Brave New world IATEFL 2022
Andy Cowle – Brave New World – Ready for Planet English
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote IATEFL 2022 John Hughes 7 steps to creativity in the classroom
John Hughes – 7 Steps to Creativity in the Classroom

Massive thanks to every single one of these speakers. I loved every second of your sessions. You are all amazing at what you do. Keep up the good work.

If you like these sketchnotes, why not join one of my courses and have a go yourself? Click the link to find out more! 


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