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!

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