Using Squiggles to Communicate

November 2011

Phoenician Snake Chariot
A picture paints a thousand words, but a squiggle makes a thousand pictures.

You can read a great deal into learners’ lives, motivations and personalities by playing this simple game in class. And it is so simple. All you do is give each student a piece of paper with a squiggle on it and ask them to make a picture. Then you have the students describe their creations to the class and field questions.

If you simply gave everyone a blank sheet, you might be hard pressed for them to create anything interesting, or anything at all. But by giving them a foundation in the form of a squiggly line, you are getting students to be more creative without really realising it. It’s a much more light-hearted activity than a typical exercise or task. However, the production of bizarre and ingenious pictures requires a lot of of thought and subsequent communication. There is great linguistic value in the student’s construction of a worthy narrative to match their picture.

An important thing for teachers, though, is to interpret why the students have drawn what they have drawn. You can make some useful conclusions by examining their work and this allows you to create better connections and appeal to them more easily.

Of course, it’s important not to confuse your intuitions with true causal relationships. It is just a game, but if you experiment with it you’ll be amazed at how revealing it can actually be.

There is also a strong scientific basis to the game. It was first espoused by the child psychologist D.W. Winnicott and you can read about the use of it in therapy here: