Did you know that incorporating color (correctly!) into your lessons can boost student learning and memory?
If you’re anything like me, you probably put a lot of effort into designing your dream classroom. But, have you ever thought about the science behind how colors around your classroom affect your students’ learning?
Different colors, their combinations, and their placement can have an effect on attention, memory, feelings, and behaviors of students. So, it’s time we take a look at all of this research and use colors to our advantage!
Considering the following ideas, research, and infographic will help you to rethink your use of color in the classroom to give your students a stronger learning experience.
- thoughtful choices of color in atmosphere & surroundings
- maximizing use of color in lesson content (printing in color, using colored paper, incorporating color in notes, presentations, and student work)
- considering how students interact with lesson material (doodling, color coding, using colored patterns and tools, etc.)
- rethinking even the colors we use when grading and giving feedback
- using colorful memory triggers
First, how does memory work? Medical Daily states, “When you experience something, this event is converted into a pulse of electrical energy that zips along a network of neurons, according to Young. This information first gets stored in short-term memory, where it's available anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Then, the experience gets transferred to long-term memory areas such as the hippocampus — the center of emotion, memory, and the automatic nervous system — and finally reaching several storage regions across the brain.”
Edynco tells us, color is the most powerful stimulus to our brain. As information enters our brain through our eyes and ears it is stored in sensory memory. We can only pay attention to a small amount of information at once. When something attracts our attention it goes into working memory, or short-term memory, and color is what our brain notices first! According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, information is then moved to long-term memory as a result of various control processes; this depends on the degree attached to a certain stimuli. In short, what we give more attention to is more likely to be stored in long-term memory.
We also know that color aids pattern recognition. The Association for Talent Development states, “In 2002, researchers discovered that subjects performed five to 10 percent better on standardized pattern recognition tests when they were administered in color rather black and white. The effect also boosted memory over time.” This result shows how much benefit color can have in our teaching and standardized test results if we use it to our advantage!
Those in business and marketing would tell you the same thing- there is a strong correlation between what is stored in our memory and color; many advertisements use color to their advantage. For example, many fast-food restaurants use bright, vivid colors in their advertising, like McDonald’s red and yellow, to grab your attention and store in your memory.
So, how can you use color to benefit your students’ learning? You need to take into consideration a couple of different factors, including individual colors, combination of colors, and the results you are trying to achieve.
First, since individual colors elicit different responses, it is important to know these responses. Shift Learning gives helpful explanations of colors and how they enhance learning.
Imagine a lush forest or a beautiful field. Does it give you a brief sense of calmness? Green reminds us of nature, and because of this has a calming effect. Green increases efficiency and focus, and is great for when you need your students to concentrate for a long time.
The color red stimulates the adrenal glands, according to The Association for Talent Development. It can evoke feelings of energy and threat, but has also appears to improve focus and performance.
Orange is a definite mood-lifter! This welcoming color provides comfort and enhances neural functioning.
However, the color orange may be over stimulating for some students; keep this in mind if you have an exceptionally energetic class. So although, orange can be a great color to use, it’s best in small doses!
The color pink promotes calmness and can reduce heart rate.
Contrary to popular belief, blue does not equal sadness! Blue promotes productivity and is best for challenging learning situations. Shift Learning states, “…blue is great for promoting high levels of thought, but too much can create a sense of detachment and coldness.” It is helpful to mix blue with warmer colors.
Typically known as a cheerful color, the color yellow can improve happiness; too much yellow can produce stress, though.
Red vs. Blue
There was a study done at the University of British Columbia, published in Science magazine, to observe how the cognitive performance of participants varied depending on whether they saw red or blue when they performed tasks. “Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail, like remembering words or checking spelling and punctuation. Blue groups did better on tests requiring invention and imagination: coming up with creative uses for a brick or creating toys from collections of shapes.”
Red color should be used when you want to improve memory on completing a task like proofreading. Blue should be used when your students are brainstorming or you want them to think creatively and out-of-the-box.
Another factor that needs to be considered is when multiple colors are involved. When the right combination of colors is used, it can produce higher levels of contrast. It’s important to consider the contrast of colors in your classroom. The background of what students see should contrast with the foreground, or text. If the background and foreground are monochromatic (same color, different hue), then it will not stick as well to your students’ memory.
Teaching tools such as PowerPoint slides, posters, worksheets, etc. should have contrast between the background and foreground, but should also be aesthetically pleasing and easy to look at. A lighter background and darker foreground enhances readability.
Different colors and combinations of colors can have a stronger effect in one area over another area, so it’s important to think about what you are hoping to achieve. For example, Edynco tells us to use warm colors (red, orange, yellow) to stimulate, and cool colors (blue, green, purple) to calm.
You can use coloring as an interactive experience as often as you want in class, but blend colors strategically in visuals or decor, keeping in mind that too many different colors can create chaos and confusion. When used the right way, color can have an immense benefit to your students’ memory and performance!
A great way to get started with incorporating color is to try visual note taking strategies in your classroom. With doodle notes, students can interact with their note pages through doodling, coloring, patterns, embellishments, color coding, and lettering in ways that increase memory. Learn more about how visual notes blend graphics and text to increase student focus, learning, and retention.
Enter your email address for updates, resources, and more: