Creative reviewing with pictures

visual debriefing methods for reflecting on experience


These creative ways of facilitating reflection in experiential learning
are part of Roger Greenaway's Guide to Active Reviewing.

Does every picture tell a story?
When is a picture worth 1,000 words?

Yes, there should be more illustrations on a page about working with pictures.

If you would like to 'see' these methods and other creative methods in action, please ask roger@reviewing.co.uk for information about reviewing skills training workshops or view the news and events page.
Try out these visual aids for helping participants to reflect and communicate in pictures. PICTURE-BASED METHODS (this page)
Links to more advanced tools and more specialised applications using art therapy and other creative arts.


Visual Reviewing Methods


The reviewer will need a varied and stimulating collection of pictures (including abstract ones). Providing an assortment of magazines is the easiest option. A better option is for the reviewer to build up one or two picture scrapbooks of their own, or an interesting collection of postcards.

Ask individuals to choose a picture which represents one or more of the following: something important about your experience; your best experience; your worst experience; what you wish it had been like; your part in the activity; what the group was like; your hopes for the next activity.

Individuals either explain their choice or ask others to guess. The whole group can be asked to choose just one picture to represent a group theme such as 'what the group was like'. If individuals can't find a picture, they can be given the option of altering one, or drawing or describing one.



A collage is itself a 'picture' (which can include other pictures within it). It can be made from almost any materials that can be stuck onto a sheet of paper. The reviewer can supply an interesting variety of material, or can ask the group to search for suitable material during or after the activity (whether indoors or outdoors).

Individuals are asked to find three items which they want to include in a group collage about the activity. The group meet and individuals explain why they want to include each of their three items.

The group are given ten minutes planning time to decide on an outline design for the collage and to decide who does what. After planning, the group have twenty minutes to complete the collage.

A collage need not be presented in chronological order. Other ways of organising material can be adopted. As an alternative to a whole group exercise, collages can be made by individuals or sub groups.



If people are asked to draw or paint, what styles and subjects are most suitable? Realistic drawings are generally the most difficult to produce and the least useful for reviewing. For most reviewing purposes, abstract pictures are preferable, whether using expressionistic finger-painting, deliberate symbolism, or flow diagrams. Abstract pictures are easier to produce, are likely to be better talking points, and because abstract pictures are more 'context-free', any learning is likely to have a wider relevance.

Before and After: Before an activity participants draw their expectations, or hopes and fears; afterwards they draw what happened. Pictures are compared and discussed.

Problems and Achievements: Individuals draw one picture representing group problems during the activity and another picture representing group achievements. The whole group then produces pictures on the same subjects, incorporating ideas from each individual's drawing.
A quicker (less challenging) way of combining individual drawings is to create a collage.



As a reviewing method, drawing a strip cartoon helps people to tell the 'story' of what happened during an activity stage by stage. Creating the cartoon can also be used as means of planning the scenes and the basic script for an Action Replay.

Using cartoons for sharing experiences

Cartoons are a useful means for individuals to inform other group members about difficulties, dilemmas, challenges or other kinds of experience which they have encountered outside the group. Once other members of the group can 'picture' what happened, and can 'see' the sequence of events, they will find it easier to help the individual to review the experience.

Learners might be interested in incidents which are 'unique' to just one group member, but it is more productive to keep to the kinds of events which are reasonably familiar to most group members.

As the cartoon will be used for showing to the group, encourage large drawings (even if the figures are matchstick ones). By using A4 sized sheets for each frame, there is the added advantage that mistakes on individual frames do not spoil the whole strip - they are readily discarded and redrawn.

As the purpose is to trace the events leading up to the final frame, 'cartoonists' are advised to start with the last frame and work backwards.

The normal convention in strip cartoons is to introduce a separate strand of the story with 'Meanwhile...'. A useful alternative for reviewing purposes is to arrange the separate strands of the story so that they converge into a single strip - like railway sidings converging into one main line.

Using cartoons for examining experiences

Group members may first need to ask questions about the cartoon for clarification. Such questions also help the 'cartoonist' to understand more about the situation which they are presenting. At this point, an 'Action Replay' directed by the 'cartoonist' can be an effective means of telling the story. Participants in the replay will first need their parts explained. The 'cartoonist' (now the 'director') either plays their own part in the replay, or asks someone else to take their part. The 'director' can gain a new perspective of the situation by playing the part of another person in the story. (Ensure everyone has 'switched off' from the part they were playing before continuing.)

Once everyone has a reasonably clear picture of what happened, the person sharing the experience asks for advice or ideas. For example, if the 'cartoonist' has chosen to present a problem, suitable questions might be:

  • 'What could/should I have done differently?'
  • 'What could/should I do to prevent this happening again?'
  • 'If I get into this situation again what could/should I do?'
During the discussion of the question asked it is useful to refer to, alter, re-draw or re-arrange the cartoon frames. If action replay was used, drama is now easily reintroduced to look forwards - to 'test' or 'rehearse' any alternatives suggested.

More ways of using strip cartoons as a reviewing tool

Seeing Different Perspectives

'Draw a strip cartoon to illustrate your own view of the event, then compare similarities and differences with others who were involved.' (Each individual produces a strip cartoon.)

Cartoon Tapestry

Cartoon strips are regularly produced throughout a course (either as a group task or using a rota of sub groups). As each strip is completed they are joined end to end in a 'tapestry' - telling the story of the group as it unfolds.

Implementing Action Points

'Draw a strip cartoon that illustrates the successful implementation of one of your action points.'



When to use Sketch Map

Producing a Sketch Map is a good starting point for reviewing 'mobile' activities such as a ropes course circuit, a search, a treasure hunt, or any kind of group journey. It is a particularly useful method when the reviewer did not observe the activity - such as when reviewing an independent expedition.

Features and Benefits of Sketch Map

It encourages the group to retrace their route and to relive the experience. It is an efficient way of informing a reviewer about key events and key issues. It as a highly participatory reviewing method. Informal reviewing is likely to take place during the making of the map. The end-product is likely to be a useful 'conversation-piece'. The map can even be aesthetically pleasing!

Briefing for Sketch Map

The group is asked to produce one large sketch map (large enough for all the group to work on it together). The map should show:
  • where they went
  • what they saw
  • what they did
  • and what they said (interesting quotes).
Encourage the group to organise themselves so that they can all work on the map at the same time. This might, for example, involve dividing up the journey into four sections with a sub group working on each of the sections.

If the group is a large one, then further interesting jobs can be created by adding colour, pictures, or collage pieces to the map. If any illustrative material is too large to fit onto the map, then string or wool can be used to join the material to the relevant place on the map.

Using the Sketch Map

The process of making the sketch map may have already involved a fairly comprehensive informal review of the activity. The map-making task only requires the group to recall facts about the experience, but conversation while making the map is also likely to involve 'expressing', 'examining' and 'exploring'. [These are the four stages of the reviewing sequence described in 'Playback: A Guide to Reviewing Activities'.]

The reviewer can assist this review process by encouraging informal discussion if it is not happening naturally - by asking questions now and again during the making of the map. The reviewer can also (or alternatively) make a note of review points as they come up, and can summarise these points when the map is completed.

Map-making is itself an interesting group task which can be worth reviewing, especially if there are interesting comparisons with what happened on the journey. For example:
"If only you had worked together like this during the journey!"



A personal activity map is a diagrammatic self-image that provides interesting talking points.

As a memory jogger, the group list all of the activities which they have done in the group so far, and then add any other activities which any individual particularly likes or dislikes. Each person draws a large oval representing a top view of their head, and draws a line dividing the left and right hand sides. Using the left hand side (representing past experience), each person writes (or draws) the activities they like most at the front of their 'heads', and the ones they like least at the back. On the right hand side, are written (or drawn) activities which individuals have not yet experienced, with the activities they want to try at the front of their 'heads', and the ones they don't want to try at the back.

Personal activity maps probably show far more about a person than simply their views about activities, making it a relatively non-threatening way of exploring self-image. These maps can also suggest activity-based routes for improving self-image.


Links to related pages on this site

Link to an article by Roger Greenaway (published at Dialoogle)

  • Picture Cards Using picture cards to express, reflect, learn and move on

Books about 'reviewing with pictures'

Links to related sites

  • 100 Images for Visual Brainstorming is an eccentric and stimulating slide-share collection of images - including strange photos, photoshopped photos and orginal artwork from Marc Heleven at New Shoes Today (now 21 Lobster Street)  
  • Art Therapy Links
  • At my best picture cards. The At my best strengths cards deck contains 48 individual cards, each with an inspiring photograph on one side and single word strength on the other. Each pack comes with an introductory booklet with exercises to get you started.
  • Big Screen Magic some excellent tips on creating an end of course slideshow to stimulate reflection while also creating a thumb drive souvenir to assist sharing and transfer - from Sam Moore's Blog 'Inside Out - looking at learning beyond the lecture roon'
  • The Contribution of Documentation to the Quality of Early Childhood Education by Lilian G. Katz and Sylvia C. Chard
    *'Documentation' = a visual record of processes and products.
    Extract: "The processes of preparing and displaying documentaries of the children's experience and effort provides a kind of debriefing or re-visiting of experience during which new understandings can be clarified, deepened, and strengthened. Observation of the children in Reggio Emilia pre-primary classes indicates that children also learn from and are stimulated by each other's work in ways made visible through the documents displayed."
  • Climer Cards are for helping people move to a deeper level of conversation.
  • Creating Sculpture - Stimulating Learning a paper by Toby Rhodes and Vivien Whitaker. "In this paper we explore how sculpture can stimulate change and deep learning for individuals and teams. We examine why sculpture seems to be a powerful and engaging learning medium, and explore its application to leadership development..." [This copy is archived at archive.org]
  • Creative Portraits using paint to give and receive feedback to and from others in the group with life-size painted portraits 
  • Dialoogle Picture Cards multipurpose images that are durable and come in two sizes (for paired work or large groups).
  • Emotion Cards from Metalog UK: "Personal experience and feelings can easily be put into words because they can be visualised. The cards can be used both for one-on-one work as well as in larger groups."
  • Emotional Learning Cards from Iniva Creative Learning - a partnership between the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) and art therapy service A Space.
  • Evoke Cards  EVOKE cards are designed to be used in many creative ways. They can be used to EVOKE a range of emotions, memories and ideas.
  • How Contemporary Art can open up emotional exploration with young people Iniva Creative Learning - blog.
  • Images of Organisations Metaphors for the experiences of working in teams and organisations. "This RSVP Design toolbox contains a carefully researched and designed pack of versatile ‘organisational images’ that have been drawn in an attractive cartoon style."
  • New Internationalist One World Calendars and Cards a great source of stunning images from the Majority World.
  • Pick-a-Postcard a versatile collection of postcard-sized pictures in a tin from Jennifer Stanchfield's Experiential Tools Store
  • Stones - a slow-paced group meditation exercise
  • Therapeutic Cards [at archive.org] from the Community Stress Prevention Center
  • Ubuntu Cards  offer opportunities for reflection through metaphor and opportunities for group interaction and creative play. The Ubuntu Activity Guide describes 32 different ways in which you can use the cards.
  • Visualization in Participatory Processes (VIPP) VIPP (Visualisation in Participatory Planning) is a system whereby groups plan together using colour coded cards to brainstorm and prioritise options.See this brief how-to guide on VIPP from UNICEF or see their full VIPP manual.

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