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An introduction to creative reviewing by Roger Greenaway

The use of 'pictures' in reviewing helps learners to 'see' their experiences and to communicate their experiences to others. Pictures can also enhance the quality of communication throughout the learning cycle. The reviewing techniques described below illustrate some of the basic tools and strategies that can be used to exploit our need to think and communicate in pictures.

  • 'I CAN'T DRAW!'
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    see the Active Reviewing Guide
    where this article was first published.


Using pictures as part of a reviewing process can produce these benefits:

  1. The process of creating pictures helps individuals to sort out their own thoughts and feelings - after which they are able to express themselves more clearly (with or without the picture they created).
  2. The process of creating pictures co-operatively (in pairs or groups) encourages people to talk to each other in some depth and detail about their experiences of the activity being reviewed.
  3. Whatever is created through pictures serves as a visual aid or confidence booster in helping people to communicate their experience of the activity to others.
  4. Pictures expand the 'language' of reviewing, open up new channels of communication and generally help to develop communication skills.
  5. The picture may speak for itself, sometimes communicating more about an activity experience than a verbal picture would achieve.
  6. Pictures can be used at all stages of a learning cycle - for describing the past, for communicating about the present and for envisioning the future.

We all think in pictures - some more than others - depending on our 'preferred learning styles'. We can use words, tone of voice and gestures to communicate our mental pictures to others. We can also - of course - use pictures to communicate pictures! But many of us get stuck in the groove of communication by words alone - even where a picture would be worth 1,000 words (and might even save a lot of time). The use of visual communication tools can help people to get out of a verbal rut and to communicate more easily in both words and pictures.


For some people it is 'second nature' to think and express themselves through pictures. And many people find it easier to talk when they can refer to a picture as a 'visual aid'.

Unfortunately there are also many people who believe they cannot draw. Part of the skill in using picture-based reviewing techniques is in using methods that bypass such restricting beliefs.

For example:

In a supportive learning climate, even people who think they cannot draw may take the risk and discover they can!


In our everyday lives we are surrounded by art, pictures, and images. We are living in an increasingly visual culture. Advertisers, campaigners, TV programme makers, creators of educational resources are continually experimenting with ways in which pictures can attract attention and get messages across. Some advertisements have no words at all. If pictures are such a powerful means of communication, why do we not make more use of them as a reviewing tool?

Diagrams, learning models and flow charts are often used as reviewing aids, but there are many other ways in which pictures can be used in reviewing. Below you will find some picture-based reviewing tools to add to your growing toolkit. For more advanced techniques you may wish to explore the world of art therapy.

Methods for reviewing with pictures

The reviewing techniques described below illustrate some of the basic tools and strategies that can be used to exploit our need to think and communicate in pictures.


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:

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:

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.


'GIFTS' is an appraisal activity in which people make, find or mime gifts for each other.
This is a fun activity which tends to bring out surprising amounts of creativity and sensitivity once givers realise the responsibility they have towards the receivers.
Receivers will be more receptive, knowing the time, thought and care that has gone into creating personalised gifts for them.
The qualities represented by the gifts should have been in evidence during the activity being reviewed.
The session should be arranged so that 'appreciative' gifts outweigh 'critical' gifts: each example provided below has two positive messages and one negative message.
These are some of the options for setting up a 'gift' session:
OPTION 1) Divide the group in two or three, and ask sub-groups to prepare gifts for individuals in the other sub-group(s).
OPTION 2) Interview group members one at a time (perhaps for one-to-one reviewing) while the rest of the group are preparing a gift for the person being interviewed somewhere else.
OPTION 3) Individuals or pairs prepare gifts for everyone else in the group, with the result that each individual receives several gifts.


An example of a 'made' gift: light blue paper (representing calm) on which is drawn an outline of someone's hands (representing help), above which is a photograph of a bird cut out from a magazine.
The giver of the gift explains what it means:

"We admired you for your courage when trying to rescue the bird, but we wish you wouldn't go it alone so much, and had asked us to help too. (This is your hand helping the bird. This is our helping hand which you didn't ask for in time.) We admired you for staying calm (the blue) when you needed rescuing."

Making three dimensional gifts (e.g. robots, pets, toys, hats) gives greater scope, but is more time-consuming.

Internet Links

The above article is based on the pictures section of Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Guide at where you will find ...

Links to other pages at

Links to other websites: Books about 'reviewing with pictures'


Roger Greenaway - Reviewing Skills Training - -
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