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Whether working with data or drawings, there are many technology tools available for creating illustrations. Although you may think of artwork, pictures, diagrams or other visual representations, illustration is simply a way to represent information.

Software Tools

Data Collection and Graphing Tools

From planning a home renovation to organzing family history information, data organization is an element of many learning activities. Spreadsheet and database software are commonly used for this type of activity.

Electronic spreadsheets use a table or grid to organize information into rows and columns. Tools such as VisiCalc and Locus 1-2-3 were among the first electronic spreadsheets for personal computers. Today's versions incorporate high quality graph and media options.

Many libraries collect their own data with online surveys.

Stand-Alone Software

Web-based Spreadsheet and Graphing Tools

Use existing data to create a chart, graph, or map.

Web-based Form Tools

Web-based Survey Tools


Graphic Organizers and Collaborative Whiteboards

Concept maps, timelines, mind maps, and diagrams are all ways to visually organize and present information. Technology tools are particularly good for these applications because they allow users to easily expand, edit, and reorganize their work. The student example below is from Cmap. Click the visual to enlarge.


You can also find tools that help you visualize words and ideas such as Visuwords, Answergarden, and Wordle.

Stand Alone Software

Web-based Software


Web-based Software


try itLet's give it a try! TuxPaint is a free, open source drawing program similar to KidPix. Download the TuxPaint software. Be sure to download the application and the stamp file. Download the TuxPaint Basics (PDF) handout by Annette Lamb. Have some fun! Check out an example of a TuxPaint project for the food pyramid.

Comic Software

Whether creating simple comics or entire graphics novels, there are lots of software packages and online tools to make the process easy. Many of the online tools such as Pixton provide ideas for using comics in teaching and learning.

Stand-Alone Software

Web-based Software

Comic example



From Google Earth to Google Moon, you can explore the universe through technology. You can create a map from scratch or access maps online. Google Maps contains an option called My Maps that allows people to create, share, and collaborate on map making project.

checkRead Map Making: So Easy a Caveman Could Do It. Check out the Road Kill Map of Delaware. Could you make one for your county or city?

Web-based Tools

Web-based Mash-ups

Map Making

Explore Novelsonlocation or Google LitTrips.



Explore tools for creating timelines. Traditional resources simply let users add dates and text to a timeline. Newer, online tools allow multimedia features and collaboration.

Stand-alone Tools

Web-based Tools

Library History Examples: Library DestructionCirculating LibrariesLibrary InstructionPresidential LibrariesMedical LibrariesGreco Roman Classical Era.


Infographics are gaining in popularly. Visual.ly is a website dedicated to sharing infographics as well as helping developers create these types of visual communications. Explore lots of examples at blogs:


The combination of high-powered computers, huge data sets, and complex graphic software has made the field of visualization possible.

Web-based Tools


Screen Shots

There are many times that it's useful to have a still shot of the computer screen. Although both Mac and Windows operating systems have built-in these tools, there are also software packages that provide additional options.

Macintosh Screen Capture. If you have Mac OSX, it's easy to use the built-in key commands for grabbing a screen.

If you have Mac OSX, you can also use the Grab Utility. This allows you to capture windows that are open.

Windows Screen Capture. The PRINT SCREEN key allows you to capture the Desktop or individual windows. You'll have to look for this key on your keyboard, it's placement varies with the type of keyboard.

To capture the entire screen:

To capture the current window on your screen:

Other tools for screen capture include:

Learn more at Teacher Tap: Screen Capture, Screen Shots, and Screen Grabbers.

There are other related tools that are helpful when creating technical documents or presentations. For instance, ZoomIt is a screen zoom and annotation tool that can be use to zoom in and capture documents in Windows.

Features of High Tech Illustration

Many of the same features available in high tech writing tools such as editing and exporting can also be found in illustration.

Collaborative Tools. Many of the tools contain collaboration elements allowing people to share information over space or time. For example, each semester different student groups could add to a database of the plants in a local nature park. Or, people from different locations could add to a concept map or timeline. It's even possible to use the web-based tools simultaneously. For example in a weather project, people at different locations could all enter their updated weather reports at the same time.

Data Presentation and Organization. Many of the illustration packages have interchangible components or options for exporting. For example, graphics created in one package such as Fireworks can be inserted into a database or spreadsheet. Many programs also have multiple ways of viewing their data. For example, Inspiration can be viewed as an outline or a concept map. Databases have single record and report views.

Hyperlinks and Hotspots. The use of hyperlinks and hotspots allows a spreadsheet to hyperlink to a supplier for up-to-date pricing. Hyperlinks can also be used in concepts maps. For example children can use a Kidspiration concept map as a portal to websites.

Expandability. Many of the tools provide an option to add new features. For example, TuxPaint is open source allowing users to change to sounds in the software, add their own stamps, and even modify the program itself.

Multimedia. Want to play a movie in a spreadsheet or insert a graphic into Timeliner? No problem. Look for ways that multimedia features can be incorporated into illustration software.

High Tech Illustration Tools in Learning

The key to using illustration software in learning is thinking of ways to transform data, information, and ideas into a usable form. In other ways, can we take pages of articles, notes, and ideas. Then, organize this pile of resources in a meaningful way that conveys the larger picture or shares an understanding of the people and their experiences? When studying the American Civil War, it makes sense to create a database of key battles, a spreadsheet demonstrating casuality rates, a timeline of key events, a cause and effect concept map, and a collage showing the experiences of one person. These projects all use illustration software.

checkSkim Tools for Calculating: Spreadsheets from eduscapes (background, project topics).

checkSkim Tools for Organizing: Databases from eduscapes (background, project topics).

Explore tools for creating your own images and symbols:

Digital Illustration in Learning

As you think about the tools, consider how they can impact learning. The key to effective use of tools is practical applications. Many of the tools can be integrated across the curriculum. Over the past several years, researchers have explored the link between the use of visuals and learning.

checkRead Make a Sketch by Sara Bernard at Edutopia.

Many technology tools for young people provide a combination on-computer and off-computer activities. For example Community Construction Kit by Tom Snyder Productions allows users to design scaled down versions of communities from different historical periods and create their own towns.

Learners, Multiple Intelligences, and Illustration

Use of illustration software matches well with Howard Gardner's visual-spatial intelligence. These "picture smart" people learn best visually and tend to organize their thinking spatially. They like to think and create pictures. They are also drawn to information that is presented in a visual form. Encourage learners to combine visual elements such as editing photographs or enhancing line drawings. Encourage them to add other intelligences such as written or oral descriptions or discussions. Ask them to make visual metaphors and stories.

These learners would enjoy illustrating the project, identifying the visuals, color-coding the presentation, and creating the storyboard for the project. They enjoy identifying project visuals and visualizing aspects of a research project.

Consider how illustration technology tools could be used with visual/spatial learners:

In addition to the visual-spatial intelligence, those who enjoy working with data may also have a strength in the logical/mathematical area. These "number smart" people learn best through numbers, reasoning, and problem solving. They are able to create and manipulate visuals and create mental pictures from many perspectives. They like to weigh, measure, calculate, and organize data. Give students opportunities to create or manipulate data they find on the Internet. Provide them with a video camera to record their scientific experiment. Get them to use other intelligences in their sharing of data such as making an analogy or debating an issue.

Those learners with a logical/mathematic strength enjoy collecting data, conducting experiments, and solving problems. Creating spreadsheets, databases, charts, and other data organization and calculation projects would be their contribution to a group. They enjoy problem solving, measuring, sequencing, predicting, experimenting, classifying, and data collection aspects of a research project.

Learn More

Use the following resources and links for more ideas.

Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the arrow means an internal linkTools: Photographs page.

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