CSI: Colour, Symbol, Image Routine

CSI:  Colour, Symbol, Image Routine

An Instructional Technique How-To


The objective of the CSI:  Colour, Symbol, Image Routine is to get students to express the essence of ideas in a non-verbal way.  They will use colours, symbols and images to represent ideas posed in a reading or video.


·      Text or video
·      Markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.
·      Paper


1.     Teacher selects a text or video to present to the class.  The text can be read aloud by the teacher or read silently by the students.
2.     The teacher may want to prep the students to make note of interesting, important and insightful ideas.
3.     After the text is read or the video viewed, the teacher solicits the main ideas from the class, writing each on the board.
4.    Once the list is compiled, the teacher writes CSI:  Colour, Symbol, Image on the board.
5.    The class is then divided into partners or small groups.
6.     Next, the teacher chooses one of the main ideas provided by the students and asks them what colour they would use to describe that idea.  This could relate to the mood or tone of the idea.
7.     Each student shares their colour with fellow group members.  They should explain why they chose it and what it represents in reference to the reading or video.
8.     The teacher then chooses another main idea and asks the students what symbol they would use to capture the essence of the idea.  This could be as simple as a line drawing or shape.
9.     The group members repeat Step 6, explaining to their group how and why their symbol represents the main idea.
10. The teacher continues by picking a third main idea and asking the class to draw an image that they would associate with the idea.  This image will be more developed than the previous symbol.
11. Once more, the group members repeat Step 6, sharing their image with their group and explaining how it captures the essence of the main idea.

Students Will:

Students will use non-verbal methods to distill the main ideas of the text or video.  They will have to capture the essence of the ideas in a single colour, symbol and image facilitating a deeper understanding of the reading or video.

Sharing their ideas with fellow partners and group members will give them different perspectives on how each student perceives the main ideas chosen.  This also encourages a classroom community that shares ideas and respects other viewpoints.

This type of activity is accessible to most students since it doesn’t rely on verbal representation.  For those students that are not adept at expressing themselves verbally, this gives them a chance to capture the essence of the content in a different way.  They can use emotions and feelings to relate to the message or main idea.  This can lead to greater enthusiasm and motivation.  It also shows all students that there are different ways of expressing themselves. 


Students can be assessed on the completeness of their explanation for the colour, symbol and image choices.  They can also earn participation points by sharing and reflecting on the opinions of others.

Possible Extensions/Modifications:

This activity can also be used to capture the essence of a piece of music.  Since the goal is to express ideas in a non-verbal way, the teacher could also present an instrumental piece of music to reflect on.

As a modification, the teacher could divide the class into three groups.  Each group would be responsible for the colour, symbol or image.  The group members would have to agree on the final choice.  As a class, they can use their choices to create a poster.

Useful Websites:

Visible Thinking Harvard Project Zero. Retrieved March 6th, 2009, from Harvard Visible thinking website:



This description of CSI:  Colour, Symbol, Image Routine was adapted from the Visible Thinking website by Bridget Buehler and Sam Gerlach.

Sam Gerlach,
Mar 10, 2009, 8:37 PM