Some Quick and Easy Tools for Creating Visuals to Support Learning

Image of a dog picture in the Pictello book app

Many people with complex communication needs (CCN) can benefit from the use of visual supports to help them anticipate their daily schedule and make them aware of  changes in their routines. Visuals can also be used to break down new skills into discrete steps. Social stories use visuals to support the teaching of social skills and perspective taking.   

But how can we create these supports effectively, without spending a ton of time?  We don’t all have access to Boardmaker Mayer Johnson software. One can use Google Images, but then you have to create your own template and copy and paste.  You also need to give some thought to usage rights for the images you select. Time is valuable and we never seem to have enough. When I worked in the schools, I knew many teachers and therapists who worked 11 hour days and still took work home!

What tools can we use that are relatively inexpensive, easy, and fast? Here are some of the possibilities….

First Then Visual Scheduling (FTVS) (currently $14.99)

Image of First This Visual Schedule app icon

This app allows you to create visual schedules. You can label each schedule, and add as many items as you wish.  For each item, you can enter a description and add a photo. You can also record sounds to associate with each image. It is possible to attach a Choice Board (for leisure activities once work is done), or add a video to each step.

Image of FTVS visual schedule

You could also create a task analysis to teach a new skill, with a video to illustrate each step!

Save your work  and exit Edit Mode. You then get to choose how you want your schedule to appear; one item at a time, a checklist, or pictures that you “swipe” into an envelope.  

Image of FTVS task analysis with done envelope

Pictello (currently $19.99)

Image of PIctello App Icon

This app is a digital storytelling tool. You create each page of your book, adding photos, videos, and text.  “Wizard Mode” can guide you through each step of the process. You can choose whether to record your own voice, or use a synthesized voice.  The great thing with the synthesized voice is that your text is visually highlighted as each page of your book is read 

I like the flexibility of being able to include photos or videos.  Imagine creating a social story about traveling to a brand new place.  A video of that place could be used to provide information about the sensory input you can expect once you arrive.

Pictello books can be backed up to Dropbox.  You can also share your stories with non-Pictello users by saving them as PDF files. Another bonus is that you can convert stories  from Tarheel Reader and import them into Pictello. That could save you some time developing materials! (currently $36.00 per year)

Image of LessonPix icon

LessonPix is a website, not an app.  Created by Laurie and Bill Binko, it allows you to take images and place them into all kinds of templates.  These include overlays for communication devices, stories, game boards, visual schedules, treasure maps, you name it!  The site has thousands of picture symbols to choose from, but you can also import pictures from the internet. For those using PRC communication devices, Lessonpix has a library of images for LAMP Words for Life and Unity. At $36.00 a year, it remains a bargain.  As a schools SLP, I could create materials to complement the classroom curriculum in under five minutes. They also have an online community for sharing materials.

Image of home screen

Custom Boards (currently $59.99)

Image of Custom Boards app icon

What if you need something fast & easy, right there on your iPad?  Another great app is called Custom Boards. Using SymbolStix images, you can add pictures and text to a variety of templates.  These include schedules, games, and calendars. Here too, you can use the symbols provided by the app, or take a picture with your iPad.  You can export the files as PDFs or save them to your camera roll. Need a First…Then board on the spot? Select the green check mark on the top right, and opt for “Preview Document”.  Your board then appears full screen. If you are working with others who have the same app, you can share editable files with them.

Image of Custom Boards Home Visual Schedule

There is so much more you can do with each of these tools!  I have found each of them to be a great time saver. Let me know what tools you rely on to support your visual learners, across the lifespan!

Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

2 comments on “Some Quick and Easy Tools for Creating Visuals to Support Learning

    1. Hi Karen,
      It looks as if PIctello and FTVS are only available on Apple devices (as is so often the case). LessonPix is a website, so can be used from any operating system with access to the internet! Kathryn

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