Having observed the wonderful presentation by Chris Curtis at Research ED in Rugby, I’ve composed a resource using dual coding for the novella A Christmas Carol.

The idea of dual coding is quite simple. Our brain can receive information via 2 channels:

  1. An auditory channel, which includes what we listen to as well as, and this is incredibly important to note, what we read. This has enormous implications for delivering content to students – do you talk at the same time as you are asking students to read something from the board? If you do, you are making it really difficult for students to carry out either of the requests: listen and read.
  2. A visual channel, which includes images.

Oliver Cavliogli is the master of all things dual coding, and if you ever get a chance to see him talk at a conference, make an immediate beeline to see it – talk about professional – wow!!! His website has lots of info on the science behind it all.

Chris uses dual coding in a variety of ways, but one thing he does is to use images to help students tell the story of a text. I’ve borrowed from this idea here to do the same for A Christmas Carol, choosing to add 3 images per stave in consideration of cognitive load. I’ve chosen the images, also with Chris’s advice of using black and white clip art images to create a minimalistic feel. Here’s how it looks, and then i’ll take you through the thinking behind it all.

  1. The first image is representing Scrooge’s greed. CONTEXT: referring to him as a sinner is significant for a highly religious Victorian audience.
  2. Surplus population – charity workers asking for a donation from Scrooge. CONTEXT: This links to Thomas Malthus’ theory of there not being enough food to feed everyone, so naturally the poor should die to relieve the ‘burden’ on the community. Dickens is mocking such an illogical (apoplectic opulence fo food in Stave 2) and nasty proposition by having the very nasty Scrooge represent it.
  3. Marley’s warning – change or suffer eternal damnation – which is not fire and brimstone, but worse – not being able to help others in the afterlife – Dickens take on this is interesting.
  4. Scrooge as a neglected solitary boy. CONTEXT: Dickens’ father had problems with money and was imprisoned for debt, forcing Charles to be taken from school to work.
  5. Missed opportunity with Belle.
  6. Tries to erase the past by extinguishing the candle – his world is on fire and he can’t handle it.
  7. Scrooge is worried at the plight of Tiny Tim. Hangs head in shame when reminded that Tiny Tim is surplus population.
  8. Model Citizen Fred – won’t disparage Scrooge at the party, is educated, is kind and jovial.
  9. Ignorance and Want – ignorance is worse – ‘doom’ on forehead. CONTEXT: Dickens was passionate about education, feeling indignant that he was deprived of it when younger, and set up many schools to eradicate the curse of ignorance. Education beats poverty.
  10. Scooge’s death is irrelevant to his colleagues – he’s become surplus to them.
  11. Thieves steal the shirt off his back, the shirt he will be buried in. Ultimate disrespect.
  12. Ghost of futue is becoming irrelevant, and is disappearing as a result.
  13. Complete change.
  14. Gives an anonymous gift – ultimate sign of generosity.
  15. Becomes a father figure to Tiny Tim.

The images would be introduced in sequence, with them aiding the encoding of what the quotes and section of the novella are trying to convey. Essentially the images are providing another point of access to understanding.

Image choice

I was unsure whether to make the images practically literal versions of the sequence described, or be completely symbolic, but chose to have a mixture, with some quite abstract choices. My reasoning for this was to allow the image to act as an umbrella for discussion, rather than it limit further thinking. For example, the butterfly image could easily have been a baby, but I thought there would be more to discuss with the butterfly. I’d be keen for your ideas about this. Here is a link to the images. And here is the link to the dual coded doc.

Is it dual coding or retrieval?

Dual coding is primarily concerned with the encoding of content. But can it be used for retrieval also? I had an interesting conversation about this with Dan Williams, in terms of whether using the images was aiding encoding or simply a process of retrieval. I believe it serves as both, with the process of encoding continuously evolving with the retrieval. I am certain however there is someone out there who can correct me on this.

Once the content is moving towards being secure, we can use the images BOTH as a source of retrieval, and as a way to strenghten any lingereing encoding issues. Below is an activity doing as such:

Instructional sequence

  • Handed out the document with only images on it. A3 in size
  • Students noted down what they believed the images to represent in their books.
  • After 5 minutes, I checked which images students were unsure of – some more obvious than others (aeroplane image e.g).
  • Went through each image with the class, asking multiple questions on each: quotes, links to other sections etc.
  • Students then wrote on the A3 sheet – what each image represents and a quote to match – more quotes preferred. Quotes taken from this knowledge organiser
  • Students added context discussions in at least 2 places
  • Students colour coded if desired.

Here’s what a finished product looked like:

Retrieval Activities

I’m thinking of activities to vary retrieval such as:

  1. mixing the order of the images up and having students reorganise
  2. presenting an image on a slide and asking for 3 or 4 pieces of information related to it
  3. presenting 2 images on one slide and asking for links
  4. presenting the partial journey – students fill in the missing images – this can start with only 1 or 2 missing, and build to have most missing
  5. getting students to find their own images – the idea here is that the longer they spend trying to find the images the stronger the memory of the content is likely to be.

I am going to create a similar resource for the EDUQAS poems. Stay tuned. It’s here now.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me @edmerger and follow this blog for more English teaching resources.


  1. Love all your ideas. None of the links seem to work though – keep coming up ‘file not found’. Any chance of getting hold of these as I have some ideas on how I would use the images myself.


    1. Hi Louise. Ah, bugger. That’s the price of everything being in the cloud that cuts you off when you move schools. I’ve salvaged the completed image and also the individual images, but I’m afraid you’ll have to be clever and copy individual images. Sorry, but i haven’y got time atm to fix them. Hope you can still get something out of them.


      1. Ah yes, I know it well! No problem at all – i will just do some strategic screenshots! Thanks again.


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