The use of the Venn Diagram as a Learning Tool

Learning tools can extend the power of a good lesson. Also, it can work wonders expanding a student’s knowledge. Even a simple tool such as the Venn diagram can create miracles in the classroom.

The  “venerable” Venn diagram has emerged as a useful and versatile learning tool in education.  Originally used to show differences and similarities between scientific or logical concepts, this particular conceptual map has expanded to other subjects such as history, English, economics, and math.  On top of that, it’s one of the most inexpensive and adaptable learning tool in existence.

Created in 1880 by the British logician and philosopher John Venn, the Venn diagram (called the Eulerian Circles by Venn) was originally used as a mode to “represent propositions by diagrams (Venn, 1880).”  Its first use was to teach logic and matters of philosophy. Later, through the efforts of others, the diagram’s use expanded to other subjects.

The use of the diagram has even been used outside the classroom. Scientists, businessmen, economists, and politicians have used it from to explain or break down complex matters to the public. Even engineers and mechanics have used it compare parts or list mechanical processes or operations.

Still, its use is widely and primarily used in the classroom. The typical diagram comprises of two or more overlapping circles.  Its primary use is to show the differences and similarities of a concept. Resource books often have a page with this map that can be copied and distributed to the students. However, the diagram is something that doesn’t need a professional copy; it can be easily created by the teacher or the students on paper.

The versatility of this tool means that it can be applied to almost any subject. English teachers have used it as a pre-writing practice for a compare/contrast essay. In history, documents such as the U.S. Constitution and the Article of Confederation are listed and examined for their similarities and differences.

The diagram works in the following fashion: Each circle represents a concept. In the areas of the circles that don’t overlap, information, facts or parts of the concepts are listed. In the area where the circles overlap – in the center of the area where two or more circles overlap – the similarities are listed.

This doesn’t have to be a pencil-and-paper tool. It can be created on the whiteboard by the teacher and used in interactive lectures in which the teacher asks the students for information on two subjects, and then places the information given to him onto the diagram.

 Also, the diagram can be a hands-on tool or practice. Manipulatives are transparent plastic geometric objects often used in math or science. In the case of science – especially dealing with a lesson in primary and secondary color – red (magenta), yellow and blue-colored manipulatives can be used by the students to create secondary colors by placing them on a Venn diagram. There they can see how primary colors create secondary colors by observing the overlapped area.

Its use as a learning tool is that it appeals to visualization. In a time when pictures, concrete examples and mapping are proving to be effective methods of teaching, the Venn diagram helps to show the components of several concepts.  Also, it helps to breakdown lengthy text into chunks that can be organized and easily read and understood.

The Venn diagram may be 130 years old. Still, it’s being used for modern lessons in computer studies, physics, and even astronomy. Its use has gone beyond teaching logical thinking and now is being used to organize possible essays or research papers. In the future, lessons will change. However, this map will remain unchanged, considering how simple it is to use, and how versatile it is.


Venn, John (July, 1880): “On the Diagrammatic and Mechanical Representation of Propositions and Reasoning.” Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Series 5, Vol.10