Venn diagrams are an excellent teaching tool for all ages. Venn diagrams consist of overlapping circles that show shared and dissimilar properties of two or more categories. The advantage of using a Venn diagram is that it addresses various learning styles and engages students, while teaching basic logic and analysis skills, regardless of age. Venn diagrams can be used when studying biology, math, history, or practically any other subject.
Using Venn diagrams in biology
Comparing and contrasting different animals is an excellent way to introduce students to the use of a Venn diagram. Students are engaged when the teacher asks for aspects of the two animals being compared. Hands go up, debates ensue, and everyone learns. For example, the teacher may ask students to compare tigers and cougars, writing each word over one of the overlapping circles. Students are encouraged to point out attributes the two animals share, they are both mammals, large cats, and predators, and characteristics they do not share, stripes, habitat, and social grouping. Plants and other life forms can be explored in the same way.
Young students can use Venn diagrams to compare divisible numbers, dominoes, or multiples of numbers. By analyzing characteristics and attributes that are shared, students gain a fuller understanding of how numbers interact.
History: Venn style
Teachers can use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast the causes of war, expansion, and economic development from different periods of time. In this case, students learn how specific political, social, and economic developments can have positive or negative results.
Language arts with Venn diagrams
Different types of writing can be explored more thoroughly using Venn diagrams. Is the nonfiction expository, narrative, persuasive, or descriptive? How are all these writings the same and how are they different? For early learners, letter shapes can be explored. Two different fiction books can be contrasted and compared, allowing students an opportunity to see how each book presents a hero, a problem, and a solution, for a better understanding of story and character development.
Another positive aspect of using Venn diagrams is that they lend themselves to individual, small group, and classroom interactions. Individuals and small groups can then compare their results for an even richer understanding of both the topic and the different ways a topic can be approached, analyzed, and addressed.
Building a Venn diagram
Venn diagrams are frequently drawn on a chalk or dry erase board, but there are many other ways to use this handy tool. Individuals and small groups can be given printed handouts, blank sheets on which they can make their own, or, for the more tactile learners, Hula hoops, clay, rope, and many other materials can be used. Also, for non-writers and early writers, magazine pictures can be cut out and placed appropriately.
Introducing the Venn diagram
Most students are introduced to Venn diagrams early in their education. Teachers should start at the board by drawing two large, overlapping circles and explaining that the class will be comparing and contrasting two different things with a Venn diagram. Demonstrating the process, teachers must encourage students to ask questions and to speak out if they “catch” the teacher doing something wrong. (Students love this!) For example, the teacher may compare hot dogs and hamburgers. Students are familiar with these items, so the process goes more smoothly. Prompting can help students get started or move forward when the ideas start to slow in coming.
Venn diagrams are an excellent teaching tool as they provide students with opportunities to learn the higher thinking skills of analysis and solid judgement, while exploring subjects more thoroughly.