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Color-Coding Your Classroom

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January 02, 2024


Walk into most classrooms and you’ll find that they are typically bright colorful places. Most teachers love the color. We geek out over things like multipacks of post-it notes, Sharpies, or dry erase markers. Did you know that brain research actually backs up the benefits of using color to enhance learning?

It’s true! When we use color in a systematic way it can help students retain information better than just using black and white.

Color coding is especially beneficial for students who are non-readers or who are just learning to read. When color is involved, grouping, material organization, and differentiation become much, much easier.

The benefits of color in the classroom go beyond the aesthetic appeal. Here are a few ways to incorporate color in an effective way into your classroom:

Color Coding for Differentiation

When grouping students, color is key. Students can remember the group they are in based on color. Sometimes differentiation feels overwhelming for teachers. They might think: “You mean, on top of all my other planning and preparing I not only have to plan a day’s worth of instruction but do so for multiple groups of students?!?” It can feel like typical planning times three or four! Luckily, it’s not as hard as it might seem. By color coding, you can plan the same activity but simply differentiate the content. For example, if your class is divided into groups for spelling, each group can have their own list of words but the whole class can do the same activities to practice their spelling words. This type of differentiation works well especially when students are doing centers or other independent work. It’s also great if you happen to have an extra helper pop in.

Color Coding for Instruction

When teaching a complex concept, color helps break concepts down and make them easier to digest. A few ways you might incorporate color are:

  • Highlighting: Have students highlight certain types of information based on color. For example, in a reading passage, they could highlight characters in one color and setting information in another.
  • Graphic Organizers: Color coding graphic organizers can be helpful for students. Writing, note taking, or reading comprehension graphic organizers especially lend themselves to this. Graphic organizers are helpful tools but the color coding helps make them even easier to use. A student may feel overwhelmed by the many sections in a graphic organizer but the color coding makes it a bit easier.
  • Step-by-Step Class Instructions: Class charts that you create with students are a very valuable tool. When teaching a difficult concept (say, long division) write each step in a different color. This helps the student break apart a complex process and makes it easier for them to remember.
Color Coding for Student Organization

With up to 30 students in a class, keeping all their stuff organized is often challenging. Color coding makes this much easier. When a pair of scissors or a pencil is found on the floor, instead of wondering who it belongs to having things color-coded means that items can be returned where they belong quickly and easily. Students can find what they need for a variety of activities if their items are color-coded as well. If a student has different notebooks or folders for different subjects the colors can help them keep straight which is which. They might remember that their reading folder is red and their science folder is green.

Color Coding for Teacher Organization 

Color coding isn’t just for kids. It can help teachers keep things straight as well. Teachers deal with a LOT of paper. Keeping all those papers straight can be a challenge. Send home notes that are brightly colored so they stick out among other papers. Use a certain color paper for assessments. Also, a color-coded to-do list helps prioritize what needs to be done first. You can color code binders with a color for each class, group, or subject.

Tips for Color Coding:

  • Don’t go overboard: Bright, fun colors are an asset in the classroom as long as you keep it simple.  When color coding, stick with simple themes of only a few colors. This way, students don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Tie color schemes to something real: To help students remember the meaning of each color, tie the color to a real-world meaning. For example, many behavior charts have positive behaviors posted in green and negative behaviors posted in red, reminiscent of traffic lights.
  • Clearly model: When using color coding, these systems are meaningless unless students know exactly how to use. This means clear modeling is a must. First, show the student how to use the colors, then practice as a class or in partners. Finally, allow the students to use the color coding on their own, and review as necessary

Incorporating colors not only make your classroom a brighter, happier place, it also helps your students to focus and remember things better. Incorporate color coding and make your life in the classroom a little easier.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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