Creating Visuals with Canva

Creating Visuals with Canva

Our Classroom Expectations Poster; Created in Canva
Canva’s infographic template (see how many there are to get you started on the left). We used this template as a model for our own Science Unit on Climate Change.
Canva is a brilliant online graphics program that has both free and paid elements available. It has significantly changed the way my 5th graders create and design visuals. It’s also great for the classroom teacher to use as well from eye-catching posters to labels for baskets to informative (& not boring) notices for parents! This tool has become our number 1 go to tool for visuals now as it’s ease of use allows students to spend more time on the creative process and less time on “learning” or “mastering” the tool and all it’s effects.

How Does it Work in the Classroom?

Each student can create a student account. (I’m lucky that my students have their own school email accounts). Alternative solutions: Canva offers the option of using your google account to log in – so if you’re school is using google docs (but doesn’t have the gmail “switched” on for students – this is the perfect alternative!  No google accounts? Consider asking parents at the beginning of the year if all students can create a gmail account or have an email account – I’d do this at a back to school night or create some sort of informative presentation for parents to watch that explains how useful having an email account will be for the year and how we plan to use it and how you’ll be teaching students to use their email account responsibly and respectfully. I’ve done this before, and parents have been very receptive to the idea especially after having the “why” explained to them. Having an email account to sign up for online accounts has been invaluable for my students each year.

Once students are logged in, they can decide on the type of layout and/or size of the layout before beginning the design process. Canva makes this very easy by providing standard templates for brochures, posters, book covers, logos and so much more!  There’s even the ability to create a custom size for the occasional odd-sized project. Next students select a template to use or simply create a new image from scratch.  Some templates, icons and photos cost money, but there are plenty of amazing FREE elements to create dynamic visuals without the need to spend any extra $$!

Canva makes the next step of adding photos, texts, and graphics very simple. It’s a drag and drop method. (I’m thinking this would be super easy for Grade 2-3 students – so please leave a comment if you have tried it with them!) It’s also quite easy to add photos from your own computer or from Canva’s own database (again— not all are free), text, borders, shapes, and other graphics to create the perfect visual for a project.

What’s great for students is that Canva automatically saves creations so that you can go back to them at any time to revise or re-download as needed. When students have finished a project, they can select “download” and this saves the image to use in whatever context needed. This feature was exceptional for our student blogs! Thanks to Canva, my students are able to create professional images super easy!

Handy Graphic Design Learning

Canva has a Graphic Design Tutorials section (the link is at the bottom left after you sign in). From Getting Started with Canva Essentials to Backgrounds, Fonts and Colours – there’s even a section on Branding!  You can also speed up your design process with Advanced Tips – Canva Shortcuts Part 1 and Part 2 as well as Canva Tips and Tricks. As a class we made our way through the mini-challenges – learning through doing – it was a perfect way to learn together and from each other.  I grouped the students in fours and set them a tutorial to watch together. It was their job to “master” the learning in the tutorial so that they could “teach” another group of 4 what they learned. During this time, I assessed my students on their collaboration skills and kept an eye out for my techxperts for Canva. I chose tutorials that taught students about design and layouts rather than the “how to use” Canva tutorials. Canva is so user-friendly that 5th graders easily worked out how to drag and drop, change fonts, colours etc so we didn’t need to teach each other these skills.

Ways We’ve Used Canva in the Classroom


Books, blogs, projects, or portfolios (in print or electronic).  Using the optional templates provided by Canva shows students (and teachers) how to most effectively display key information in order to communicate the topic while also grabbing attention.


 I’m a huge fan of infographics because they have the ability (when done well) to present visually appealing key concepts and information on various topics. I’ve starting to use Infographics as a way to assess student understanding of key concepts and facts in various subjects or at least having it as an option of a way that students can present their key ideas, learning and/or understandings on a topic. Canva provides templates that are very user-friendly in order to do this.  I love having a different & creative way to assess student learning.

Charts and Graphs

Do your students need to make any graphs and charts in order to measure, synthesize, analyze, or showcase information?  Mine do all the time – especially in Maths. Canva has several options that are visually appealing and at the same time provide effective visuals of measurable information.  After using the chart feature in Excel and Google’s Sheets, Canva’s charts are graphs were super EASY!

Photo Collages

By far one of the most popular uses in our classroom! Photo collages have been part of presentations to blogs to portfolios to projects.  There are several photo collage templates that make it easy to create stunning photo collections that really make an impact.  5th Graders loved these templates because they were all drag-and-drop style, so arranging and organizing information visually is very easy for them.

Our #thankful for project was a fun favourite – many students uploaded their own images, to make stunning, thought-provoking #thankful for collages. We didn’t print them out – just displayed them on screens and did a gallery walk when we were ready to present.  This project was also a writing unit – before the students used Canva to create their #thankful for collage, they had to explain in writing why they were thankful for the things that made it into the collage. Limiting the collage to 3 images only help produce some amazing collages and even more amazing writing.

Presentation Zen

One of my most favourite professional development books is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  He has a Presentation Zen website with plenty of information and tips too if you can’t quite get your hands on the book – A 2nd Edition copy has just been released too – Voices that Matter.

I highly recommend that you purchase your own copy of the book and I highly recommend that you give Presentation Zen a try in your classroom. If you are interested, I wrote a post detailing how and what I first learnt about Presentation Zen during my COETAIL learning journey back in 2009.

Presentation Zen in the Classroom

Currently I use the presentation zen style for PD sessions with faculty as much as I can. When I was in the classroom I used this style in all the Keynotes I prepared ahead for Readers and Writers Workshop visual mini lessons.  The result in the classroom was (I think) better conversations, shorter mini-lessons and increased motivation and inspiration – especially for writing.

Recently at the JIS Technology Learning Institute, I ran a popular session on using presentation zen in the classroom. To give you an idea of what was in this session, I’ve embedded (and linked to) the Keynote (which was uploaded to SlideShare) I used to introduce the basics of Presentation Zen.  After looking at the basics, we looked at an actual Readers Workshop keynote (also embedded for you below) that I’d used in the past.

Next, I asked the session participants to begin work on their own Presentation Zen keynote.  This session was a great way to not only introduce the basics of presentation zen and keynote but it encouraged a really good conversation about Creative Commons and copyright, which a lot of schools are struggling with.

Do you use PresentationZen?

What ways do you use it?

New Presentation Techniques

Our CoETaIL leaders (aka: Kim Cofino & Jeff Utecht) have asked us to reflect on a presentation we have created in the past looking at how we would implement new visual presentation techniques to better communicate your message to your audience.

One of the best books I bought over the “Summer” break was Garr Reynolds‘ book,  presentationzen Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. It’s an informative read and is full of ideas, reasons and ways to ensure that you’re not contributing scores of to the “Death by Powerpoint” group!

My favourite new term is slideument – a cross between a slide and a document.  I know I’ve been guilty of a few “slideuments” in my time!

Marketing guru and presenter extraordinaire, Seth Godin, contributes to presentationzen with the idea that

communication is the transfer of emotion

He says you can improve your presentation immediately by:

Making slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them.  These slides should demonstrate, with emotional proof, that what you’re saying is true not just accurate.  No more than six words on a slide. EVER.

Don’t use cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.

No dissolves, spins or other transitions. Keep it simple.

Create a written document. A leave-behind.  Put in as many footnotes as you like. Tell the audience that you’re going to five them all the details of your presentation after it’s over, & they don’t have to write down everything you say. DON’T hand out printouts of your slides.  They don’t work without you there.

I’ve been trying to use presentationzen during the writer’s workshop mini-lesson for my Grade 5 students.  I’m hoping that the visual images will help to stimulate creativity and emotion.  I did think that my slides were presentationzen – after reading the above message from Seth Godin, I’ve discovered that they’re weren’t quite there yet.  I had transitions still, the slides repeated my words, not reinforced them and some had more than six words!

I’ve come to the realisation that the words are on the slides for me, rather than the students, and this is a direct reflection of how much I am still not comfortable with the writing workshop mini-lessons from Lucy Calkins.  I’m using her words, her ideas and I haven’t yet managed to formulate my own words and ideas about teaching writing workshop style mini-lessons.  (but now I digress ……).  Below is a sample of a “before” page and then an “after” page.

Apart from the last suggestion from Seth Godin about creating a writing document (which I guess we do in a way when we hang reminder charts everywhere in the classroom for writing and reading) – I think I’ll definitely stick to the other suggestions.

I accidentally deleted my images in skitch when it switched to Evernote – not realising that this would affect a lot of images embedded in my blog posts (silly me!)  I’m currently looking to see if I can replace these images – it’s taking a while and some I know I won’t be able to replicate – sorry about that! 

Garr Reynolds believes

One of the most important things you can do in the initial stage of preparing for your presentation is to get away from your computer.

My planning has always taken place at the computer, so I’m willing to give this a go to see if it helps me be more true to the presentationzen ideal. I’ll also be asking myself his two questions as I prepare my next presentations:

What’s your point?

Why does it matter?