Google Slides icon boards for low-prep, visual thinking

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Google Slides icon boards for low-prep, visual thinking

Google slides icon boards with the noun project icons ( thenounproject )
Google slides icon boards

Google Slides icon boards combine low-prep simplicity with a brain-friendly verbal/visual mix.


I’m a huge fan of infographics. They let students create a great verbal/visual mix with the content they’ve learned. Plus, they’re lots of fun to look at and share, too.

I’ve written about creating infographics in the classroom with Google Drawings. I’ve made my own infographics, ranging in topics from teaching frameworks to the ripple effect of a teacher. I’ve even created a time lapse video of the creation of an infographic from start to finish.

There’s a hang-up, though.

You start with a blank page and have to hunt for icons yourself.

If you can’t envision your work before you start (or adjust it on the fly), it can be tough.

There’s got to be a better way, right?

Oh, you bet.

Meet “icon boards”.

The “Great Big Icon Board.” 

Click here for the template in Google Slides

I created icon boards as a way to simplify the infographic process. Think of icon boards as “infographics LITE” or “infographics when you’re in a hurry.”

You can use Google Drawings or Google Slides to create your own icon boards — or just use the links below to copy and distribute mine …

Great big icon board

The Great Big Icon Board — A massive 20″ x 10″ board with plenty of space for all your students’ ideas.

The Sequential Icon Board — A long, narrow board broken up into sections to show sequence

The Treasure Map Icon Board — A fun pirate-themed board to show sequence as you follow the map

The Art Gallery Icon Board — A simple board with four picture frames to group similar ideas

The Math Icon Board — A simple board, created by Kimberly Wassmuth and shared on her blog, with icons to show thinking in math and science classes

How to use icon boards

Icon boards include an open space for students to organize what they’re learning visually, combining text and images. They include plenty of icons that students would likely use from sources like The Noun Project or Flat Icon.

The icons — as well as shapes, text boxes and other elements — are placed in the workspace around the board. They’re not actually on the board until students move them there. Think of it like things sitting around your paper on a desk.

Whether you create your own icon boards or use my pre-created templates, there are a few simple steps to using them.

(If you’re using one of my templates, you’ll need to make a copy of your own using the links above first.)

  1. Distribute the icon boards to students. Easiest way is creating an assignment in Google Classroom and attaching the file to the assignment (choose “Make a copy for each student”). Other options include using the blue “Share” button and getting a clickable link, then changing the word “edit” and anything after it to say “copy” in the URL … OR … creating a short URL students can type in with a service like or
  2. Students open their boards (through Google Classroom or the method you choose).
  3. Students organize their ideas using the items you’ve placed in the space around the board.
  4. Students add additional items, like icons, shapes, text boxes, etc. that they might need.

PRO TIP: When students use an icon or other item in the space around the boards, ask them to copy that item first, leaving the original in the surrounding workspace. That way, they’ll still have a copy of that item if they want to use it again later.

When they’re done, they can turn the icon board in using Google Classroom or your learning management system.

The finished product might look like this …

Why icon boards work

Icon boards get students right to work. They don’t spend tons of time searching for the perfect icon or shape.

The verbal/visual mix is very brain friendly (aka “dual coding”).

It’s also rooted in “constructionism,” a term coined by Seymour Papert. Students are creating mental models to understand the world around them. In fact, the more constructing they do on their own (and the less “follow the recipe” approach), the better.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “You have all of these items ready on the icon boards. Doesn’t that limit students?”

My answer? No way.

These icon boards are a starting point. By having the icons, shapes and other items waiting, students don’t spend as much time searching for what they need. By limiting their choices, you help them to focus on the task at hand.

Here’s another way to look at it. Creativity craves constraints, as I’ve learned in the book Intentionby Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder. By having students operate within a construct, it actually unleashes creativity — even from students who wouldn’t consider themselves creative.

Tips for successful icon boards

Some suggestions to make the most out of these activities:

  • Add whatever you think students are likely to want to use (i.e. images, diagrams, even text boxes pre-filled with sentence stems, etc.). Just leave it in the space around the board.
  • Want to create some immovable text or images? Create a background image with all the parts you don’t want students moving around. Use Google Drawings or Slides to do it. There are instructions in this post.
  • Resize the board to dimensions that best suit the activity. You don’t have to stick to standard-sized slides or letter-sized paper! If you’re not going to print them or present them on a projector, you’re free to modify your boards as you’d like. Just go to File > Page setup … and choose “Custom” from the dropdown menu. Resize it using inches, centimeters, pixels, etc.
  • Have students use lines and boxes for structure. These can help students organize their material and make it their own. Also, help them to remember “white space” — unused space around the elements. It keeps a board from looking too overwhelming.
  • Don’t forget different line types. Use the curved line and click to create “bend points” when drawing it. (See the wavy arrow lines in my examples above.) A scribble line lets you draw free-hand, and a poly line lets you connect straight lines together into a shape.
  • Use the Image > Camera option to add a personal touch. Students love to see themselves in their work! Find ways to incorporate webcam photos of themselves to add an additional dimension to their activities.
  • Keyboard shortcuts make everything easier. A couple keyboard shortcuts that work really well here (use Control for Chromebooks/Windows laptops and Command for Macs) —
    • Control+Shift+, to make text smaller and Control+Shift+. to make text bigger. Hit the shortcut repeatedly to resize point by point.
    • Control+Alt++ (plus) to zoom in and Control+Alt+- (minus) to zoom out. This is especially important when you have a large board with lots of details.

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  • […] Create brain-friendly, verbal/visual infographics. Using these "icon board" templates, they're quick and easy. Click here to learn how! […]

  • Kellie says:

    How can I download the Icon Board?

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