Colours have a tremendous influence on human health and psyche.
Lack or overabundance of certain colours can cause physical or
emotional disorders. Exposure to colour vibrations is used in the
treatment of a number of diseases and mental problems. The colour of
the classroom walls, curtains or even the teacher’s clothes can
either soothe or irritate students. Colour is also an important tool
in visual thinking. It separates ideas so they can be seen more
clearly; it stimulates creativity and aids the memory. Colour
captures and directs attention. Even conventionally outlined notes
can benefit from colour coding; maps, cluster maps, mandalas, and
most expressive drawings are considerably more effective in colour
(Williams 1983: 107). It is not unimportant, however, which colours
we use to stimulate students. To benefit from using them, we should
know what possible power they have over our students. Then, we will
not expose learners to calming vibrations if we expect them to be
active, or to intellectual vibrations if we expect them to use their
imagination. According to Muths (1994) and Mertz (1995), the most
commonly used colours have the following properties:
Green symbolizes balance and agreement
with nature and other people. It soothes the nervous system. It
gives hope and peace of mind. It is said to be favoured by quiet,
patient, open-minded traditionalists. Too much green, however,
evokes sadness and hidden fears.
Blue is a calming and cooling colour.
It is relaxing for the eyes and cheering for the mind. It promotes
intellectual processes, that is why people who favour it are clever
and industrious, but not always creative. They are exceptionally
just, dutiful and loyal.
Yellow, when bright and sunny,
reinforces the nervous system and helps in analytical studies. It
symbolizes wisdom, shrewdness, ambition and intellectualism of the
left brain. People who like yellow are happy optimists, but also
critical thinkers, who will eagerly defend their views. They often
lack creativity and imagination. Pale shades of yellow, on the other
hand, mean unfavourable emotions like envy or a tendency to plotting
Black is the colour of mystery and the
unknown. It protects people s individualism and makes them seem more
unusual and interesting. People who like black are profound
explorers and original thinkers.
Orange symbolizes vitality, good humour
and creative fantasy. It inspires and invigorates people who
otherwise are apathetic, uninterested or depressed. It is favoured
by sociable extroverts and those who need cheering up.
Red is the most exhilarating colour,
which stimulates vivid emotions of the right brain. It promotes
health, energy and interest. In some people, however, it may evoke
White stands for youth, cleanliness and
nativity. People who like white strive for perfection. They are
submissive idealists, whose dreams are difficult to fulfill.
Pink, if not overused, has a calming
effect. It is a symbol of daydreaming and optimism. It is favoured
by delicate people longing for a feeling of security.
1. Students favourite colours.
It is significant that as many as 24% of all optimists opted for
blue, which is a cheering colour, and 25% of pessimists preferred
green, which could make them even more sad. Students were also asked
how important colours were for them and what colours they favoured
in their learning environment. Most of them claimed that they
disliked brown, they found dirty-yellow or greenish rooms
depressing, and that they considered white chalk and black board
formal and uninspiring.
Experimenting with ways to make my classes more interesting and
lively, I tried using coloured paper for handouts (students in our
college do not have regular handbooks for studying English and learn
from materials prepared by their teachers). For the whole year
students received handouts in six different colours and could choose
the colour they preferred. From the very beginning the reaction was
enthusiastic. Some students knew at once which colour they wanted
and they were ready to fight tooth and nail with their colleagues to
get their favorite color as soon as possible. Other students held a
handful of pages for some time, trying to decide what mood they were
in and what colour would suit them best that very day. Usually,
lively students chose lively handouts, and quiet ones preferred
pale, mild shades. If they happened to receive the colour they did
not desire, they worked slower and concentrated less than when
working with their favourite shades.
Do colours aid the memory for words?
In order to see if colours could enhance students’ memory power,
I conducted a short experiment. I asked 58 students to learn 20
English words and their meaning within five minutes. The words were
written individually on cards in five colours: blue, green, orange,
red, and yellow. All words were connected with business and were
most probably new to the students. Subsequently, students were
tested on all the words.
The results are shown in Figure
3. The results might mean that some colours
drew more attention and helped students’ concentration better than
others. The words printed on blue or red cards were remembered the
best while those written on green had the worst results. It is
interesting that green, most students’ favourite colour, was the
worst memory aid. Its relaxing qualities could have had a
distracting influence on students.
Using colour to teach vocabulary
It is a well known fact that students recall words better when
they read the definitions and draw their own pictures to represent
them than when they read and write the words and the definitions.
Tracing a picture of the definition produces better recall than
writing the definition, and creating one’s own visual image is more
effective than tracing (Wittrock 1977:171–172).
Using colour in a number of ways produces similar results:
students concentrate better, spend more time processing a word, and
find learning more interesting and pleasant. Colour is useful in
both learning and revising, as well as making students and teachers
aware of the way they approach certain tasks. Neuropsychologists,
for instance, give students four pens and have them work with each
pen in a specific order for a specified period of time (red pen for
three minutes, then blue for three minutes, and so on). The results
reveal a good deal about how the students did the task, what was
done first, second, or third (Williams 1986:107). In teaching
vocabulary to more advanced students of English, this technique
might show what information they seek first when working with a
dictionary: whether they look for definitions, equivalents in their
own native tongue, example sentences, synonyms, or other
The most popular uses of coloured chalk or pencils
1. to practice spelling and pronunciation:
underline or colour difficult letter or sound clusters
(e.g., double consonants in accommodation or the sounds in thought);
mark stressed syllables in longer words (luxurious); underline words
in a passage that look nice or ugly to you; draw a picture rep-
resenting a word you cannot remember; decorate the initial or final
sounds/letters that cause difficulty;
2. to remember the word’s grammar:
underline concrete nouns in one colour and abstract
ones in another; mark countable and uncountable nouns in a text with
different colours; underline transitive and intransitive verbs; mark
words which are masculine, feminine, or neuter in meaning; mark
different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs,
prepositions) with colours;
3. to teach semantic categories and word
underline all words in a text
connected with a given topic (e.g., health, food, travelling, etc.)
with a coloured pencil; underline all words in a text associated
with different ways of speaking (looking, walking, or smiling) in
order to notice the differences in their usage; mark adjectives with
positive and negative meanings with different colours; underline
synonyms or antonyms of certain words; make colourful charts,
mandalas, semantic maps, or idea sketches to practise
4. to practise morphology:
all prefixes and suffixes in a passage and try to find out what they
usually mean; underline the stem of given words to see that they are
related (e.g., satisfaction, insatiable, unsatisfactory); use
different colours to mark prefixes, stems, and suffixes of words on
a list of derivatives (e.g., long, prolong, prolonged, prolongation,
longitude, longish, longing, etc.); and
5. to draw students attention to words and to
let them express their
opinions and preferences in a creative way; underline with different
colours words which have happy/sad or nice/ unpleasant associations
for you; mark words which are easy or difficult for you to remember
or words you would like to remember after the class; colour all
attractive/boring or useful/uncommon words in a passage.
Apart from underlining or colouring words or letters, students
can also improve their retention by colour coding (associating
certain lexical or grammatical categories with particular colours);
making coloured drawings or symbols for words or grammatical
categories to be used in the classroom on flash cards, cue cards,
posters, and overhead transparencies; or using coloured discs to
mark some features of words presented in pictures or magazine
cut-outs (e.g., gender or countable nouns). Teachers can help
students acquire more difficult items of vocabulary by using
coloured chalk or by placing pictures or writing words on coloured
construction paper. Students, on the other hand, can use colour in
their notebooks and for dittos (Allen and Valette 1972:118–119).
Teachers will have their own ideas and will use colour to suit
their own students’ needs. Whether they introduce colourful
flashcards, posters, or notes on the board, they may find them all
helpful and enjoyable. The main advantages of using colour in the
classroom include the following:
• Colouring words helps to concentrate on the task and extends
the time and attention students give to each word to be learnt.
• Underlining words or decorating them with coloured pencils is
an activity no student can get wrong, and the feeling of success is
extremely encouraging for all students.
• Texts and exercises coloured with pencils look more familiar or
personal to students and are much easier to work with than clean
texts when revising the material.
Allowing students to make decisions about what is easy/difficult,
interesting/ boring, useful/useless for them and what they
want/don’t want to remember while underlining certain words with
coloured pencils makes students feel responsible for their results.
In most cases, such a feeling of control makes students aware of the
good side of studying and they start working harder.
Finally, using colour in any way makes students and teachers more
creative. Developing new ideas, drawing pictures, and playing with
words make studying a pleasure rather than a cumbersome duty.
Allen, E. and Valette R. 1972. Modern language classroom
techniques. A handbook. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Mertz, B. 1995. Farben Charakter–Schicksal.
Niedernhausen/Ts.: Falken-Verlag GmbH.
Muths, C 1994. Farbtherapie. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag GmbH
Spaulding, C. 1992. Motivation in the classroom. New York:
Williams, L. 1983. Teaching for the two-sided mind. New York:
Simon & Schuster.