Using Color with a Purpose

12 October 2014
I’ve used highlighters and markers during my lessons for awhile now.  This year, I started the year telling my students that we were going to use Color with a Purpose.  While I don’t use this technique every day, it is VERY helpful when teaching some lessons.

At the beginning of my lesson, I tell my students that whenever I write in black, that’s the signal they should be writing in pencil.  If I’m using a color, then they should be too.  I let them pick their colors - they like having choices.  Here is a list of five examples of when I use Color with a Purpose.

1.  Conditional Statements  -  When I teach conditional statements, I have the students mark the hypothesis (“P”) with one color and the conclusion (“Q”) with another color.  When they write the converse, I make then use the colors to show that the P and the Q switched places.

Conditional Statement Foldable - Color with a Purpose

2.  Parallel Lines  -  When I first introduce the vocabulary of alternate interior angles, same side interior angles, etc. I like to have students color code the types of angles.  I think that the angles stand out to the students a little bit more.  Using Color with a Purpose can really help students if they need to use a diagram for multiple problems.  They can mark the diagram in a different color for each problem.

Parallel Lines Foldable - Color with a Purpose

3.  Composition of Functions  -  My students always seem to have trouble visualizing composition of functions.  By writing each function in a different color, my students can clearly see what is happening.

Composition of Functions - Color with a Purpose

4.  Multiplying Matrices  -  I don’t know how else I would teach this lesson if I couldn’t color code the different parts of the matrix.  My very first year, I did not use color and my kids were lost.  Now, I use color every time I multiply matrices by hand, and I haven’t had any students have trouble.  This one was a life saver for me and my students.

Multiplying Matrices - Color with a Purpose

5.  Angles in Circles  -  It can be very difficult for students to see the different relationships between the angles in a circle.  By highlighting angles, all of the distracting segments are removed and students can identify the types of angles easier.

Angles in Circles - Color with a Purpose

Now that I’ve used Color with a Purpose, I won’t go back.  I have an odd collection of colored pens and pencils, markers and highlighters in a giant tub in my room.  Kids know that they are free to borrow them at any time.  Any homeless pens, markers, or pencils are just added to the tub.  I collected so many homeless ones last year that I didn’t even have to buy any at the beginning of the school year.


  1. Love this I also use colour for purpose in my math class @mathwithmonkeys

  2. I love this post. It's not a gimmick, it's to emphasize relationships. I will be using this for composition of functions with my algebra I students.

  3. Hello! I've used the idea of Color with a Purpose and wonder if you know the origin? Asking for a friend (really, not in that silly way folks ask questions for themselves on the internet!).

  4. kalamitykat, you know, I'm not really sure of the origin. I first heard about it at a conference when I started teaching. I think it's one of those things like highlighters - been around forever.


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