Using Color with a Purpose

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.

If you teach students, you need to help them learn to color code!  These tips and ideas will help your students learn how to take better notes in math and will boost their understanding.

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.

  5. I love it for FOIL! I love it for everything really!! It just naturally to me. Also awesome for graphing! Translating from a word problem in the equation....


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