Using images for retrieval practice

Carousel Learning
5 min readJun 5, 2023


By Adam Boxer

A little while ago, I introduced my Year 7 students to cells and their organelles. Each organelle has a name and a function, for example:

We did everything we were supposed to in class. Explicit instruction, choral response, check for understanding, mini-whiteboards, independent practice. I knew that this was a lot of information for one lesson, so I also set them a quiz to learn the various organelles and their functions.

When the homework was due, I marked it and saw that the students’ responses were pretty good. Of course, I always want to recheck that in class and see how their responses on Carousel marry up to their responses in class. I therefore drew a diagram on the board…

…and asked students to name the organelle at (a) and write down its function. Sadly, lots of them got it wrong — but there was something weird about their answers. Each one of them had written the name of an organelle and given its function, they just hadn’t identified the correct organelle. A lot of them wrote “cytoplasm — where chemical reactions occur” or “cell wall — supports the cell” which as an answer gives a correct organelle with its specific function. It’s just not the organelle I was after.

To further probe and map out their understanding, I then asked them to rub off their boards and told them that (a) was the cell membrane. I followed that by asking them to write the function of the cell membrane. This time, 95% of them got it right.

It seems to me that there were three things students needed to know:

  1. The names of the organelles
  2. The function of each organelle
  3. What it looks like/its location in a cell diagram

I had done a decent job of 1 and 2, but had let them down on 3. Luckily, this was easily resolved, and I made a diagram for them that I added to the quiz for next week:

One week later, I repeated the process from the first lesson in class and all students got it right.

Images can be extremely powerful for codifying core knowledge and helping students retain it. They can aid in the vital work of connecting abstract thoughts to a concrete reality, and whilst it’s obvious that not all items of knowledge need an accompanying diagram, there are some items that cannot be retrieved well without one.

Despite the power of using images, it’s also worth noting that they don’t work alone. The cell diagram works in tandem with the Core Questions about organelles and their functions to build a holistic picture of the cell and its activities. Questions like the below would work in tandem with other questions that might probe students’ understanding of the resistivity of different types of rock or the processes that cause the various landforms.

The use of images also allows students to use historical artefacts:

In this case, using the photograph as as prompt for retrieval in a primary setting again broadens student understanding and helps bring colour and life to events and objects from hundreds of years ago.

Images can also be used as a prompt for slightly less traditional retrieval practice, where you are asking students to think in a slightly different way:

In this case, there may not be one “correct” answer, but we will still have taught students about depth, perspective, contrasting shapes/colours and motion. Having students practise using these terms can make a huge difference to their ability to analyse and appreciate art, even if they are applying them in their own way.

Below is a similar example — there are lots of ways to answer it, but any of them counts as good retrieval practice:

In short, images can be used in a range of subjects and in a range of different ways. The key, as ever, is to ensure that students have the tools they need in order to execute effective retrieval and build up their knowledge of the world.

For more information on how to embed images to your quizzes, click here.

For more information on the complete suite of primary support and resources, click here.

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the appropriate permissions, rights or licences to use the image in the way you intend to use it and Carousel accepts no responsibility for any breach of copyright or intellectual property rights that may result in users adding images to Question Banks.



Carousel Learning

Carousel is a retrieval practice and online quizzing tool that helps students to embed knowledge in their long-term memory.