Venn Diagram: An Overview of an Effective Learning Tool

Updated on March 31, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

An interactive version in which students place the differences and similarities on a Venn diagram drawn on a posterboard.
An interactive version in which students place the differences and similarities on a Venn diagram drawn on a posterboard. | Source

When it comes to education, a visual cue can open the minds of the aptest pupil. The most used and respected educational tool has been around for more than a century. Interestingly enough, it is easy to create and use; especially, if you want to compare and contrast two items. Nearly all teachers in every subject – as well as their students – know it as the Venn diagram.

The Venn diagram has emerged as a useful and versatile learning tool in education. Originally used as a way to show the differences and similarities between scientific or logical concepts, it has expanded to other subjects. It's not uncommon to find it used for subjects such as history, English, economics, and math. Not bad for a tool that can be easily made by anyone.

Eulerian diagram
Eulerian diagram | Source

Starting as the Eulerian Circle

Created in 1880 by the British logician and philosopher John Venn, the Venn diagram started under another name. It was originally called the Eulerian Circles.

Venn named it after the 18th century Swiss-born Russian mathematician, physicist, astronomer, logician and engineer, Leonhard Euler. Euler was considered one of the greatest mathematicians of his time (some may say of all time).

Euler created a curious diagram to illustrate a form of philosophical logic known as syllogistic reasoning (a form of logical arguments that uses deductive reasoning to find a conclusion on two or more assumed truths).

Known as the Euler diagram, this tool consisted of two or more circles within a larger one. The large circle (usually in the shape of an oval) contained a topic while the smaller circles within it listed part of the topic and/or a definition of that particular part.

The use of the diagram has even been used outside the classroom

Venn Makes the Conversion

Venn took the Eulerian diagram and transformed it to “represent propositions by diagrams (Venn, 1880).” In the process, he converted its physical appearance. Instead of being a circle within a circle, it became two large circles intersecting one another. Later, some versions of this diagram would incorporate three or more circles. In other cases, squares, triangles, rectangles, and other geometric shapes were used instead of the standard circle.

The diagram proved to be very useful in teaching philosophy. Its success, however, came when other scholars from various academic fields discovered its usefulness.

Throughout time, the Eulerian diagram became known as the Venn diagram (or the Venn for short). Also, it branched out. In addition to being used for philosophy, scholars from other subjects such as math and science began to us them.

Additionally, the officials outside academia have found uses for the Venn. Scientists, businessmen, economists, and politicians have used it to explain or break down complex matters to the public. Even engineers and mechanics have used it to compare parts or list mechanical processes or operations.

Venn in the Classroom

Still, it is widely -- and primarily -- used in the classroom. The typical diagram comprises of two or more overlapping circles. Its primary use is to show the differences and similarities of a concept.

In many cases, teacher resource books and activity books for children may include these diagrams. Simply put, when a complex concept needs to illustrated, the inclusion of the Venn makes it easier for the reader to comprehend a topic.

Additionally, the diagrams are easy to create from scratch. All you need are:

• Paper

• Pen or pencil

• A steady hand or something round to trace.

The versatility of this tool means that it can be applied to almost any subject. English teachers have used it as a pre-writing practice for a compare/contrast essay. In history, documents -- such as the U.S. Constitution and the Article of Confederation -- are listed and examined for their similarities and differences.

It can be created on the whiteboard by the teacher and used in interactive lectures in which the teacher asks the students for information on two subjects.

The diagram works in the following fashion: Each circle represents a concept. In the areas of the circles that don’t overlap, information, facts or parts of the concepts are listed. In the area where the circles overlap – in the center of the area where two or more circles overlap – the similarities are represented.

This doesn’t have to be a pencil-and-paper tool. It can be created on the whiteboard by the teacher and used in interactive lectures in which the teacher asks the students for information on two subjects, and then places the information given to him onto the diagram.

Venn Diagram using more than two circles and colors.
Venn Diagram using more than two circles and colors. | Source

Beyond Comparison

Creative teachers -- and students -- may take the Venn to whole levels. They may create them from construction paper, paper-plates, or other material and give it an artistic (and visually pleasing) feel to it.

Comparison and contrasts assignments are the not only thing applying the Venn. A physical tool such as a manipulative can be fashioned into a Venn diagram and used to solve math problems or be used to demonstrate an concept in science.

Manipulative are transparent plastic geometric objects often used in math or science. In the case of science - especially dealing with a lesson in primary and secondary color - red (magenta), yellow and blue-colored manipulative can be used by the students to create secondary colors by placing them on a Venn diagram. There, they can see how primary colors create secondary colors by observing the overlapped area.

Final Thoughts

Its use as a learning tool is that it appeals to visualization. In a time when pictures, concrete examples and mapping are proving to be effective methods of teaching, the Venn diagram helps to show the components of several concepts. Also, it helps to breakdown lengthy text into chunks that can be organized and easily read and understood.

The Venn diagram may be 130 years old. Still, it’s being used for modern lessons in computer studies, physics, and even astronomy. Its use has gone beyond teaching logical thinking and is now being used to organize possible essays or research papers. In the future, lessons will be altered. However, this map will remain unchanged, considering how simple it is to use, and how versatile it is.

This was created by a Spanish Teacher
This was created by a Spanish Teacher | Source

Educational Tools

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Dean Traylor

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      • profile image

        Alexsis Allen 

        19 months ago

        A great read and I appreciate the history of this graphic organizer. It's great for comparimg and contrasting.

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        19 months ago from Beautiful South

        Interesting article, Dean, I'm glad you took the time to educate us. Now I know what that thing is called because it's name was never brought up in my college studies. Since I work daily with the linear, I've had very little opportunity to use the Venn, but it is a very popular tool in presentations. Your color illustration of the Venn adds a very nice touch.

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