Visual figure-ground discrimination

Visual figure-ground closure skill is required to identify a particular object when there are so many things in a picture. This skill also comes into play when we look for a particular word in a text. We quickly locate a word in a dictionary using this skill. Children who lack visual figure-ground discrimination skill would find it difficult to copy from a board, look at maps, plot graphs, spot the differences in two pictures, quickly locate key words in a text, scan for information in a book etc.

Activities for improving visual figure-ground discrimination

There are many activities to help a child having difficulty with visual figure-ground discrimination. The following activities are useful.

  1. Activities using different objects:

    Keep on the floor a collection of different types of vegetables close to each other and have only one or two onions or a potato among the vegetables. The challenge is to identify the onions or potato. Many combinations can be tried. A mixture of pulses can also be used for this activity.

    Keep on a plate a variety of things close to each other. Keep one or two beads. The challenge is to identify the beads. The activity can also be done with only beads. Keep on a tray a collection of beads having similar size and shape but having different colours. Keep only one or two red beads. Have the child pick the red coloured beads. Have the child pick out a particular dress from a pile of clothes. A variety of similar activities using different materials can be had. Pictures which have a busy background can also be used to identify a particular item.

  2. Preparation of worksheets:

    Parents can prepare their own worksheets. Some examples are given below.

    1. The challenge is to circle all ‘pb’ in the box. Tell the child to scan from left to right. Ensure that she scans from left to right. Many problems in reading take place because the child is not reading from left to right. After the exercise is done ask her to do self-correction. Parents can check and gently point out any omissions.


      A variation of this exercise uses colour codes:


      This exercise can be done with dots. See the example below.

      red dots

    2. In the following activity, the child is required to identify a particular alphabet and cancel it by circling or putting a line across it.

      Scan from left to right and cancel all the h in the following words.

      bread whose father head ever seen near heaven health brother beware dad silver farm shepherd laughed bathtub hand thousand withhold blasted punched where billed pushed finish leave struggle hum him when howl

      We can have this type of activity for all the letters of the alphabet. As vowels are frequently used, cancelling one of the vowels- a, e, i, o, u- can engage the attention of the child. Do self- correction. Old magazines and newspapers can be used for this purpose. This activity also improves concentration.

    3. Another activity is to identify words of a particular length- two letter words, three letter words, etc. One example is given below.

      Scan from left to right and draw a line across all the three letter words.

      The fisherman was carrying a bag. He has a daughter, She is smart and fat. She doesn’t eat fish. Her brother loves to eat fish. Her brother’s name is Rajan. He and his friends get up in the morning and run around the playground in the school. They become thirsty and drink a lot of water. They have lots of fun.

      Old magazines and newspapers can be used for this purpose. The child need not comprehend what she is reading because the challenge is to identify words having a particular number of words.

      The groups of letters, words etc need not be always in a straight line. In fact, scattering them all around the paper would be a good idea. In this type of exercise, don’t insist on scanning from left to right.

  3. Reading captcha:

    Two examples of captcha are given below.

    reading captcha

    Search the net for captcha. Reading captcha is an excellent activity to improve visual figure-ground discrimination skill.

  4. Tessellation activities

    Tessellations are patterns made of one or more shapes and the shapes are usually arranged without any gaps among them.

    Examples of tessellation are:


    1. In the image given below, there are birds facing left and right and there are different types of fishes. The challenge is to identify the different objects.


    2. This image has triangles having different colours. Counting the different coloured triangles would be a challenging task for children having problems with visual figure-ground discrimination. In the image given below, three triangles make a square. Require the child to identify some such squares. Start with simple patterns of tessellations and gradually increase the level of difficulty.


      Search the internet for: tessellations for kids, tessellations with squares, tessellation images for fish, bird, dog or cat and alphabets/numbers.

  5. Use the internet:

    Search the internet for worksheets on visual figure-ground discrimination.