Good readers construct mental images as they read a text. By using prior knowledge and background experiences, readers connect the author's writing with a personal picture. Through guided visualization, students learn how to create mental pictures as they read.
Why use visual imagery?
- Generating an image while reading requires that the reader be actively engaged with the text.
- Creating mental images while reading can improve comprehension.
|When to use:||Before reading||During reading||After reading|
|How to use:||Individually||With small groups||Whole class setting|
How to use visual imagery
- Begin reading. Pause after a few sentences or paragraphs that contain good descriptive information.
- Share the image you've created in your mind, and talk about which words from the book helped you "draw" your picture. Your picture can relate to the setting, the characters, or the actions. By doing this, you are modeling the kind of picture making you want your child to do.
- Talk about how these pictures help you understand what's happening in the story.
- Continue reading. Pause again and share the new image you created. Then ask your child to share what he sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels. Ask what words helped him create the mental image and emotions. By doing this, you are providing your child with practice with this new skill.
- Are your images identical? Probably not! This is a great time to talk about why your images might be different. Perhaps your child went on a school field trip or had a school assembly that changed the way they created the picture in their mind. Perhaps experiences you've had as an adult influenced what you "drew." These differences are important to understand and respect.
- Read a longer portion of text and continue the sharing process.
- Once this is a familiar skill, encourage your child to use mental imagery when she is reading by herself. You can feel confident that these mental pictures will help your child understand the story in an important way.
Into the Book: lesson plans that help students learn to visualize
Picture This! Using Mental Imagery While Reading
Reading for Meaning: Tutoring Elementary Students to Enhance Comprehension
Teaching Shapes Using Read-Alouds, Visualization, and Sketch to Stretch from ReadWriteThink encourages strategic reading and real-world math connections.
Draw a Math Story from ReadWriteThink helps students move from the concrete to the symbolic.
From the Art Junction website: Suppose you had a hat that would help you think like an artist (76K PDF)*. What would it look like? How would it work? Try to imagine such a hat in your mind's eye. Once you have a mental picture of your "artrageous" hat, make it using a paper plate as a base and colored construction paper to create it's form. It may help to draw a picture of your hat before you start.
The San Francisco Symphony Kids' Site offers an online radio that provides musical examples of drama, excitement, tragedy and triumph. The musical selections offer a great opportunity to pair visualization and writing. Simply select a station button, have kids listen and visualize, and then draw or write what they "see" in the music.
Children's books to use with this strategy
Traditional literature is a fine source of material from which strong images can be evoked.
Fluid retellings and the occasional full color illustration are used to present a large formatted (and sizeable) selection of both well and lesser known fables. Images used sometimes recast traditional settings and may contrast with long-held ideas of place.
Eight well known folktales (e.g., 'Little Red Riding Hood,' 'Musicians of Breman') are retold and simply illustrated. (This might be paired with other versions of the same tales and start a study of comparative literature for younger children; e.g., what does the language in this rendition call to mind? How does it compare to X,Y, orZ?)
Poetry often uses a brief form and evocative language would seem to work well with this strategy.
Alliterative, onomatopoeic language (and gentle illustrations) reveal a child's day shared with family from sun-up to moon-rise.
Short poems (haiku) were written in response to but also evoke creatures shown in crisp close-up photographs of small animals and insects in their natural surroundings. This collection and others by Yolen/Stemple introduce information about nature, and could be used as part of the science curriculum.
Rich language evokes the sounds, smells, sights, and perhaps even smells through a poetic walk with colors of each season.
Novels could be read aloud or a read along but introduce a rich variety of material for different interests.
Based on Shulevitz's childhood, the boy learns that imagination can ignite a passion that survives grueling times.
The first book in the saga of Peter Hatcher presents a recognizable family and real characters in believable (and often funny) situations including his disgustingly cute but annoying little brother, Farley, better known as Fudge.
Fiction/fantasy & traditional literature
Minli's quest to change her fortune intertwines with fluid retellings of traditional Chinese folktales to make a memorable, fantastic, and compelling journey.
The Into the Book website also has a list of children's books to help you teach the visualizing strategy.
For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, students with learning disabilities, and younger learners
- Start with small bits of text. Gradually add more as students get more familiar with the strategy.
- Pair students, or organize them into small groups, for visualization work. Use a strategy like Think-Pair-Share to help students become more comfortable developing mental images.
See the research that supports this strategy
Gambrell, L., & Koskinen, P.S. (2002). Imagery: A strategy for enhancing comprehension. In C. C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (pp. 305-318). New York: Guilford Press.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.