Visualization is my favorite comprehension strategy and I have relied on it all of my life. I was always a colorful person with a deep imagination. I always thought that visualization was what everyone did when they read a book. Visualization is when you “see” pictures or a movie of the text you are reading in your head. It is when you create sensory mental images that can include smells, pictures, tastes, sounds and feelings.

As a teacher, I realize that this is a sophisticated sensemaking strategy and very useful to teach. Not all students happen to do this naturally, especially students that are already struggling with reading. These students may see the word on the page, but they are not making the connections and uncovering the hidden layer of meaning within the text. They are reading words or struggling to read just the words.

The strategy of visualizing refers to the mind’s capacity to imagine what is being suggested by the words on a page. If you use this strategy a lot you understand the complaints that arise when a book is made into a movie. You see how the characters, setting and even the story is played out differently and prefer the creation of your own imagination over the one produced by a company. That is because visualization is a form of inferring. We create a world for the story in our mind based on the clue and words the author provides in the text.  We make lots of connections using our background knowledge, life experiences and authors message to essentially give “life to the book” in our imagination.

Teaching visualizing requires us to help students become aware of descriptions.

Language in text that aids in visualization

  • vivid verbs, nouns and adjectives
  • figurative language
  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Imagery
  • Idioms
  • Onomatopoeia

It is also important to explain that when you are reading and the movie in your head stops making sense starts to get confused is when you stop and reread. Just like if you were watching a movie and were sidetracked you could stop and rewind to re-watch and get a better understanding. Visualizing will help your students to summarize the text, determine important details, help them move from literal to inferential thinking and just makes reading more enjoyable, really getting immersed and lost in a book which we all know is one of life’s little pleasures!

Great song to use with kids!

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Read aloud a book without showing the pictures allowing the student to use the powers of their imagination. Stop and allow them to describe what the see, hear, smell, taste, and feel and use the graphic organizers provided to help them explain it in writing or drawings.

Visualization Rubric

If you have a student who is struggling with the above activities, you can break the strategy down further. Working one on one have them describe to you a word. For example, tell them “dinosaur” and have them draw or explain to you the dinosaur in their mind’s eye. Then use a phrase, such as “ a red smelly sock” and have them describe to you what they think it might look and smell like, where they would find it, etc. Finally, give them a sentence to visualize such as “The boy’s tongue was as red a firetruck after drinking cherry kool-aid.” Have them draw or explain what they visually think.

Visualization makes reading all the more fun. I hope I have provided you with some fun activities to use with your students.

Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension to enhance understanding and engagement.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Zimmerman, S., & Hutchins, C. (2001). 7 keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it! New York: Three Rivers Press.