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What Is It?
Visualizing refers to our ability to create pictures in our heads based on text we read or words we hear. It is one of many skills that makes reading comprehension possible.
Why Is It Important?
Visualizing strengthens reading comprehension skills as students gain a more thorough understanding of the text they are reading by consciously using the words to create mental images. As students gain more deliberate practice with this skill, the act of visualizing text becomes automatic. Students who visualize as they read not only have a richer reading experience but can recall what they have read for longer periods of time. (Harvey & Goudvis 2000)
Visualizing text as it is being read or heard also creates personal links between the readers/listeners and text. Readers who can imagine the characters they read about, for instance, may become more involved with what they are reading. This makes for a more meaningful reading experience and promotes continued reading.
How Can You Make It Happen?
Visualizing is a skill that can be helpful in many domains, and while it is often associated with teaching early readers, even experienced readers can benefit from practice with this skill. When selecting a text for a visualizing activity, start with a piece that contains descriptive language and strong verbs and that lends itself to conjuring vivid images. It is not necessary to start with an entire book—even a well-crafted sentence or short paragraph can provide a rich springboard for a visualizing lesson.
To begin a series of lessons that will focus on improving visualizing skills, you might choose to start with a short passage taken from a text or of your own creation. For instance, the following sentences could be used to spark discussions:
Joan could barely believe her eyes. All these gifts were for her! She had never seen so many packages, not even on all her birthdays combined!
After listening to or reading the sentences once or twice, students can discuss the mental images created by the sentences. Students will likely differ in their descriptions of the scene. For instance, some may picture a small child surrounded by stacks of gifts. Others may imagine an older girl in front of a table piled with presents. There is no single correct answer, and those three simple sentences, though not particularly rich in detail, do offer enough information for the reader or listener to begin to form a mental picture.
Students can work on their visualizing skills as a whole class or in small groups. One way to challenge young students to improve their visualizing is to read a picture book aloud, sharing only portions of the illustrations. Then ask students to create their own illustrations based on the text they heard. More advanced readers might listen to a selection from a novel that the class has been reading and create a picture or written description of a character or setting based on the information in the text.
Students can also practice their visualization skills as a follow up to independent reading. Ask young students who keep track of their reading in reading logs or journals to respond to prompts regarding the images created by the text they have read: "Does the main character remind you of anyone you know?" "Have you ever been to or seen any place that is like the setting of your book?" Very young students can also draw images in their journals, recording their mental pictures in response to their reading. You can discuss these drawings during one-on-one reading conferences.
Older students who are reading novels can think about questions such as, "If you were going to make a movie based on your book, who would you want to play the main characters?" "What would the scenery look like?" and "Where would you want to do the filming?" These questions get at the imagery created in the mind of the readers and encourage those readers to share their mental pictures in their responses.