Learn and apply this critical reading instruction strategy

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. This method is an ideal strategy to teach to young students who are having trouble reading.
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Taking Visualizing to the Next Level

Visualization activities lend themselves to follow-up lessons. For example, the few sentences suggested in the "Starting Small" activity lead the way for deeper discussions about making inferences. Students can discuss not only what they visualize when they hear or read given text but also the questions that the text suggests, such as, "Why do you think Joan received all of these gifts?" or "What do you think Joan will do next?" You can take this particular discussion further by allowing students to personalize the experience by answering questions such as, "What would you do if you were Joan?" or "How would you feel if you were in Joan's place?"

When Can You Use It?


Students can sharpen their visualizing skills as they read independently, participate in small group reading activities, or listen to a text. To encourage visualizing, turn out the lights and ask students to close their eyes as they listen. Pause frequently to allow students to share their images and mental pictures with the class. The ability to generate visual images from texts becomes increasingly important as students move from richly illustrated storybooks into "chapter books" with relatively few pictures. Ease the transition by explaining that skillful writers use descriptive language designed to generate imagery in their readers' imaginations. Encourage students to create their own mental images, thereby illustrating the books themselves—filling in the pictures that the author paints using only words.


Text that is easy to visualize is often filled with vivid descriptions or strong verbs. Watch for sentences or paragraphs in students' writing that lend themselves to practice with visualization. With students' permission, share these examples with the class, encouraging discussion not only of the images created by the text but about why the chosen text allows for visualization. And encourage young writers to use language that generates images—this is when writing really sparkles!


Visualization is a helpful skill in mathematics as well. Students often use manipulatives to make math concepts more concrete, and visualization is a way of internalizing the concepts the manipulatives reinforce. For instance, a class that has been studying fractions and using fraction bars can segue into a discussion comparing the sizes of fractions using common images. A question such as, "Would you rather have 1/2 or 1/3 of a pizza?" is more easily answered if students can picture a pizza (or at least a circle) and what 1/2 versus 1/3 looks like. At the beginning of such a conversation, you can draw two pizzas on the board, shading in 1/2 of the first and 1/3 of the second. As the discussion continues, (1/4 versus 1/8, 2/3 versus 3/4, and so on) challenge students to picture the pizzas in their minds or to draw their visual images.

Social Studies

As students study history, they are sometimes presented with a list of dates and names. For students to really visualize historic events, they need sufficient details to create rich pictures. Allow students opportunities to listen to or read personal accounts of an event or time period they are studying. When available, pieces written from a child's perspective are helpful in forging personal links between students and the time period in question. For instance, Sarah Morton's Day: A Day In The Life of a Pilgrim Girl and Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day In The Life of a Pilgrim Boy, both by Kate Waters, provide context to help young children understand colonial life.


Visualizing is sometimes a good challenge with some of the more abstract concepts studied in science. For instance, many classes study plants, and students are told that plants need water to grow. While students can memorize the fact that water travels from a plant's roots through the stem to its leaves or buds, putting a white carnation in a vase filled with water that has been tinted blue with food coloring provides a vivid example of this process as students witness the flower eventually turn blue.

Lesson Plans

Visualizing: Following the Drinking Gourd
This lesson is designed to establish the skill of visualizing for primary students. In this lesson, students use clues from the text to be able to create their own images and imagine how characters are thinking and feeling.

Visualizing: Hill of Fire
This lesson is designed to expand the skill of visualizing for primary students.

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