Set the Stage

Set the Stage
Set the Stage

Thrifty Finds

Thrifty Finds
Thrifty Finds



Reading Strategy: Teaching Students to Use Visualization

A couple of years ago, the parents of one of my fifth grade students sat across the table from me and explained to me that their child had difficulty with the concept of visualization.  She had a hard time visualizing characters, settings, and events in books as she read. When I later spoke to that student and inquired about this, she explain to me that she didn't see the pictures or movies in her mind like teachers always told her she should. At that moment, I realized that sometimes we do not teach this reading skill explicitly because we take it for granted that readers can automatically do this as they read (especially in the upper grades). So today, I thought I would discuss what visualization is, as well as share some ideas and resources that can be used in the classroom to explicitly teach visualization to students.

Visualization is the creating or recreating of imaginary or real scenes within one's mind. Visualizing helps readers remember and recall information by aiding in memory. This skill assists readers in comprehending text by helping them discriminate between important and unimportant details. Ideally, it should be taught in primary and elementary grades, but can be developed and perfected at any time.


1. The Shape Robot

For primary students, I love to introduce visualization by using the 'oldie-but-goodie' Shape Robot. There are several ways to use this strategy, but one method is to first model it by preparing a paragraph ahead of time, reading it to aloud to the students, and modeling how to draw the Shape Robot being described in the paragraph. This shows students to slow down as they read and create a picture of what the author is describing in their head. Then, you can give the students a different paragraph for them to illustrate. Another option is to have them draw their own Shape Robot, have them write a descriptive paragraph about it, swap the paragraph with another student while 'hiding' the drawing, and then have them draw the robot described by their partner. They can then compare the Shape Robots to see if they match. As you can see, there are many variations to this resource, but they all require students to slow down, think, and visualize.

For a FREE Shape Robot resource, click on the image below:

2. Novels

For younger students who can read fluently, or upper elementary students, I enjoy using real world text from books, specifically novels. You can introduce (or reintroduce) this concept as you are reading a book and 'bump into' the use of descriptive text within the novel, or you can just jump to a section of a book and go over the concept in isolation. This is a great way to see how authors use this strategy to help readers visualize something that is happening in the story.

Many times the author uses visualization strategies to help readers infer character traits like how old the character is, what the character looks like, if the character is eccentric, etc. Recently we started The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and my readers noticed that Edward Tulane had the very best of everything, but what really caught my eye was when Kate DiCamillo described Pellegrina and my students noticed that she had a sharp nose "like a witch." This was an insight we really took notice of because later in the story, Pellegrina seems to possess some "witch-like" characteristics. This observation at this point of the story is key to understanding what occurs in the future with Pellegrina.

Authors also use visualization to add to the mood of the story through the setting. For example, dark cold settings tend to mean sadness, worry, or suspense, while details of a sun shiny day set a happier, more hopeful mood.

As an activity, you can have the students mark with a sticky note where they see the strategy used by the author. You can then confer with them, or walk around as they read their independent books to see if they are able to correctly identify when the author is using it. As a follow up, you can have them choose one of the moments in the book and have them illustrate it. Lastly, as a higher order thinking strategy, you can discuss with them why they believe the author decided to pause at that part of the story and "paint a picture" for the reader.

Some novel suggestions: 

Here is a list of four books you probably have in your classroom library, or school media center, that have great examples of visualization strategies used by the author.

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane Chapter 1: pages 1 and 2 describe Edward Tulane
  • Frindle Chapter 2: page 7 describes Mrs. Granger 
  • Wonder Via's Part: "August Through a Peep Hole" describes Auggie in great detail
  • Mr. Lemoncello's Library Chapter 2: describes Dr. Zinchenko 

Using any of these activities as an assessment at the start of the year will allow you to quickly determine if any of your students are having difficulty visualizing as they read, and give you the opportunity to intervene as necessary.

What activities do you use with your readers to help with visualization? Please leave the details below. I'd love to read all about it.

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