Did you know that visualizing is one of the most important strategies to teach a struggling reader? Learn more in this post!
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This post is one of a 10-part series of quick tips for struggling readers. This Reading Mama and I are sharing things you can try right at home!
Visualizing… and why it matters
When strong readers read a poem, novel, or newspaper, a picture forms in their mind. It’s not something they plan to do or try to do. It’s just there – like a movie, right in their heads. We call this visualizing or making mental images.
How can you know if your child knows how to visualize?
If your child begs to be read to, laughs at appropriate places, and can make predictions, he’s probably picturing the story in his head.
But if your child can’t answer your questions about a book you’re reading or even give a simple summary, he might not be making mental images. If he’s not laughing at the funny parts or sitting on the edge of seat at the suspenseful parts – he might not be visualizing.
If he resists being read to and begs you to finish, the chances are good: there’s no movie.
Then again, your child may love being read to. But what if he doesn’t enjoy reading on his own? You ask him to tell you about what he’s reading, but he struggles to put the story into his own words. He confuses the characters, is unsure of the setting, and can’t recall what happened in the last chapter.
What can you do?
How to teach kids to visualize
Teaching kids to visualize starts with one of my all-time favorite things to do: reading to them.
- Read a chapter book aloud and pause to share your own sensory images.
After reading part of a chapter book, stop to talk. For example, after reading the beginning of A Tale of Despereaux, I might say something like this:
“In my head I see that tiny little mouse with the big ears and shining eyes. After he’s born, his mother hoists herself up from her bed to see him. She has a disappointed, tired look on her face. Her makeup is smeared. When she peers at the new baby, he’s so small that he’s just a tiny little creature in the middle of the bed. Later, as he gets older, all the other mice are scurrying around and sniffing for food. Their little feet make little shuffling noises on the floor, and their tiny noises snuffle every inch of the wood. But not Despereaux! He sits still, with his head like this (I tilt my head to one side), listening for sounds through the wall. When his family shames him for not hunting for food like a good mouse, he quickly falls to the floor and sniffs around, just like a dog under a kitchen table. But his mind is on something else.”
- If it makes sense, act out parts of the story. I don’t mean that you should put on a full show here, but sometimes it helps to act out small action scenes so kids can picture them. You don’t have to be a good actor. Your child will probably love it. And if he volunteers to do the acting, all the better!
- Ask your child to tell you what he feels and sees. If he doesn’t want to but urges you to keep reading, that’s good. It means he’s listening. So keep going, but be sure to stop after the end of the next chapter. Tell more about the images in your mind and ask him to share his.
- Have your child sketch the story as you read aloud. Or wait until you’ve finished a section, and ask him to draw what’s in his head.
- Instead of reading a whole story, do a visualization exercise by reading short, descriptive passages. Before reading, instruct your child to visualize: “Close your eyes and imagine the story as I’m reading it. If you hear describing words such as hot, musty, or dark, use those to help you make the movie in your mind.” Afterward, talk to your child about what he pictured.
- As kids read on their own, you’ll teach them to stop reading when the movie stops. If they’re no longer visualizing, they need to back up and reread. What made the movie shut off? Was it a word they couldn’t read? A scene they don’t understand? A character they can’t identify? Teach them to ask for help when rereading doesn’t restart the movie.
- As children read their own books, have them mark words and phrases that helped them create strong mental images. They can use sticky flags like these. Afterward, ask why those particular words helped them visualize.
Visualizing in the classroom
These strategies also work well in the classroom, particularly when you have a read aloud time every day (and I hope you do!). Start each day with a review of the previous day’s reading. Stop often to visualize aloud, and have students turn to a partner to share their own mental images.
As a teacher, I found that having children sketch the story as I read was a great way to boost comprehension. It was also an easy way to assess which students knew how to visualize and which were still struggling.
Get more tips for helping kids understand what they read
This post was based on a strategy in one of my favorite books for teaching reading comprehension, 7 Keys to Comprehension. It’s ideal for both parents and teachers. The price is right, too! You can order it here.
Need another strategy to teach visualization?
Here are the rest of our tips!
*Stock images from iStock.
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