Strategies for all learners

March 17, 2011

Reading Comprehension- Visualization

Filed under: Uncategorized — by dkelley717 @ 11:38 am

Reading Comprehension

According to Lerner and Johns (2009), “the purpose of reading is comprehension, that is, gathering meaning from the printed page.”  Lerner and Johns (2009) state that reading comprehension is the major problem for many students with reading disabilities.  Reading comprehension is an active process that requires an intentional and thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text.  So, how do we help children with reading disabilities gather meaning from the printed page?  How do we teach children to interact with text with intention?  One strategy to promote reading comprehension is visualization.


According to 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 and visualizing text is a proven way to improve reading comprehension.  Students use the words to create mental images.

Read more on TeacherVision.

How do I teach students to use visualization?

1) Start by modeling the technique.  Cathy Puett Miller (2004) describes this step of the process: Begin with a familiar fiction read-aloud. As you read a short passage, describe images you see in your mind.  She suggests using Where the Wild Things Are. You may also choose to start even smaller by using a descriptive sentence or short paragraph.

2) After modeling the technique allow students to practice visualization.  Choose a vocabulary-rich, descriptive text.  “Set the stage” and prepare them before the story.  Puett Miller (2004) provides the following script: “While I read, close your eyes and listen carefully.  Stay alert and think about what happens in the story.  See if you can imagine the scene the words describe.  Pretend you are making a movie; what would you see from behind the camera?  As you listen, when you hear describing words (adjectives) — such as hot, red, musty, or quiet — use those words to help paint pictures in your head.”  Provide students with concrete ideas to connect to their prior knowledge and experiences.

3) After reading allow students to share their images.  Have a class discussion and emphasize that everyone’s visualizations will differ. Be sure to acknowledge and value all students’ ideas.  Puett Miller (2004) provides suggestions for students who have difficulty visualizing:

  • If students create images that do not fit the words, help them question their images and adjust them. (This is another effective comprehension strategy.)
  • If they create images that reflect the words, praise them and encourage comparison/contrast discussions.
  • If students have difficulty creating an image, try another short read-aloud session and practice modeling again. Ask questions to lead them to create images on their own — questions such as Does this remind you of anything in your life? or What do you think the dog looked like? or Do you have a dog? How do you think this dog is the same as yours? Different?

4) Next, Puett Miller (2004) suggests choosing another selection or a new portion of the same text.  This time don’t show the illustrations to the students but rather have them draw their own illustrations as they listen.  Have students share and discuss their illustrations using the same techniques as above.

5) Incorporate visualization into everyday learning.  Have students use visualization when doing read-alouds or silent reading.  Include drawings and mental-imagery to meet the needs and abilities of all students.

Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing

Visualizing and Verbalizing aka V/V is a sequential program of instruction to develop mental imagery as a base for language comprehension and thinking created by Patricia Lindamood and Nanci Bell.  According to the Gander Publishing website, “the process-based instruction of Visualizing and Verbalizing (V/V) teaches the student to bring mental imagery to consciousness, connect it to oral and written language, and combine imagery for extended language into a single imaged whole—an imaged gestalt. This ability to create mental imagery for language—concept imagery—is an important skill for individuals of any age or grade level”.

Of course you don’t need to spend money to buy a packaged program to teach visualization but if you are lucky enough to have a couple hundred dollars for the materials and nearly $1000 for the training, then go for it!

Check out a sample V/V lesson.

Connection to Universal Design for Learning

Promoting reading comprehension through the technique of visualization addresses all three areas of UDL- representation, action and expression, and engagement.  Specifically, visualization provides options for comprehension.  Students are using a specific technique to provide or activate background knowledge, highlight big ideas, and guide information processing.

Connection to Multiple Intelligences

The technique of visualization encourages students with a strength in the area of verbal/linguistic intelligence to use their language skills to develop their visual/spatial skills.  This technique may come more easily to those students who are strong in the intelligence area of visual/spatial.  Visualization my be helpful for those strong in the area of logical/mathematical intelligence.  They may use this technique to organize their reading and understanding.


I love the technique of visualization to improve understanding of text!  While I haven’t used the Lindamood-Bell V/V program I have informally used the technique in my small reading groups.  However, I have found that for children with Autism spectrum disorders this strategy is very difficult.  The idea of using words to create visual images is challenging for them.  I find that providing concrete examples helps but that this strategy doesn’t come naturally to all students.


*A sample lesson plan to introduce visualization to students in grade 4-6 (can be adapted to all grade levels).

*Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing– A sequential program of instruction to develop mental imagery as a base for language comprehension and thinking.

*Research from Lindamood-Bell Learning Centers


Gander Publishing (2009). What is visualizing & verbalizing? Retrieved on March 17, 2011 from

Lerner, J. & Johns, B. (2009). Learning disabilities and related mild disabilities: characteristics, teaching strategies, and new directions. California: Wadsworth.

Puett Miller, C. (2004). Opening the door: teaching students to use visualization to improve comprehension. Education World. Retrieved on March 17, 2011 from

Teacher Vision. Visualizing. Retrieved on March 16, 2011 from


  1. Hi Diana,
    I enjoyed reading about your blog on visualization for reading comprehension. It reminded me of when I worked with an English Language Learner in third grade. I would use the visualize/verbalize technique and it seemed to help my student when he was asked to recall events in the story as time went on. I was wondering what the research says about ELL and visualization. Have you heard of I use this for my ELL students who are working on comprehension. I used it as an informal comprehension assessment. The kids love it and they can do this at home. It is a program that allows kids to read at their independent level and answer questions at the end of the story. The results are sent to the teacher, who set up the student’s razkids account, immediately on line so that the teacher can see how the student is doing. I used this program for some of my visualization lessons. I asked him to put up one finger for every main event that he came to and we visualized/verbalized each event together. After reading the story, I had him recall the story events by putting up one finger at a time. He seemed to recall in sequence each event by using visualizaiton. It was a wonderful thing. I really like this strategy! Sue

    Comment by sminer5 — March 20, 2011 @ 2:40 pm |Reply

  2. Hi Diana,

    After reading your blog it reminded me of some visualization instruction I’ve done with primary and intermediate students. When I was teaching reading comprehension to fifth graders, they wanted to read the book Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen. First of all, before they were ready to comprehend a chapter book I modeled visualizing at the word and sentence level, then progressed to short picture books, using the techniques you’ve described. This took months, but the pay off was big. As you stated it was important for the students to realize their images would differ from each other because their connections and experiences were different. By the time they were ready to read the chapter book, they understood how to visualize. I had them use large post-its to “draw their images” throughout each chapter. It was also an effective method for incorporating vocabulary discussions. The end result was that the students were able to understand and remember the story; I don’t believe they would have been as successful had they not continuously visualized their reading.

    My experience teaching one second grader visualization techniques was vastly different. I actually began using the Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing program. This student had great difficulty using visualization techniques because he lacked background knowledge and he didn’t understand how to create a mental image. It didn’t matter how I “set the stage” he said he just couldn’t see or make a picture in his mind. Although this child was a fluent decoder, he never remembered what he read and he couldn’t make text to self connections. Prior to reading, I used short videos to provide the background knowledge he lacked and I dissected short stories by drawing pictures above key words. His comprehension improved just slightly. When children have difficulty visualizing, is it more beneficial to teach them how to activate their background knowledge first, then how to draw from their own experiences?

    Your blog was very informative and provided useful suggestions for implementation!

    Comment by Terri Spear — March 23, 2011 @ 12:09 am |Reply

  3. Your post made me think about visualization and how it is a wonderful strategy for reading but I began to think about how it enhances learning in other subjects as well. Just the other day our art teacher was talking about how art and math go together. For years we’ve only focused on the calculation part of the math problems and getting the right answer. More recent, math programs have added strategies such as “write to explain” and we’ve learned how graphic representations assist students to manipulate objects and determine the important information when problem solving but how often do we connect math and art beyond painting symmetry of geometric shapes. We can find mathematics all around our world through architecture, wallpaper design, clothing design, landscapes and more. Given the opportunities throughout our day to incorporate art and visualization in learning our students may find math more interesting than just a bunch of facts to memorize. Something to think about – if you haven’t already done so.

    Comment by karenredd — April 3, 2011 @ 11:00 am |Reply

  4. Diana,
    I think your blog is great. I really liked reading and learning more about visualizing. I don’t think we do this enough with our students. Many of my students need to be helped with visualizing. I think it helps with creativity. I find that I need to model it more in my classroom and give the students the opportunity to participate in it. (I also like that this is free!) This gives students the opportunity to “see” the story and not have to write about it. I also ask my students to draw what they see in the head at some points. It’s a nice, relaxing activity. Nice Blog Diana!

    Comment by Tara — April 7, 2011 @ 1:09 pm |Reply

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