Reading Comprehension Strategy 3: Visualizing

The strategy of visualizing refers to the mind’s capacity to imagine what is being suggested by the words on a page. As proficient readers follow along in a story, they can just “see” what is happening, almost as if they were running a video in their mind’s eye.

A common phenomenon is the complaint that readers raise when a favorite book is made into a movie. “That’s not how I visualized the characters, or story,” they insist, and usually they prefer the creation of their own imaginations over that offered by a movie maker.

Visualizing is actually a form of inference; we infer a visual representation in our mind based on what the author provides in the text. By using our prior knowledge and background experiences, we connect the author’s message with a personal creation of our imagination.

Children learning to read, or struggling readers, may not always apply the strategy of visualizing as they read. Instead, they may only “see” the words on the page; thus a whole critical layer of meaning is lost as they merely grapple with words. For more information see Comprehension: Characteristics of Poor Comprehenders and Implications for Instruction.

Textbook publishers recognize that helping children develop mental imagery is an important part of understanding. They provide a vast array of rich illustrations and photographs to accompany the words of an author. But proficient readers can also elicit mental imagery from pages of text that contain only words and no visuals.

Teacher modeling of visualizing centers on identifying with students language in a text is especially helpful in suggesting mental images. A phrase such as “his ears were over blessed with size” or “I was almost blinded by the glare that glinted off his shiny bald head” are examples of images which require visual interpretation.

Teaching visualizing involves helping students become sensitive to descriptions. Vivid use of words readily conjures up mental imagery. The following teaching/learning activities can help children learn the reading strategy of visualizing:

  • Guided Imagery
  • You Ought to Be in Pictures
  • Visual Literacy