Ohio Resource Center
Strategies:  Browse Reading Strategies


by Arleen Stuck
  What is visualizing?
Visualizing (sometimes also referred to as visualization, sensory imaging, or imaging) is the process or result of forming mental images while reading or listening to a story. "Imaging is figurative language at work" (Harris & Hodges, 1995, p. 113).

As Zimmermann and Hutchins (2003) discuss, sensory images are the cinema scenes unfolding in your mind that make reading three-dimensional. Images are fluid; readers adapt them to incorporate new information as they read. These images come from all five senses—and from the emotions they evoke—and are anchored in the reader's prior knowledge.

When readers draw on their knowledge and experiences to see pictures in their minds, they are engaging in visualization. By vividly visualizing the events depicted by the author's words, creative readers allow themselves to become part of the story; they see the colors, hear the sounds, feel the textures, taste the flavors, and smell the odors the writer describes. They will find that they are living the story as they read. By doing this, they will enjoy the story more and understand it more deeply (Roe & Smith, 2005).

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  Where is visualizing discussed in the Ohio Academic Content Standards?
In all of the content-area standards, imaging is an embedded strategy that can facilitate the understanding to be mastered.

English Language Arts

Standard: Reading Process—Concepts of Print, Comprehension Strategies and Self-Monitoring
Grades 4–7
  Benchmark D. Apply self-monitoring strategies to clarify confusion about text and to monitor comprehension.
Grades 8–10
  Benchmark C. Use appropriate self-monitoring strategies for comprehension.

Standard: Literacy Text
Grades 4–7
  Benchmark B. Describe and analyze the importance of setting.
  Benchmark G. Explain how figurative language expresses ideas and conveys mood.
Grades 8–10
  Benchmark B. Explain and analyze how the context of setting and the author's choice of point of view impact a literary text.
  Benchmark D. Identify and analyze how an author uses figurative language, sound devices and literary techniques to shape plot, set meaning and develop tone.


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  How does visualizing support reading comprehension?
Visualizing provides a "movie in the mind," which allows students to monitor their reading. When the movie isn't clear or stops altogether, a student knows that comprehension has also stopped (Roe & Smith, 2005).

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  What activities support students in visualizing?

Responding to Descriptions
You might have students sketch as they read or listen to a descriptive story.

Responding to Scant Descriptions
You might select a paragraph or section of text that contains very little description. Have the students read it, or read it to them. Then ask students questions about the details they would need in order to picture the scene in their minds (Roe & Smith, 2005).

For example, suppose you have chosen the following selection:
Anna and Sam sat down under the tree. They opened the basket they brought.
Then you can ask the students a variety of questions such as:
Where were Anna and Sam? At a park? In their backyard? At the zoo?
Why did the children decide to sit?
Why did they decide to sit under a tree?
What did the tree look like? Was it big? Did it have leaves?
Was it grassy under the tree? What did the ground feel like? Was it soft? Hard? Bumpy?
Was the location quiet? Noisy?
What did the basket look like? Was it small? Big? Light? Heavy?
Who carried the basket? Anna? Sam? Both?

Two-Column Note Taking
You can have students use a two-column note-taking technique like the double-entry diary found in I Read It, but I Don't Get It (Tovani, 2000). The following graphic organizer is our adaptation of Tovani's diary.

Direct quote and page number I visualize´┐Ż(or: The image I see in my mind—this is a good time to point out the similarity between the words image and imagination)
From The Kite Runner, p. 49
"I loved wintertime in Kabul. I loved it for the soft pattering of snow against my window at night, for the way fresh snow crunched under my black rubber boots, for the warmth of the cast-iron stove as the wind screeched through the yards, the streets."
I visualize a little boy looking out of his window as the snow is coming down. He is sitting there not saying anything but thinking about the way the snow would feel if he were out walking in it. I can feel the warmth of the cast-iron stove as I think about how it feels to come in out of the cold into a warm house. I can also think about the sound of the wind blowing outside.

Highlighting Words
As students read, have them highlight words or phrases that help them get a picture in their head.

Word Pictures
Still another during-reading technique is to have students look at wordless picture books and then write the words that would create the pictures in the books (Kendall & Khuon, 2005).


Link with Math or Science
You might try a cross-curricular link by reading a math word problem or a step-by-step science procedure and have students sketch what they are thinking.

After the students have completed their sketches, make overhead transparency copies of the students' drawings. Reduce them so that you can see three or four images at a time. Use these images to stimulate a class discussion about how individuals imagine the text differently depending on their own prior knowledge (Forsten, Grant, & Hollas, 2003).

As a further extension, use the students' drawings to have the whole class or a small group of students try to sequence them in the same order as the text.

Dramatic Cues
  • Have the students dramatize a story they have read.
  • Have students read a portion of a book and then watch the movie version and compare and contrast the different images and the way they were portrayed (Rasinski, 1988).
  • Ask students to find music that would be a musical score for a book that they are reading and have them tell why they chose the music (Kendall & Khuon, 2005).

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  How can visualizing be used to teach vocabulary?
  • Students can learn various descriptive words to describe the images that they are creating.
  • Students can create textbook pictionaries in which they provide pictures to assist them in recalling the meanings of words.


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  Where can I go for additional resources pertaining to visualizing?
Center, Y., Freeman, L., Robertson, G., & Outhred, L. (1999). The effect of visual imagery training on the reading and listening comprehension of low listening comprehenders in year 2. Journal of Research in Reading, 22, 241–256.

Gambrell, L. B., & Koskinen, P. S. (2002). Imagery: A strategy for enhancing comprehension. In C. C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based practices (pp. 305–318). New York: Guilford.

Guided comprehension: Visualizing using the sketch-to-stretch strategy. Read, write, think.

Hammerberg, D. D. (2004, April). Comprehension instruction for socioculturally diverse classrooms: A review of what we know. The Reading Teacher, 57, 648–658.

Rasinski, Timothy V. (1988, April). Mental imagery improves comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 41, 867–868.

Strategies for learning—Visualizing: Lesson plans. Into the book.

Strategies for learning—Visualizing: Research. Into the book.

Techniques for skillful reading: Visualizing. College reading skills program.

Visualizing. Reading workshop.

Week #25. Visualizing what we read: Different strokes for different folks. Juli Kendall's Weekly Reading Workshop Journal. MiddleWeb Listserv Project.

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Forsten, Char, Grant, Jim, & Hollas, Betty. (2003). Differentiating textbooks: Strategies to improve student comprehension & motivation. Peterborough, NH: Crystal Springs Books.
Harris, Theodore L., & Hodges, Richard E. (Eds.). (1995). The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Kendall, J., & Khuon, O. (2005). Making sense: Small-group comprehension lessons for English language learners. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2005.
Rasinski, Timothy V. (1988, April). Mental imagery improves comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 41, 867–868.
Roe, Betty, & Smith, Sandy. (2005). Teaching reading in today's middle schools. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Tovani, Cris. (2000). I read it, but I don't get it: Comprehension strategies for adolescent readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Zimmermann, Susan, & Hutchins, Chryse. (2003). 7 keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it! New York: Three Rivers Press.
Arleen Stuck works at Otterbein College as Field Faculty for Reading First in Columbus Public Schools. She worked on the development team for SIRI and continues to facilitate SIRI sessions. She retired from Columbus Public Schools as a teacher and administrator.

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