Ohio Resource Center
Strategies:  Browse Reading Strategies


by Crystal Adams

What is visualizing?

Visualizing is the ability to create pictures in the mind while reading or listening to a text. The images are dependent on prior knowledge as well as any or all of the five senses. Helping our students increase visualization skills is an important way to foster greater comprehension when reading. Visualizing is a vital skill not only because it enhances comprehension but because it makes reading vivid, exciting, and fun!

Where is visualizing discussed in the Ohio Academic Content Standards?

Visualizing is implied throughout the standards and is a prerequisite skill to meeting the intended learning expectations of the following standards:


  1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  1. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.


  1. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Speaking and Listening

  1. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

How does visualizing support reading comprehension?

When our students are able to construct a mental image from the text, their understanding of the text deepens and their engagement with the topic increases. There is an even greater understanding if the reader can create a mental image and attend to the illustrations provided in the text. Visualizing allows students to use their imagery to draw conclusions, create interpretation of the text, and recall details and elements from the text (Keene & Zimmerman, 1997).

What activities support students in visualizing?

Provide a model for the students by doing a think-aloud. Read a portion of the text, and then stop and model the images that you are producing in your mind as you are reading. After modeling the process several times, invite the students to share their images with the class as they listen to the story.

Read-Aloud That Has Pictures
When reading a book with visuals to the students, have the text facing you. This will give your students a chance to visualize before seeing the pictures.

Wordless Picture Books
In wordless picture books, even though the pictures give the reader clues, there are many "missing" pictures. Ask students to use the pictures in the book and combine them with the pictures they make in their mind to help them better understand the actual story (Harvey & Goudvis, 2002).

Creating Pictures from a Vivid Piece of Text
Choose a selection with vivid descriptions or a lively story, and as you read, let the students draw or sketch a picture to illustrate what they are "seeing" (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000).

Adapting Mental Images During Reading
Note: You'll need to model this strategy first.

Give the children a clipboard, a pencil, and a sheet of paper divided into fourths. Begin reading a story to the children, but do not show them the pictures. Stop and give the children time to sketch their images. Continue to read, stopping every so often to give the children time to sketch. The students should sketch a different image in each box, beginning a new image each time the teacher stops. The images may change completely or look somewhat like the image before. When finished, discuss how the students adapted their images to include new information in the text (Miller, 2002).

Comparisons in Nonfiction Text
Nonfiction text will sometimes compare the object being studied with a familiar object. For example, a whale might be compared in size with a school bus. This helps students to visualize the size of the whale more accurately. These comparisons may be written or drawn—or sometimes both (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Focus students' attention on the comparisons when they occur.

Then, after reading, have the students, as a class or working in small groups, pick something from their reading and choose a common object that can be used for comparison. Have them draw the object and explain their reasoning.

Make several copies of three or four poems, being sure to select poems that lend themselves to unique interpretation. Read the poems aloud several times, and ask the students which poem creates the most vivid images for them. Have the students take a copy of the poem they chose as being most vivid, and give each student a piece of drawing paper. Tell the students to read the poem to themselves several times and then draw, as best they can, the images in their heads. Next have students who chose the same poem sit together to share what they drew and what they noticed. The students can then share what they have learned from the process with the whole class (Miller, 2002).

Divide children into groups of three or four. Tell the students to close their eyes while you read a poem or short selection to them. Read it several times, and then ask the students to discuss in their groups the images they've created in their minds. Have the students work together to create dramatic interpretation. Later, have the children share their dramatization and talk about why they did what they did, focusing on how each group chose to interpret the reading a different way based on their images (Miller, 2002).

Write a poem on chart paper, and then read the poem three or four times with the children, without talking about images or meaning. Ask the children to draw the images they've created from the poem, and have them share their picture with the person sitting next to them. They should talk about their image and what part of the text inspired that particular image. Read the poem again, and have the students think about their image and their partner's image. Would they change anything about their image? Did their understanding of the poem change in any way? If so, have them turn the paper over and draw the image as they see it now (Miller, 2002).

Comic Strip
Students can work together or individually to illustrate frames in comic-book fashion to explain what is happening in a story. "Talking bubbles" can be used. To help students understand what to do, you might want to model beforehand how to visualize scenes from a story (Johns & Lenski, 2005).

How can visualizing be used to teach vocabulary?

  • Noticing the use of descriptive and strong verbs in reading enables a child to visualize the events more clearly. Search for text that uses descriptive and strong verbs. Talk about the meaning of these words and the images they create in your mind.

  • Students can create word dictionaries in which they keep these words along with an illustration for each to help them remember or think about their meanings.

How can visualizing be practiced in a literacy center?

  • Poetry center. Children can:

    Copy and illustrate a poem to keep in their own collection.

    Copy a poem, and then respond to how it makes them feel or what it reminds them of.

  • Listening center. Working with a partner, children can:

    Visualize while listening. Next they can tell their partner what they saw in their mind, or they can do a quick sketch to share. Then partners can compare their mind pictures.

  • Reading center. Children can:

    Write their thinking about books on sticky notes as they read books from the classroom library.

    Read and recommend books to others.

    Illustrate a story after reading it.

How can instruction for visualizing be differentiated?

  • Provide books along with recordings of the books that students can listen to as they read along. Choose a range of levels the students can choose from. Many libraries now offer recordings you can borrow. Appealing to two senses at once—seeing and hearing—will help in visualizing the material.

Where can I go for additional ideas pertaining to visualizing?

Ellery, Valerie. (2005). Creating strategic readers: Techniques for developing competency in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2000). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension to enhance understanding. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Johns, Jerry, & Lenski, Susan. (2005). Improving reading: Strategies and resources. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Miller, Debbie. (2002). Reading with meaning: Teaching comprehension in the primary grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Outsen, Nicole, & Yulga, Stephanie. (2002). Teaching comprehension strategies all readers need. New York: Scholastic.

Zimmerman, Susan, & Hutchins, Chryse. (2003). 7 keys to comprehension: How to help your kids read it and get it. New York: Three Rivers Press.


Harvey, Stephanie, & Goudvis, Anne. (2000). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension to enhance understanding. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Johns, Jerry, & Lenski, Susan. (2005). Improving reading: Strategies and resources. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Keene, E., & Zimmerman, S. (1997). Mosaic of thought: Teaching comprehension in a reader's workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Miller, Debbie. (2002). Reading with meaning: Teaching comprehension in the primary grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Crystal Adams is a native of Washington, D.C. She attended graduate school at The Ohio State University, where she received a master's degree in reading. She has been employed by Columbus City Schools for twenty-one years. She is a trained Reading Recovery teacher and a Literacy Collaborative coordinator. She is presently working in Columbus as a literacy specialist with the Reading First program.