In a previous article, the importance of the ability to visualise – a reading method which strengthens reading comprehension – was emphasised. Being able to visualise allows readers to gain a more thorough understanding of the text and content they are reading by creating pictures in their minds as they read.
What is visualisation?
Explained simply, visualisation is the process of creating a mental picture based on any given information. This mental picture isn’t just visual – it can include other sensory details like sounds, smells, and tastes. Being able to create this mental picture is vital for absorbing and processing information.
Students who visualise as they read have a richer reading experience and they can recall what they have read for longer periods of time (Harvey & Goudvis, 2000). Readers who can identify with the characters in the text find reading to be a more pleasurable and meaningful experience, and this promotes continued reading (that is, lifelong reading).
How to improve your child’s ability to visualise
Children are, by nature, very imaginative and very good at playing make-believe. This capacity for creating fictional worlds and scenarios lends itself to the skill of visualisation. And while most people can visualise intuitively, visualisation – like any skill – needs to be practised to be improved.
So, how can the ability to visualise be improved? Although the ability starts early with parents reading to their toddlers, or with teaching early readers, older readers can also benefit from practising the skill. A series of lessons will be required to practise visualising, described below.
Start small: choose a short sentence/paragraph/passage that contains descriptive language. This can provide a good starting point for forming a mental image and sparking discussions. Use a sentence like:
“The girl who was taken in for Christmas by foster parents couldn’t believe her eyes. There was a Christmas tree, beautifully decorated with fairy lights, ribbons, and stars. She had never, ever seen such a beautiful tree, with packages and gifts below. She burst into tears of pure joy.”
Discuss the mental images created by the story individually or in a group setting. Although descriptions will vary, it will stimulate the formation of a mental picture. Use different passages rich in information to stimulate image formation.
Group activities: read a picture book to small groups, sharing only limited portions of the illustrations. Learners then create their own illustrations based on the text they heard. Alternatively, provide a written description of a character in the story. In addition, only the beginning of a story can be read, and the learners can then write or imagine and tell what happened next or how the story ended.
More advanced techniques: follow up to independent reading. Ask specific questions about the content, like “What could the main character have done differently to save the princess?”, “Does the main character remind you of anyone you know?”, or “How would you have changed the setting of the story if you were the author?”.
If children are struggling with the early stages of practising visualisation, it might be helpful to guide them by asking them to think about different components of a mental image, such as colours, shapes, movement, and numbers.
Also read: Raising readers: tips for parents
Practising the skill of visualising will improve learners’ reading comprehension and, eventually, also their academic achievement, because visualisation helps learners improve their concentration by focusing on specific details, as well as improving their memory by keeping those details in mind. Good concentration and memory are key factors in academic success. By practising visualisation while reading, learners set themselves up for success very early on – and throughout – life.
Harvey, Stephanie, and Anne Goudvis (2000). Strategies That works: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding. Portland, Maine: Sten house.
by Dr Ronelle Venter – Educational Psychologist