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Albert Einstein once said, “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.”

Now, Einstein was a pretty smart guy, so it’s not hard to imagine how much your students struggle to understand what they read if they have trouble visualising.

What is visualising?

Visualising is the reading strategy that helps your students create a picture in their head of what they’re reading. It’s almost as if your students are making videos or movies in their heads, all built from their background knowledge, their imagination, and the content of the text. Based on their past experiences, their imagination, and how they interpret what they read, different students can picture different things from the same text.

By creating a rich mental picture, students are able to engage directly with a text and create their own visual context that helps to scaffold their comprehension as they read.

Research shows that students who create strong mental pictures…

  • Have better recall
  • Create more connections
  • Ask more questions
  • Have a deeper comprehension of the text.
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“Visualising is particularly necessary once readers move from picture books into chapter books.”

Visualising helps them to get a sense of characters (how they look and act) and where the author is setting the story. For fantasy and science fiction, being able to visualise all the imaginative ideas of the author is essential for understanding the text.

Visualising is equally important for non-fiction texts because it can help students as they encounter new concepts and ideas.

Students can envisage how scientific concepts or word-based mathematical problems work, and give added depth and meaning to articles about history, social studies, and their other subjects.

Tips for teaching visualising

  • Encourage students to use all five of their senses to build a more vivid picture. What do they see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Do a group mind-map to help cover all the senses.
  • Practise visualising with students by having them close their eyes and picture a scene you are describing (it could be made up, or you could read a description from a book), then have them add further details from what they imagined.
  • Play a “soundscape” and have students create a mental picture of where they are and what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel.
  • With a text in front of them, have students point out the words that most helped them to visualise while reading. Have them compare with their peers to see if some words were more helpful than others, and why.
  • PLAY! Imaginary play, play outside, play inside. Don’t guide them on what to do, let them figure it out themselves.
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“The imagination is the golden pathway to everywhere.” ―Terence McKenna

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