Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

Visualizing is an important reading strategy that good readers use to help create mental images or movies in their minds to represent the ideas that they read in the text. Visualization requires students to weave together their own background knowledge, text evidence, and creativity to make an image in their mind's eye to match the story or informational article that they are reading. The images that they make help them to understand what they are reading at a deeper level.

Visualizing is my favorite reading strategy to teach since it is not only fun for students but truly helps them to dig deeper into what they are reading. It is highly engaging for students and its interactive nature helps readers of all levels, including struggling readers, connect with the text. In fact, I have watched struggling readers blossom as readers when they put this reading strategy into action.

When students visualize as they read they:
  • Become an active and alert reader, making predictions as they read.
  • Notice details and specific language in the text.
  • Better understand key story elements.
  • Understand character emotions, and make connections with them.
  • Recall and summarize the text easily.
  • Self-monitor their own comprehension.
  • Make inferences as they read.
  • Get into the world of the book.

As we teach students to make mental pictures and visualize as they read, we must provide students with opportunities to practice pulling their own background knowledge and gathering important language from the text to help create their own creative mental image of the books that they are reading to understand the text at a deeper level.

How to teach students how to visualize

So how can we get students to make meaningful mental images as they read to help them better understand the books that they are reading?  Add these visualizing activities to your reading lesson plans to help you teach this reading strategy successfully and have your students hooked on visualizing as they read in no time at all!

Let's Listen Carefully

My favorite activity to kick off visualizing is simple. All you need is a favorite picture book, one filled with rich imagery and specific language, and a plain piece of paper. Have students fold the paper into fourths so that they have four boxes on the front and four on the back. Then have students label each box from 1-8. Now read a picture book aloud without showing students the illustrations. As you read, stop 8 different times to have students illustrate what they visualized right before you stopped. Once you have finished reading the book, reread the book, this time sharing the illustrations. 

Three important discussion questions to ask during the illustration share time are, How are your illustrations the same and different than the ones in the book? What words from the text helped you to create that illustration? How do your illustrations help you to better understand the story?

Visualizing picture book activity

While there are so many amazing picture books to use for this activity my three favorites are:

Try this: Want to mix up this activity? Instead of reading aloud a picture book and stopping to have students create their illustrations, have the students listen to a book from Storyline Online. Don't let them see it until after they have all 8 illustrations done. Then watch the story together, stopping and discussing how their illustrations match the movie. My favorite one to use for this activity on Storyline Online is Brave Irene or A Bad Case of the Stripes.

Break It Down

Since visualization is a reading strategy that many students easily latch on to, it is sometimes easy to glaze over teaching this strategy. Don't! The more time you spend breaking down the how, why, what and when to visualize techniques, the deeper your students will dig into the text's meaning. By explaining this step by step approach, students will begin to pay close attention to the author's words and use them to create their mental images. 

Here are the steps I teach:

  1. Read Actively: pay careful attention to the words that the author uses in the text to help form pictures in your mind
  2. Visualize: Use the author's word and your own thoughts and creativity to create a movie in your mind of what is happening in the text.
  3. Sketch: Create a quick sketch of the important details found in the text and reflect: How does this sketch help me better understand the story.

Teaching students how to visualize

Character, Setting, Events, and Objects, Oh My!

When it comes to visualizing I make sure that students visualize story elements. By stopping and visualizing characters, settings, events, and objects young readers can get into the text and begin to predict what will happen next, how a character is feeling, and begin to make inferences along the way. We practice visualizing characters, settings, events, and objects during our chapter book read aloud. My favorite to practice visualizing these elements is The City of Ember written by Jeanne DuPrau.

I especially love this book because the world that the author creates is like nothing the students have ever experienced, forcing them to visualize and imagine the world in their own minds. Additionally, the author does an amazing job of describing the characters' actions, feelings and emotions, making it easy for students to stop and visualize and then use their images to help them better understand and make inferences about the characters.

And super fun teacher bonus, this book is also available as a movie. Watch it, or even just bits and pieces of it, and have students compare and contrast their mental images with what they see in the movie. 

Upper elementary visualizing activities

Sketch it Out

When teaching visualizing I am always sure to emphasize that when students visualize as they read they can create a "quick sketch" in their readers' notebooks. It is a great way to hold students accountable for independently reading AND using a reading strategy. While I want students visualizing, I do not want them drawing the whole time instead of reading. Their sketches should support the work that they are doing as readers and not take over. Grab a free sketching activity to use at the bottom of this post.

I have found that by giving students specific visualizing tasks to complete before, during, and after they read, keeps students focused and on task during their independent reading time and helps keep a balance between reading and sketching. Grab a free sketching activity to use at the bottom of this post.

Visualizing Reading Strategy Lesson Ideas and Activities

Visualizing activities for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th grade students

Comparing Mental Images

I love having students meet up during our mid-workshop break to chat about the books that they are reading. I love to also pause our read aloud to have students turn and talk about the books that I am reading to them. During a read-aloud go a step beyond just having students make mental images. Have them compare and contrast their mental images with their reading partners'. This will give students an opportunity to see the book from their peer's perspective but also they will pick up on specific author's language that they may have missed.

Visualizing with chapter books

When it comes to a reading strategy that engages all levels of readers, visualization is it! Not only is it highly engaging, but it truly helps students dig deeper into understanding the complex texts that they begin to read as upper elementary students. Once students become experts at visualizing you will find that they begin to make inferences as they read, are able to independently use context clues to learn new words, and understand tricky figurative language. Teaching students to visualize effectively is well worth the classroom time spent on direct instruction.

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Visualizing activities to do during reading upper elementary

Grab the printable AND digital visualizing set HERE.

digital visualizing activities for distance learning

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    Using Interactive Anchor Charts to Assess Students

    Using Interactive Anchor Charts to Assess Students

    If you walk into any classroom, you will probably see anchor charts proudly displayed around the classroom. Anchor charts are a great way to teach students different strategies and skills. They are helpful posters and displays to remind students of the steps of different strategies you have taught them, like how to write a summary or the steps needed to solve a math algorithm. 
    Anchor charts can, and should be interactive. 
    Interactive anchor charts are a great way to engage students and hold them responsible for their own learning. 
    These types of anchor charts: 
    • encourage student collaboration 
    • can also be completed independently
    • gets students up and moving 
    • motivates students to do their best
    When anchor charts are interactive, it gives you the opportunity to assess students before, during, and after a lesson, which gives you the chance to modify your instruction on the spot. 
    Interactive anchor charts are an easy to prep (and highly engaging) form of formative assessment that you can use across content areas for any objective or skill that you are teaching, as well as with social-emotional topics and behavior management lessons. (grab free interactive anchor chart headers at the bottom of this post.)

    So what is an interactive anchor chart?

    An interactive anchor chart is a chart that is prepped ahead of time by the teacher. It includes only the headings that coordinate with the lesson's objectives. The headings may be in the form of a question, fill in the blank statement, a bulleted list, or a graphic organizer.  
    Students are responsible for filling in all of the information on the chart. 
    Depending on your lesson's objective, students might work independently, with a partner, or in small groups to gather the information that they need to complete the anchor chart.
    There are so many ways to use interactive anchor charts in the classroom. Here are some of the ways that I have used interactive anchor charts in my classroom successfully.

    Let's Get Reading!

    During reading, we are always collecting text evidence, asking questions, making inferences, and reflecting on ourselves as readers. All of these can be used to create interactive anchor charts.   

    Using Interactive Anchor Charts to Assess Students

    When studying character feelings, emotions, and traits, students infer and find evidence to support their thinking.  A simple anchor chart with the heading: Good Readers Infer Character Traits with the words, Characters Can Be is a focused way to kick-off student independent reading time. As students read, they collect character traits and evidence. By the close of independent reading, have the student select one trait and the evidence that they found and write it on a sticky note to place on the chart. These simple sticky notes serve as an informal assessment for you and provide examples for other students to critique.
    An interactive anchor chart can also be used to help students self monitor the reading comprehension strategies that they use as they read. Use the heading: Good Readers Pause Their Reading to Self Monitor. This prompt provides students the opportunity to think about what they do as they read to help them understand word meaning, story elements, plot twists, and anything else that may cause them to stumble. As students work on their sticky notes during reading, I confer with them and discuss their thinking about what they have written on their sticky notes.  At the close of the lesson, students add their completed sticky notes to the anchor chart and we discuss each one as a class.
    By using this simple anchor chart strategy, you are gaining valuable insight to how your students think as they read.
    Try this! Not sure what to use as a reading header for your anchor charts? Turn your reading lesson objective into a question! 

    Time to Write!

    One way I love to use interactive anchor charts during writing is to have students work in groups to discover writing techniques on their own while reading mentor texts and modeled writing.  
    With a simple and open-ended heading such as Good Writers Make Their Stories Come Alive For their Readers By… allows students the opportunity to find techniques that bring the story to life for them as readers. 

    interactive anchor chart writing ideas

    Give students picture books to read as writers. While they read your students will discover figurative language (even if you have not formally taught it) descriptions, juicy words, and suspense, all from the mentor texts that you provide from your classroom library. Students can also use their own reading books for this activity. 
    Once students have recorded their evidence of how the book came alive to them on their sticky notes, have them place them on the anchor chart. These sticky notes are great models for other students, discussion points, and can be informal assessments. The evidence that students find are examples that they can begin to use in their own writing, too.
    This activity can also be repeated with specific writing objectives such as Good Writers Engage Their Readers with Strong Beginnings. Have students research and find strong beginnings from the books in your classroom library and write evidence on sticky notes for another interactive anchor chart.
    Try this! Support struggling readers and writers by providing them books that you have already read aloud to the class.

    Get Your Mathematicians Thinking!

    I love using interactive anchor charts to kick off math lessons
    By asking simple questions of previously taught objectives, I can grab a quick pulse of students' understanding and quickly make adjustments if needed, before teaching the day's lesson.  
    math interactive anchor chart ideas

    For this activity I have students work independently at their desks so that their responses truly reflect their own understanding.  The formula is the same in math as in language arts. Pose a question, have students respond on sticky notes, and stick it to the anchor chart. Use the notes as discussion points and as a quick assessment tool, making it simple for you to grab a small group to reteach the concept or skill to.
    Try this! If many students did not understand a concept reuse the same anchor chart at the close of the lesson to reassess students.

    Get the Goods!

    Ready to get started on using interactive anchor charts in your upper elementary classroom? 
    When using interactive anchor charts in the classroom, I always have my students have:
    Materials that help me prepare ahead of time include anchor chart paper and different colored markers. If you do not have chart paper, no worries! Try using butcher paper or your whiteboard. You can place all of your headers on the board and have students add their sticky notes right to the board. 
    Try this! Snap a quick picture of the anchor chart and send it to yourself. Then you can shine it on your smartboard or print it out for student reference.

    Interactive anchor charts are great to use as formative assessments in the classroom. The final version of the class created anchor chart serves as an engaging way to review concepts and reinforce strategies.  They are also a visual way for absent students to catch up on the lesson that they missed. When laminated, your interactive anchor charts can be used again and again. I love using interactive anchor charts with my students!  They are motivated, engaged, and successful when interactive anchor charts are a part of our lessons. 

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