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.

Love these visualizing lesson ideas? Pin to save them!

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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