As we at Tutoring For Success regularly emphasize, one of the most important things children and teens can do academically is to read for pleasure. Also important is comprehension. When you read a novel or story, do you visualize the characters and setting? How about non fiction? I never thought about this until I took the Lindamood-Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing training, when I learned a system to help children visualize what they read. At this time, I realized that I always visualize stories by making a movie in my head. I “see” the characters acting out the plot, like in a dream. I also realized that I did not do this for non fiction books, explaining my loss of attention when reading a history book or textbook. This is why I learn most history from historical fiction books. I discovered that many people do not visualize what they read, leading to incomplete comprehension.
Creating an Image in your Head
According to Nanci Bell, author of Visualizing and Verbalizing, A primary cause of language comprehension problems is difficulty creating an imagined gestalt. This is called weak concept imagery. This weakness causes individuals to get only “parts” of information they read or hear, but not the whole…The development of concept imagery improves reading and listening comprehension, memory, oral vocabulary, critical thinking, and writing. Nanci Bell’s program is a step by step process to encourage children to make up descriptions of the characters and settings in stories. She asks children questions like, “Describe the girl in the story.” “How old is she?” What color is her hair?” “What is she wearing?” “What is she doing?” Students move from “picture to picture” to word to sentence to paragraph imaging. (Source: Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking by Nanci Bell)
Picture in your Mind Leads to Comprehension
In her recent Washington Post article “Why visualizing images is so important for young readers, and how to foster the skill,” Danna Lorch described a day she was deep into her own book when her 5-year old son asked her how she could read without pictures. She realized she was picturing her character’s adventure, which “feels so real.” She interviewed children’s literacy educator Timothy Shanahan, who explained: “The most basic theories in reading comprehension would claim that we take verbal information and we translate it into some kind of a [multisensory] form.” He added that one must be able to visualize in order to deeply comprehend a text.
You can Teach Children to Visualize
Those who don’t visualize can be taught. Most people can visualize something, like an elephant or the person they are talking to on the phone. After learning how to visualize stories, either fiction or nonfiction, regular practice will improve this skill. Here are some questions you can ask your child about what she is reading: Describe how you think the girl in the story looks. What does her house look like? How fast is she running? What does she want to accomplish? You can also ask her to draw a picture of a scene.
Sometimes it is fun to read a book and then see the movie version, and see if the movie looks like what you pictured. If you see the movie first, you will most likely use those images while reading.
Reading for pleasure is supposed to be pleasurable. To get really involved with the characters and plot of a book and maximize comprehension and imagination, as well as pleasure, the ability to visualize is extremely helpful. And once your children improve their ability to visualize while reading, they can reduce some of their time watching TV and movies in favor of reading.
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success