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Teaching Visualization: An Essential Reading Skill

written by: Lenzi Hart • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

Do you have students who HATE to read for enjoyment, or loath independent reading time? More often than not, these students lack an important skill: visualization. This article will give you great tips on how to teach your students to visualize while they read.

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    Visualizing Using Hollywood

    Struggling readers often fail to create mental pictures of characters and scenes while the read. Visualizing is what makes a book come to life in a reader's mind. If a student has never been instructed on how to do this skill, they can find reading boring and difficult. Using a common medium to teach this skill, such as movies, can give a student a firmer grasp on what exactly "visualizing" is and how they can do it without a teacher's assistance.

    When reading a novel, I have my students begin by completing a character traits t-chart. (On one side of the paper is the character name, and on the other side students will list traits about the main characters that are mentioned in the book.) Using our knowledge from the text, we log on to Google and begin searching for pictures of movie stars that we think would fit the part of our book character. After students find a picture they think best fits the author's description of that character, they print the picture and paste it to their t-chart next to that character's name. Essentially, students are the "casting director" for this novel, choosing actors and actresses for the film version of the book. Each time we come across a main character and read about the distinguishing traits, the student will continue adding to their character chart, noting traits and assigning an actor or actress to play the part.

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    Example of a "Cast List"

    My students are currently reading the novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. After reading the first and second chapter, students began casting for The Hunger Games movie, vehemently discussing in groups which actor or actress should be playing what part. Using their documented traits from their t-charts, they began searching the internet for likely candidates. My male students voted Megan Fox (actress in the Transformers movies) to play the part of Katniss Everdeen, while my girl groups found Miley Cyrus to be a more likely candidate for the lead role. Katniss is described in the book as having long, dark hair, blue eyes, and her prowess with a bow and arrow must mean she has an athletic build. Whether or not they agreed who was the "best" candidate for the part, students now have a visual image of the character, Katniss, to refer to when we read the novel. The boys certainly have a greater interest in the book after assigning Megan Fox the lead role! Boys! You can view a few links to student-created dream casts here, on my blog.

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    Effortless Visualization

    If you practice this skill, not only with characters, but with a book's setting, as well, students are able to begin piecing the visual elements of a story together. It may take lots of practice, and loads of modeling by the teacher, but students need to be instructed on the art of visualizing while they read. Many students miss out on how to perform this skill when they are young. Going from picture books that do it for them, to novel books that lack a visual representation of the text can be extremely frustrating for students who've never figured out how to visualize for themselves. Using movies and Hollywood actors and actresses can be a fun way to give students the tools to visualize on their own as they tackle new novels.

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