Visualizing as you read can help to improve your critical comprehension of a text. Visualizing is seeing an essay, short story, or play come to life in your “mind’s eye.” You create mental images of events as they unfold. Visualizing will enhance the other reading strategies you are learning. When you read a text you create in your mind’s eye a representation of your reading: see, for example, the clothes characters are wearing, the expressions on the faces of the characters; create new images as you get more information from the text. Visualizing gives you, the reader, further opportunity to interact with the text, to make it more your own. Visual images, though, do need to be based on the text. (Visualizing is not the same as fantasy.) You will find that your images change with subsequent reading, or after discussing the text. You may have new ideas or ways of making sense of a text. This happens because your interpretation and understanding of a text(s) evolves: reading complex texts is not a static activity but a living, growing experience. Allow yourself, your reading, space and time to mature and become more accomplished.

Depending on the ways in which you learn most effectively and your individual strengths, you may visualize in a number of ways. Those of you with highly developed spatial skills may see images in three dimensions as you visualize a bird’s eye view of the text. Those of you who are strong in math may see things in outline form; sequencing may be important for you in creating images. For those of you who enjoy exploring and learning on your own, visualizing can be very effective because it is a personal endeavor; you are creating your own representation of a text.

If you do not visualize at all, begin by visualizing a selected paragraph or short essay. Drama and fiction, of course, lend themselves to visualizing–a story is there for us to see, to imagine. Visualizing becomes more difficult, though, with abstract or academic texts. Try to imagine having a dialogue with the writer of such a text; imagine the setting; put yourself in the picture of the text; speak back to the writer and his/her text; ask questions; watch yourself move through the writing. Involve yourself, in any way possible, with a text. This will enable you to become part of the picture you create as you read.

Your images will be constantly evolving as you gain more information from a text. Visualizing improves not only your basic comprehension of a text but also your understanding of the way the pieces of an essay/novel/story work together and allows you to make connections between a number of texts. As you visualize, you begin to connect new information to information already stored in your mind thereby creating points of connection between new and existing information.

The following types of questions can help develop your visualizing technique. Keep them in mind while reading a text and answer them by creating mental images based on the text’s information. This will keep you engaged with the text and improve your reading comprehension.

Suggested question to ask for fiction:

1. What is the setting? What does it look like?
2. What do the characters look like in your picture? Are they tall/short/blond/dark?
3. Based on what you have read so far and the pictures you have created, what do you predict might happen next?
4. How did your picture change as you read further into the text?
Suggested questions to ask for non-fiction:

1. What do you want to say back to this writer?
2. Where do you "see" yourself in relation to this writing?
3. What do you imagine this writer saying back to you?
4. How did your picture change as you read further into the text?

Bell, Nancy. Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking, Academics of Reading Publications, CA 1991.

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