6 Steps for Visualizing...can you see it?

One year I had 2 groups of first graders coming to me for extra reading help.  We worked each week on a comprehension strategy and created a toolkit.  When we added visualization, we follows a few easy steps.

Make it make sense.

At that time most first graders had never heard of “visualizing,” but they may have heard of a “vision” test at the doctor.  Remind them the vision test at the doctor tests their eyes and how well they see.  Then make the connection for them… "vision, visual, visualizing means to see."  However, visualizing is when we put a picture in our head. You can introduce visualizing with sunglasses. Tell students to think of it as reflection in the glass.

2. Visualizing Anchor Chart

I believe in anchor charts.  It’s important to have students participate in making charts for the classroom.  They will be more invested in the charts and will be more inclined to refer to a chart they have helped make.  I provided the students with a clip art representation of visualizing.  The yellow anchor chart was created by my group. We decided on the definition, then wrote it interactively. The whit chart was written in a friend's classroom. She had the word, a picture and a definition.

3. Practice with letters.

Give each student a chalkboard and chalk, paper and pencil, or dry erase board and marker.  They will write a letter you describe orally.  Have the students close their eyes while you describe a particular letter.  Tell them to put a pencil in their head and write with it as they hear the directions.  “I’ll make a capital letter.  I am visualizing a straight stick down.  Jumping up tot he top and curving around to the middle, then curving around to the bottom.”  Repeat the directions once more and ask the students to make the letter on the dry erase board.  I’ll make the letter on my board and reveal it to them…then, they will reveal their letter.  Repeat this “game” with 4 or 5 letters.

Once they know you are putting “a picture in their head,” let them practice this.  Ask them to put a picture of recess in their head.  What do you see in your head?  Ask them for specifics.  Who is on the swings?  Where is the teacher standing?  Throw them a curve ball to challenge their vision…do you see a giraffe at recess?

4. Practice with reading.

Students are given a short paragraph and 2 pictures.  After reading the short paragraph and visualizing the picture, look at the two picture choices and match the words to the text.   Making a 2-part visualizing exercise is easy.  Copy the paragraphs on colored paper (paper must be dark enough students can’t see images through the paper).  Copy the picture choices on white paper.  Staple the color copy to the top and cut the color paper on the lines.  Read the first paragraph to your students while they have their eyes closed.  Let them read the paragraph a second time.  After the second reading, students need to lift the flap with the paragraph and circle the correct picture.
Then, connect it to a story in small group. For an introduction to their story, In The Mountains from Reading A-Z, I asked students to visualize an animal that has stripes.  “What do you see in your head?”  “A zebra.”  “A tiger.”  “A skunk.”  Make sure you are thinking of an animal that would be in the mountains. We discussed each adjective in book by visualizing which animals could be in our book.  Once we have visualized the animals, I provide the book to the students to match their visualized animals with the animals in the book. The striped animal is really a chipmunk...not a zebra.

5. Guided Practice

As luck would have it...when we were at my brother's house for a family birthday party this visualizing activity was on the refrigerator.  I asked my niece about the activity. She said she was asked to visualize what would happen on Halloween.  They had to draw four pictures about what would happen Halloween night, one picture on each flap. The next day, the teacher asked them to look at their pictures, tell there partner about the night, and then write about it under the flaps.  Very cute flip book!

6. Reading Response

During small group instruction, weaving visualization into the lessons can help create independence with this strategy. As students leave the small group, ask them to write their own definition of visualization and then write a specific sentence from the book that helped them put a picture in their head and draw a picture. I love the examples of this in the picture on the left.

I hope these visualizing tips help your students "see" the story more clearly.

CLICK HERE for the visualizing activity, or click the cover below.


  1. Thanks, Cathy, for another great reading lesson. I am going to use this with my first graders next week. I will be sharing it with my first grade teachers tomorrow, too.

  2. I love the activity with the dry erase boards and the letters. I think the kids will love this. I may even try it tomorrow! After I have given them clues and them writing the letters, I bet some of the more advanced kids could give clues and I will join the kids as they write what they hear.