Reading Comprehension: Visualization

          “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.”

                                                                   —Albert Einstein

          “It is impossible even to think without a mental picture.”


What is Visualization?

Visualization refers to our ability to make visual representations in our minds while reading. Some people think of it as making videos or movies in our heads. Visualization helps readers engage in text in ways that make it memorable and personable. When students create pictures in their minds, they become more involved with the text.  Visualization stimulates the imagination, enhances involvement with the text, and improves mental imagery.  According to Puett Miller (2004), visualization is a proven strategy used to improve reading comprehension.

Students are taught visual, sequential steps for putting details together to get the main idea. By using prior knowledge and background experiences, readers connect the author’s writing with a personal picture. Through guided visualization, students learn how to create mental pictures as they read. They use sensory images like sounds, physical sensations, smells, touch, and emotions described in the story to help them picture the story.

How do you teach students to use visualization?

According to Puett Miller (2004), teachers should follow this step by step plan to teach visualization.

1. Teachers should directly model the thought processes involved in visualizing. They should read familiar text and describe the images they see in their mind.

2. Read a passage for students to visualize. Choose something that is descriptive so they can easily create vivid images in their mind.  Explain to students that when they visualize, it is important to use their background knowledge and words in the text to help them imagine a picture in their mind.  It is important students understand that there is not one correct answer. For younger students start with an object and describe it by color, size, shape and smell. Ask students to close their eyes and create an image.

 3. Students should share their images with a partner. They can use the “Think, Pair, Share.” technique. After forming an image, they should pair up with a partner, and share what they have visualized. Allow students to choose their own subjects to describe to each other.

4. Teachers should use a different selection from the same text and ask students to illustrate while they listen to the teacher read a passage. Students should share and discuss their images.

5. Students should practice the strategy frequently. They should use visualization during read-alouds and silent reading. Teachers should incorporate both drawings and mental imagery to meet the needs of all students.

Watch a first grade class in action using this strategy.

Visualization is a proven technique to improve comprehension. Sadoski (1998) explains, “The mental imagery that we experience while reading, either spontaneously or induced by instruction, is now known to have powerful effects on comprehension, memory, and appreciation for text.”

This website provides an interactive teaching guide to help teachers understand the strategy and incorporate it into their lessons.

Connection to Multiple Intelligences and Universal Design for Learning

Visualization connects to the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines by providing multiple means of representation, action and expression and engagement.  Students with strengths in the visual/linguistic intelligence should be encouraged to use this strategy.  Those who do not have strong concept imagery can learn to develop this intelligence by following the steps outlined above.

My thoughts…

I believe visualization is a powerful technique that makes reading more engaging and interesting. I have used visualization in my own class and have observed a noticeable difference in student’s comprehension. They really enjoy the visualization activities and love to share their interpretations of the text. It’s amazing how much detail they begin to notice.  It is reflected in their writing as well. I’ve observed students gaining more confidence and showing more interest in their reading and writing. This strategy can be used across the curriculum in all content areas. The best part is that students get into the habit of using this technique and actively think about what they read, which of course leads to greater comprehension.


Into the Book Strategies for Learning. Visualizing. Retrieved from:

Puett Miller, C. (2004). Opening the Door: Teaching Students to Use Visualization to Improve Comprehension. Education World. Retrieved from

Sadoske M. (1998).Reading Online.

Teacher Vision. Visualizing. Retrieved from

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Concrete-Representational-Abstract Instructional Approach

What is it?

Concrete-Representational-Abstract-Approach or CRA for short “can enhance the mathematics performance of students with learning disabilities. It is a three-part instructional strategy, with each part building on the previous instruction to promote student learning and retention and to address conceptual knowledge.” (The Access Center, 2004).

The purpose of teaching through a concrete to representational to abstract approach is to make sure students completely understand the skill or concept they are learning before executing the problem on their own. The three steps of CRA include: Concrete, Representational and Abstract. The Concrete stage is the “doing” stage, the Representational is the “seeing” stage and the Abstract is the “symbolic” stage.

1.     Concrete

In this step, the teacher introduces a math concept by modeling examples using manipulatives such as unifix cubes, pattern blocks, beans, base ten blocks etc. Students are able to manipulate the objects by using their visual, tactile and kinesthetic senses. Students are given many opportunities to use these objects to problem solve.

Research-based studies show “that students who use concrete materials develop more precise and more comprehensive mental representations, often show more motivation and on-task behavior, understand mathematical ideas, and better apply these to life situations.” (Anstrom, 2006).

A teacher could model how to multiply by using marbles as manipulatives. The teacher would display three groups of three marbles each and ask the students how many marbles there are.  The teacher would allow students to touch and count the marbles.

Once students have demonstrated mastery using concrete materials, they are ready to move onto the Representational step.

2.     Representational

In this step, the student would draw pictures that represent the concrete objects previously used. These pictures help the student visualize the math operations during problem solving. The teacher must explain the relationship between the pictures and the concrete objects and allow the student numerous opportunities to practice until they solve the problems independently. After students are successful with the representational step, they would move on to the abstract step.

3.     Abstract

During this final step teacher models the concept at a symbolic level and uses math symbols to represent addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  It is often referred to as “doing math in your head.” After students have handled multiplication manipulatives and made pictorial representations, the teacher would show the abstract form, which is “3 x 3.”

This is an example of what CRA would look like.


This instructional approach “benefits all students but has been shown to be particularly effective with students who have mathematics difficulties, mainly because it moves gradually from actual objects through pictures and then to symbols. (Sousa, 2007).

While this video is a little lengthy, it gives a great overview of the CRA approach.

Connection to Multiple Intelligences

Students with strengths in tactile and kinesthetic learning styles learn best with hands-on experiences. These students might even prefer to act out the concepts. Visual learners can easily visualize counters and auditory learners can repeat the concepts in their heads.

My thoughts…

I believe this is a great approach to use with learning disabled students as well as non-disabled students.  It is especially beneficial to students with learning disabilities because they have a harder time with abstract concepts. The CRA  approach can help students connect ideas so the gain a deep understanding of the math concept. As a result, students are more likely retain the information .

CRA allows the teacher to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all students.



The Access Center. (2004). Concrete-Representational-Abstract Approach. Retrieved from:

Anstrom, T. (2006). Supporting Students in Mathematics Through the Use of Manipulatives. Retrieved from Center of Implementing Technology in Education :

Kurczodyna, V., Cavanagh, C. & Curiel, J. (n. d.) Math Instrucitonal Strategies. Retrieved from–_CRA_PPT.ppt

 Math VIDS. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Math Instructional Strategies. (n.d.).Retrieved from…/Math%20Instructional%20Strategies.ppt

 Sousa, D.  (2007). How the Brain Learns Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

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Executive Functions: Using Mnenomic Strategies to Help Students Remember

How do we use Executive Functions?

We use executive functions when we plan, organize, strategize and when we need to pay attention and remember details. Students with executive function deficits have difficulty memorizing, retaining, and retrieving information. Students struggling with these areas can benefit by using mnemonic strategies.

What are Mnemonic Strategies?

Mnemonic strategies are tools or “tricks” used to help students retain important information. Students relate new information to what they have already learned through visual and verbal cues. According to Mastropieri & Scruggs (1989), mnemonic strategies that are practiced a few times at intervals will be retained for a very long time. Teachers can develop mnemonic strategies themselves or have students come up with their own. Some examples of mnemonic strategies include the Keyword strategy, Pegword strategy, and Letter strategy.

Here is a short video explaining more about mnemonic strategies.

Keyword Strategy 

The Keyword strategy is based on connecting a new concept or word to prior knowledge. Students are instructed to come up with a word that triggers an image. This strategy is effective when learning vocabulary words, definitions of scientific words, or learning a foreign language. The student or teacher creates a keyword that is a familiar or sounds similar to the word being taught. The student or teacher creates a picture that links the old and new information in the student’s memory. For example, the Spanish word “carta” means letter. To remember that carta means letter, the student would transform the word carta to cart, and make a picture of a cart with a letter in it. Connecting the word and the image helps the student recall the new word.

Pegword Strategy

The Pegword strategy is used when trying to remember information involving numbers or information that needs to be remembered in order. Pegwords refer to a set of rhyming words that are used to represent numbers.

This is a strategy to remember sequences of ten unrelated items in the
appropriate order. First, the student needs to remember ten key words:

one = bun           six = sticks

two = shoe         seven = heaven

three = tree         eight = gate

four = door         nine = wine

five = hive          ten = hen

(Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998)

After learning these, the student needs to memorize ten unrelated items. For example:
boat, cow, glass, telephone, pan, cloud, bird, book, table, rock

If the student needed to remember “one boat” he or she would look at the first pegword (bun rhyming with one) and form an image of a bun interacting in some way with a boat. The student might imagine a boat sailing into a floating bun. This visual would help the student retain the information.

Letter Strategy

Acronyms and acrostics are examples of Letter strategies. Acronyms are effective when students need to remember a list of information in order or a small number of grouped items. An acronym is a series of letters that spell a word such as FACE, corresponding to the spaces of the treble clef in written music: F, A, C, and E.

Acrostics are sentences in which the first letters of the words correspond to the first letters of the information students are expected to remember. For example, memorizing “Please Excuse My dear Aunt Sally” would help students remember the order of mathematical operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

Mnemonics You May Know





Roy G.   Biv

The colors of the rainbow: red,   orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet


My Very   Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos

The order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter,   Saturn, Uranus, Neptune

Social Studies


The Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior

Social Studies

Never Eat Sour Watermelon

Directions on a map: North, East, South, West

Industrial Arts

Lefty Loosy, Tighty Righty

The direction to turn something:    left to loosen, right to tighten


Bless My Dear Aunt Sally

Brackets, Multiplication, Division,    Addition, Subtraction


  • Using mnemonic strategies can be easier and more enjoyable way to learn rather than just using rote memory.
  • Knowing how to use mnemonics can cut down on studying time.
  • Mnemonic strategies can be applied to all subjects.


  • Using these strategies to memorize information does not necessarily imply understanding of a concept.
  • Some students who do not have strong visual or verbal skills may not benefit from these techniques.

Final Thoughts…

Mnemonic strategies are effective, especially for students with learning disabilities and those with executive function deficits.  Students need to be able to effectively retrieve or recall important information. These strategies work because they help students make connections between new information and previously learned material. (The Access Center, 2007). Mnemonics are effective when students need to remember disjointed information (such as naming the US Presidents) or when there are many steps to remember in order. Remembering information using mnemonics is more enjoyable because students can come up with interesting ways and put their own creative twist on the content. Information is much more likely to be retained when a student can related it to an aspect of their own life. The information becomes more meaningful to the student and as a result will be much easier to retrieve from memory. According to Richard’s (2008), children who learn differently learn best with active learning and creative involvement.

I use these strategies in everyday life when I have to remember people’s names or lists of things. If it weren’t for mnemonics, remembering the colors of the rainbow may be difficult when put on the spot by my kindergarteners.

For some pre-made mnemonics, go to:


To create your own mnemonics go to:



The Access Center.  (2007). Using mnemonic instruction to facilitate access to the general education curriculum. Retrieved from

Mastropieri,M. & Scruggs, T. (1998). Enhancing School Success with Mnemonic Strategies. Retrieved from

Richards, R. G. (2008).  Making it stick: Memorable strategies to enhance learning. Retrieved  from

Richards, R.G. (2008).  Memory strategies for students: The value of strategies. Retreived from

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