Headstart for Life

Picture This! – Things You Need to Know About Comprehension and Visualisation

“If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it”
-Albert Einstein

Hello! Welcome back to HeadStart for Life’s blog, Beyond Therapy!

Have you ever wondered why do some children struggle to read , spell and comprehend and others don’t. Literacy skills are based on primarily on Phonemic Awareness, Sight Words, Oral Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension. In addition, another factor in literacy is also learning to make connections between what we already know and the new information we are learning.


Hierarchy of Reading Threads (Photocredit : http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104428/chapters/Introduction.aspx)

Over the years, various experiments have shown that even though once a child has attained the phonemic awareness and decoding, he/she will still struggle with reading comprehension.

What is Reading Comprehension?

Reading comprehension is the ability to understand what is being read. Children must be able to read the words in the text and combine it with what they already know to “think” about what the author is trying to say. Reading comprehension is NOT just finding answers in the text. Children must be able to interact with the text, think deeper, analyse, predict and be able to summarise what is written.

Now, would you believe if I said that accomplished readers do not use phonics to read? Instead, they use phonics to problem solve or decode words that your brain does not immediately recognise. Accomplished readers at a glance realise the “picture” that is the word and transform that picture/word into a visualised meaning almost instantaneously, thus accomplishing comprehension. If a person is unable to do this, the amount of work that it takes to identify a word creates a problem. By the time he/she has solved the puzzle of the word, the meaning and continuity of the other words around it is lost and comprehension and meaning has been lost. The result is that that there is no image that the mind can fall back upon and retrieve the information carried by the text!

So, we understand that symbol and concept imagery is the essence of human language. To “picture” something in your mind means to imagine something. It is a skill  that people use naturally in their everyday affairs, not being aware that they are using some sort of magical power!

What is Symbol Imagery and Concept Imagery?

Symbol imagery is the ability to create mental representations for the sounds and letters within words, encompassing the ability to visualise the identity and sequence of letters in words.

Concept imagery is the ability to create an image whole picture for language and thought.

Individuals with well-established concept imagery rapidly and efficiently bring parts together as a whole and “get the big picture.” Unfortunately, when individuals cannot easily or rapidly perform concept imagery, they primarily process parts of what they read or hear.

A main idea is discerned from the whole and not easily grasped if only a few random parts have been processed and an inference or a conclusion is drawn from a few isolated parts or a few irrelevant and incidental facts. Hence, symbol imagery emerged as a primary sensory-cognitive domino that could be identified, stimulated, and applied to reading and spelling to develop literacy skills.

Visualizing and Verbalization is an approach developed by Linda Mood Bell to teach visualisation. Here are some general information and some of the steps, which can be adapted to teach visualisation:

1. Setting the Climate: The goal is to help students understand what they will be doing and why—learning to visualise concepts they read and hear in order to make thinking and comprehension easier.

2. Picture to Picture: The goal is to question and interact with students to develop fluent, detailed verbalising about a given picture.

3. Structure Words—what, size, color, number, etc.—are introduced to provide concrete descriptive elements to notice and verbalise.

blog_structure words

Visualizing and Verbalizing by Linda Mood Bell (Photo credit: http://files.planbookedu.com/22/512022/V&V%20Linda%20Bell%20mood.PNG)

The teacher questions with “choice and contrast” to stimulate verbalisation of the picture: “Your words are making me picture the boy wearing pants.  Should I picture long pants or short pants?  Red or blue?”

4. Word Imaging: The goal is to question and interact with students to develop detailed visualising and verbalising (dual coding) for a single word.

The student describes a generated image for a high-imagery “Known Noun,” such as clown or cowboy.  The Structure Words are used to provide detailed, vivid imagery.  The teacher asks sensory-driven questions to specifically develop imagery.  “Are you picturing a white hat or a black hat on the cowboy?  Does he have long hair or short hair?”


Is she wearing a blue coat or a purple coat? Where is she?

5. Phrase and Sentence Imaging: The goal is to question and interact with students to extend the imagery and language from one word to a phrase and then to a single, simple sentence.

The student uses a previously imaged Known Noun as the subject of a sentence to be imaged.

For example, “Keep the same clown we just visualised, and now picture this, the clown jumped on a bicycle.”



These are just some of the many ideas to improve your child’s visualisation skills. Do you have more ideas in mind? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below! Stay tuned for our next blogpost!



Seeing Stars (Nanci Bell)( Gander Educational Publishing; 1997)

Visualising and Verbalising (Nanci Bell)

Strategies for Visual/Concept Imagery Instruction (Allison Andersen Mormann 2013)

Structureofintellect.com (Renee Anderson, SOI Systems)

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Kokila

Kokila has been working with children with learning difficulties for the last 2 years. She strongly believes that early intervention, teamwork, consistency and thinking "+1" from the current level are the most effective elements that translate into visible progress shown by children with learning difficulties.

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