Making Pictures in your Head: Can you see the story?

Slice of Life logoIt was I Love to Read day and since I do love to read I made sure to stop by one of my favorite classrooms to read with them. This third grade group of students are struggling readers but they love to hear a good story. I had chosen A sick Day for Amos Mc Gee by the Steads to read to them.

They did their usual squirrely behavior as they gathered for the story but quickly asked “Can we see the pictures?”. It’s a picture book so yes – and the images are great. I didn’t really think to much about this request since we always look at the pictures and I always read picture books to them.

Next a few other people stopped by to read to them – always the same request – Can we see the pictures?  Yes, we all looked at the pictures in the big books as they were reading.

It was time for them to enjoy in their own reading.  Pillow, blankets and cuddly stuffed critters in hand they all went off to read. But reading didn’t happen for many of them.  They had  “just right” books, they had chosen their book, they were excited to read  – so what was happening?IMG_1034

Reading lasted only for a page or two for some of them. Hmmm? We persisted and walked around the room helping to refocus the readers. There were a few who were engaged in their book but most found it difficult.

Later their teacher shared a few poems with them. They had a discussion about how when you hear poems you make pictures in your head.  Everyone nodded and agreed. They had heard this all year, they can tell you about visualization.

As she read the poems she talked about the pictures she saw in her “head” as she was reading. She finally read a poem about a boy eating hot dogs. She asked “what picture does this make in your head? What did you visualize?”  The response from several was “What picture?  Can you show us the picture in the book?”

OH – there we have it!  Her eyes met mine and we knew what was happening for several of her readers. When they are reading independently they are not engaged in their books because they are reading words slowly and carefully but are still not making the movie of the story in their head! They know what visualization is, they can explain it to you but they are not doing this on their own when reading.

They are depending on the picture books, the promotes we give as teachers as we read with them but not making the leap to visualize when reading on their own.

Here is a step we might not realize we need to take for some readers -helping them start that movie in their head – letting them know there are no wrong answers just pictures. This is where that slow release of responsibility comes in.

  • Having them read or listen and then draw  – a picture per chapter, or per page -share these pictures with a partner and discuss them
  • Reading picture books without showing the pictures and having them share their mental pictures
  • Read a short passage and write about what you saw as you read
  • Use some of the just right books for oral reading and asking students to model visualization (not teacher model)

“Wilhelm explains that visualizing is the first step in getting struggling readers to activate their thinking skills.”

We work so hard on this skill in the fall.  Kids talk about the story, they read with us and we support them in so many ways. It appears they get it – they are visualizing. But   sometimes we may be over supporting and are not aware of it.

Watch your readers – do you have a few who just never settle into any book?  Maybe they just aren’t seeing the story yet.

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Making Pictures in your Head: Can you see the story?

  1. Yes! I love this post. I enjoy reading to my students without showing the pictures. It forces them to think their own thoughts. Visiting from the Slice of Life Challenge.

  2. travelinma says:

    No right or wrong often is the topic of conversation in primary classrooms. Thanks for this glimpse into your school.

  3. jennieb says:

    Visualizing is such an important part of reading! I really believe it is the difference between reading being a chore or being an enjoyable experience.

  4. So true…thank you for offering such important suggestions. I so agree, this happens at all different times for our learners, frustrating and also joyful when it finally happens. It is not magic, however and I agree with you…we have to be explicit. xo

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