Word pictures

Meena Raghunathan

Have you ever made or heard comments like: ‘I don’t at all like the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the new serial. He is too fat/short/old/young’?

What does this mean? Basically, that the speaker has a very strong image of what Sherlock Holmes looks like through all her reading of Sherlock Holmes stories.

This is exactly what visualization is. A popular and useful dictionary definition of visualization is ‘The formation of a mental image of something’.

Research indicates that reading and learning improve if children visualize what they are reading. Not only are they able to understand better, but also relate better to the text. But it is not something all children will do automatically. Sometimes, they need to be encouraged and supported in doing this.

The RIDER strategy is used commonly and is of proven value, including for under-achieving students, in helping in visualization.

This strategy involves taking students through a five-stage process:
Reading: Read the sentence.
Imagining: Make a picture in your mind.
Describing: Describe the image.
Evaluating: Evaluate your image to see if it fits with the text.
Reading On: Read the next part of the story and do it all again.

How can this be used practically?
The first step would be for you to choose a text which easily lends itself to visualization. It should be rich in description and/or action. The actual choice of the text would depend on the level and interest of the students, but it should be more or less comprehensible to them, without too many new words.

Then, you could read out a few sentences slowly and clearly. Follow this up describing to the students what you see in your mind. Now, read the sentences again, or ask a student to read the sentences out loud. Then ask them to close their eyes and imagine the scene. After a minute or so, ask a few of them to describe what they imagined.

Without singling out any student, discuss and help them evaluate whether the images fit the text. Take care not to judge any image as right or wrong – it is after all the child’s version of the text. However, do point out if there are differences between the image and any facts that are present in the text. This may also be the point at which you can tell them the meanings of words which may not be familiar to all of them.

The author has over three decades of experience in education, environmental education and skill training. She has authored textbooks, teachers’ manuals as well as story books for children. She edited the children’s supplement of a national newspaper for several years. She can be reached at meena.raghunathan@gmail.com.

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