I love to teach visualizing. After all, there is a whole chapter about it in my book The Forest AND the Trees! It doesn't really work to tell nine-year-olds, "You need to read at the level of your situation model." But when I tell them, "Let's try to use the details to make a picture in our minds," something clicks. They understand how to make mental models. This gets them to that deeper level of reading that's so hard to describe for young readers.
But not all readers visualize in the same way. This makes teaching visualizing even more fascinating--when we talk about what we visualize, we realize how dependent we are on our background knowledge and experiences. As a teacher, I have come to a new appreciation of how the texts and stories I share become situated in students' schemas. Consider what happened last week when I asked a student to visualize "a green tractor in a birthday hat."
"I thought of the book we read yesterday," the student said. "The one with the robin."
This threw me for a loop. How would a book about a robin relate to a mental image of "a green tractor in a birthday hat"? But then the student reached behind me to get the book I Am Going! by Mo Willems. He turned to the page that had Elephant wearing a funny hat--a hat that happened to have a picture of the ubiquitous Pigeon from Don't Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus.
"See?" he said. "I pictured the tractor wearing a hat like that. It was funny."
This is the power of talking about visualizing--this student was able to trace how he used a mental image from a previous book to create a new mental image. This is also the power of sharing great books and background experiences with children on a regular basis! The experiences we share today will become the visualizations of tomorrow.
Here are some resources for teaching visualizing:
Visualizing Activities and Powerpoint
Available from TeachersPayTeachers ($3, because it took me so long to write the three stories that are included!)
Visualizing blog post (6/25/11)