Most children have vivid imaginations, and they have no difficulty visualizing make-believe scenes and characters. However, once they enter school, concrete learning methods often leave fantasy and self-generated visuals out of the learning equation. What’s more is that these little minds are overtaxed with the complicated tasks of basic reading, writing, and math, leaving little to no “cognitive space” for them to visualize content and ideas. The sad thing is that many teachers don’t realize that visualization can ignite the “fun factor.” In addition, it enhances learning and improves reading, writing, memory, emotional regulation, and more. The key, however, is for visualization to be trained to automaticity so that students can access mental imagery while focusing on learning basic academics.
What Exactly Is Visualization?
Visualization is the creating or recreating of imaginary or real scenes within one’s mind. However, the term “visualization” can be misleading, because visualizing involves more than just imagery. In fact, the more senses utilized, such as touch sound and taste, the more powerful the result.
What Does Visualization Look Like?
Many beginners expect to be able to see images on the inside of their eyelids, to observe pictures in their mind like a dream, or to project images into reality like a hologram. Although some can learn to visualize to this extent, many people do not. What I can assure you is that the more you practice this skill, the better you will get at it.
When Should Visualization Be Taught?
Ideally, visualization should be taught to a level of automaticity in early primary or elementary school, but it can be developed at any time.
Why Does Visualization Work and How Can It Improve Academic Achievement?
Visualization works for a number of reasons:
- Visualization stimulates the same parts of the brain as when we actually perform the same activity. In fact, we can fool our brain and body into believing visualizations are real. For example, take a minute and imagine the sight, smell, and touch of slicing a lemon in quarters and then taking a big bite. You probably will find that your mouth starts watering because your body reacts to your visualization. So, if it is easy for you to learn from and remember things that you have experienced, visualizations can often be just as powerful.
- Visualization communicates a lot of information. As the popular adage suggests, “A picture says a thousand words.” So, for example, visualizing a scene from history or a complex graph from math can help students remember and recall a plethora of details.
- Visualization enhances attention because it keeps the audience focused on the subject matter. For example, when students visualize the content of a lesson or a passage that they are reading, comprehension increases dramatically. Many students report that they create a “movie in their head” and the visuals maintain their concentration and interest. In addition, when students visualize a scene before they write it, their ideas tend to be more cohesive, their thoughts remain fluid, and their stories integrate more descriptive language.
- Visualization aids in memory. Tagging imagery to what is learned helps both the encoding and the retrieval processes, because it makes the learning multisensory. Many students that have mastered visualization even report that they can recreate their notes in their mind’s eye, making test-taking a breeze. One of my friends, who is an artist, shared that his visualizations are so strong that he can project them on a blank piece of paper and trace them.
What Can We Do to Help Children Master Visualization?
On the one hand, we need to define visualization for our students and teach the skill. When students need to develop their capacity to visualize, I have found that the best way to teach visualization is to break it down into 10 different skill sets. They must learn how to visualize color, size, shape, number, mood, perspective, background, direction, movement, and other senses, such as smell, touch, and taste. To help with the process, you can ask students the following questions about their visualizations:
- What are the various colors?
- What are the sizes of all the details?
- What are the different shapes?
- How many details/objects are there?
- What is the tone, feeling, or emotion?
- From what perspective are you seeing the imagery?
- What are all the background details?
- What direction are the details facing?
- Is there any movement?
- Are there any smells, textures, or tastes?
On the other hand, we need to share our own visualizations and encourage students to do the same. I have found that discussions and guided assignments can be very helpful. You can:
- Ask students to dialogue about their own mental imagery after reading or while planning a writing assignment.
- Invite your students to create and draw visualizations that can help them to memorize content.
- Provide free writing opportunities for students to document visualizations.
- Offer mindful, guided visualization activities, for example, before a test to relieve anxiety or after recess to calm the class.
Talking about and practicing these 10 skills, as well as integrating discussions and activities on this topic, will help to develop and enhance your students’ capacity to visualize. Please enjoy this free image of the 10 visualization skills.