Reading Comprehension Strategies: Visualizing and Verbalizing


Visualizing and Verbalizing (V/V) is a strategy, created by Nanci Bell, an expert in the treatment of language and literacy disorders, for parents and educators to utilize with children (or adults) who have trouble with reading comprehension.

Many readers can read words and have a developed vocabulary, but still struggle to comprehend sentences or paragraphs. Visualizing and Verbalizing teaches students who struggle with reading comprehension and language processing to build pictures in their minds as they listen to or read text, with the ultimate goal of being able to visualize the main idea or get the whole picture. This is called concept imagery. As Albert Einstein said, “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.”

Here are some signs that your child or student has difficulty processing language and would likely benefit from learning about concept imagery:

  • No response to verbal explanations
  • Trouble understanding jokes
  • Repeatedly asks questions that have already been answered
  • Misses the main ideas from TV shows or has trouble guessing what might happen, only retaining a few details
  • Difficulty understanding cause and effect
  • Trouble paying attention during lectures or conversations
  • Trouble remembering or following verbal directions
  • Trouble making sense when talking
  • Does not express self often, seems quiet much of the time
  • Can read words fluently but has trouble comprehending what he reads

When reading, the information seems abstract to readers who have trouble processing language. Abstract information can be very difficult to understand so the text goes in one ear and out the other, so to speak. When creating mental images of the text, the reader draws from his own experiences and knowledge (text to self connections) and the meaning becomes meaningful and concrete. This makes it easier to process the information, recall it later, and put the information into one’s own words. Additionally, when asked inferential questions about the text (e.g., what do you think will happen next), the reader can refer to his mental image, which will help facilitate his ability to answer these types of questions.

So How Does It Work?
In Visualizing and Verbalizing, readers are first taught to describe real pictures presented in front of them. Once they have mastered the ability to describe real pictures, readers practice describing objects they have seen in their own life, that are not directly in front of them (e.g., their house, a pet, a piece of jewelry, etc.). The teacher asks the students several probing questions to help them describe familiar or personal objects in vivid detail.

After students can accurately describe familiar or personal objects, they are taught to create mental images of simple sentences, paragraphs, and eventually the whole text. The teacher/parent guides the reader to process language visually, and express their images verbally, by asking probing questions about what they imagine from the text. Research suggests that both sides of the brain need to be stimulated and engaged in order to make sense of reading, and that is exactly what this process does.

This article highlights the foundations of the Visualizing and Verbalizing Strategy. You can find more specific instructions on teaching this technique in the Visualizing and Verbalizing manual by Nanci Bell (see an image below).

Visualizing and Verbalizing Manual

The Visualizing and Verbalizing manual provides the theory and specific steps to develop concept imagery, the ability to create images from language. It describes the important questioning techniques to help students visualize language and verbalize what they have imagined. This imagery-language connection is essential for oral and written language comprehension, as well as critical thinking.

Below are some customer reviews of the Visualizing and Verbalizing manual.

  • This program is FANTASTIC to help kiddos work with their comprehension issues. The book is very user friendly and provides detailed examples of each step. Nanci Bell is amazing!
  • Some people of all ages have difficulty understanding what they read. There are many reasons why this happens. One of those reasons has to do with an inability to visualize what is being read. Visualizing and Verbalizing presents in clear, explicit steps how to teach a student to visualize and thus better understand what they are reading. It won’t fix every comprehension problem, but it is a wonderful tool that can empower some who are struggling to comprehend text.
  • This book is perfect for use with my speech and language kids during therapy. It’s exactly what I need.
  • I need to help my son with comprehension. I thought I would give this a try. I didn’t realize that the author,  Nanci Bell, had students like my child (with autism) in mind when she wrote this book. Her step-by-step process clears the way for me to understand her techniques from the ground up. I’ve never seen anyone get this in-depth at explaining that elusive quality of my son’s mind, so I hope her techniques will work to discipline his energy and drive into sharing his ideas and understanding those around him.

Keep in mind that every child is different. Some respond to several strategies, others respond to a few, while others may not respond to any of the strategies you try. If your child is significantly struggling with reading comprehension or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.

Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting.  If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep practice sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.

Additional Information
Wise Education and Behavior writes weekly articles to support children with reading, writing, spelling, math, and behavior. We have additional articles to support children with reading comprehension. See all of our articles here.

We also invite you to visit our  Wise Market  and E-Learning Center, two stores completely devoted to childhood development, learning, and behavior. All of the programs in our E-Learning Center can be downloaded immediately to your computer for use. Our Wise Market products are available for shipping.

For links to free worksheets and activities check out our resources page.

We also recommend reading A Great Place to Purchase Supplies to Support Kids’ Development!, which talks about the benefits of shopping at Discount School Supply®, an online store with over 6,000 products from over 25 different categories including Dramatic Play; Active Play; Infant & Toddlers; Furniture, Storage & Equipment; Math; Science; Language; and Special Needs.

Thank you for reading and thank you for supporting kids!

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