Recently I had the opportunity to interview a variety of students for our school yearbook. The questions ranged from favorite subject to future goals. One young girl responded eagerly when I asked what her favorite subject was. “Reading,” she told me. “It’s like watching TV except you have to read the words.” This is a student I want in my class when she reaches sixth grade!
Visualizing is a key concept in reading, and not all readers do it the same way with every book. If you can see a picture in your head while you read, it makes the text more interesting and more memorable. That, in turn, leads to comprehension. Some books pull the reader in more deeply, and you can visualize scenes as if you were watching a movie. The very best books envelop you so completely that you are actually in the scene. These are the books that make you gasp when the monster jumps out from hiding.
When visualization is taught in the classroom, many teachers have students draw a picture of what comes to mind as they read. This encourages students to pay attention to the setting details so they can draw the background and time of day or season. It also means they have to know which characters are present, and where they are in relation to each other. All of this is very important for understanding the scene.
This is a wonderful beginning, but I want my students to visualize more deeply. They are used to action, to movies and video games that move. I want books to move for them, too. The second stage of visualization is to imagine the story moving before you like a TV show or a movie. Having students draw a comic strip or a storyboard encourages this type of thinking. They can follow the story as the characters move from the park to the library, payin attention to details like how the characters got there. Did they go in a car? Who drove? Understanding character motivation and relationships is important for this type of visualization.
The pinnacle of visualization, however, is dependent upon a wonderfully written book. Some books never reach this level, no matter how hard you try to stuff yourself into them. The best books are the ones where, long after you put them down, you are thinking of yourself interacting with the characters in the scene. While reading, the world around you disappears and the world of the written word surrounds you. If you can read the words and put yourself into the world, you can imagine what is in the scene that the author didn’t tell you about, what should be there based on what you are told. You can hear cars rushing along the streets or smell the heat off the asphalt. Most importantly, when the protagonist faces the antagonist, you wield the sword right next to them. These are the books you remember, and the ones you recommend to your friends with an enthusiastic, “Oh, this was so good!”
The most recent YA books that have been that good for me are Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Cinder by Marissa Myers.
What are the most recent books you’ve read that make you feel that way?