Hold on to those pictures!

Sanchita Sahay, Special Needs Educator (Whole School)

I am going to begin this article by asking you to do a simple activity. After reading this, close your eyes and recall your favourite movie.

Most of us would recall the scenes from the movie; the faces of the main characters; the plot that we would be able to summarise; and perhaps, the reason why it became our favourite movie.

The reason why we could easily recall and summarise the plot is simply that we held visual images of that movie in our mind. The same applies if I ask you to recall who Johnny Depp is. You would probably be able to recall his face or even his character in The Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe an image like the picture below?

Image courtesy: Disney

Images are a great tool to aid comprehension and recall. They help students make connections with the text and improve attention to the subject matter thereby increasing the possibility that they will remember the material.

The skill of understanding and interpreting images or text as something we assume that our students may understand on their own, needs to be broken down into parts.

There are many elements to a picture that can act like anchors to help children organise the visual information. This information, when chunked into categories, helps in storing the image and eventually helps to recall. According to Nanci Bell, the co-founder of the Lindamood-Bell Learning processes, ‘Clinical research and experience over the last 30 years indicate there is a separate comprehension weakness that is rarely identified. This weakness often undermines the reading process. It is weakness, based in the sensory system, in creating an imaged gestalt.’ (Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, 2020)

When we direct the attention of the students to the elements or categories of the pictures, we help them look at the minute details that make the picture complete. These categories can be:

Categories Description
What What is the picture/story about?
Size What sizes are there in the picture/sentence/story?
Colour What colours are there in the picture/sentence/story?
Number How many people/objects are in the picture/sentence/story?
Shape What shapes are there in the picture/sentence/story?
Where Where is the picture/ sentence/story taking place?
Movement What are the movements/activities that are in the picture/sentence/story?
Background What is the background of picture/sentence/story?
Perspective How do you see the picture/sentence/story? Eg from far away, from nearetc
When When is picture/sentence/story happening?
Sound What sounds can you hear in the picture/sentence/story?

*(Bell, Nanci, ‘Visualising and Verbalising for Language Comprehension and Thinking’, Academy of Reading Publications CA 1986)

Helping students analyse the picture and making a mental list of the elements of each category helps them break the picture into parts. This helps in chunking the information. The categories act as prompts when the students recall and verbalise the same picture from the mental image that they have formed. Let’s take a look at another example.

Here, we can ask the students to look at the picture as a whole or train them to break it down into parts along the categories mentioned above. When the students focus on the categories, it is important to give them time to form the mental image. The more vivid the mental image is, the better is the recall.

The learning of the students can be further extended by prompting them to go beyond the image and think deeper. Guided questions such as:

  • Who do you think lives in the treehouse?
  • What are some materials used in building the tree house?
  • Think about the person who would want to live here?
  • What kind of person could they be? Mention some of their characteristics/likes/dislikes.
  • What do you think is happening in this picture?
  • What do you think will happen next?

This strategy of Visualising and Verbalising has worked well with students in the classroom. While writing stories, students can use the elements of the pictures mentioned above to expand and add details. It not only makes the written material richer but gives depth to the stories improving the quality of the work. Looking forward to your feedback on the concept of visualising and verbalising!