EL Reading Comprehension Strategy: Visualization

Many years ago, teachers in my school started exploring Reading Workshop to teach reading to children in Grades K–5. We attended workshops given at Columbia University and received staff development by members of Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project. Although English learners (ELs) were not specifically mentioned in early publications about Reading Workshop, I immediately saw the benefit of using it to teaching reading comprehension strategies to ELs. I liked the format of short mini-lessons about comprehension strategies followed by partner or group practice using books that are on the student’s reading level.

The mini-lesson is directed to the whole class, but the practice is individualized. Teachers are able to differentiate instruction by holding extra conferences and guided reading lessons with ELs. Since the advent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Lucy Calkins has created curricular plans for Reading Workshop tied to the CCSS. Free samples of these plans can be downloaded for free.

From my experience as a K–6 ESL teacher and as a professional development provider, I find that Reading Workshop is the very best method for teaching reading comprehension strategies to ELs. The fact that each student in the class uses a book that they have chosen and that is on their reading level helps ELs, because they don’t feel left out or different. I believe that these strategies can be used by ESL teachers to support the reading instruction of ELs, even if their school district is using other reading methodologies. In order to strengthen reading comprehension strategies, teachers need to show their students what good readers do.

Over the next few weeks, I will be talking about teaching various reading comprehension strategies to ELs.


One of the first reading comprehension strategies that teachers should model is visualization. This strategy can be taught to any grade level. Visualizing helps students learn the link between the words on a page and the pictures in their head. According to Goudvais & Harvey in Strategies That Work (2007), students who visualize as they read have a richer reading experience and can better remember what they have read for longer periods of time.

Here is an example of visualization that I used with my 2nd grade ELs using The Doorbell Rang (Hutchins, 1989). If you haven’t read the book, follow the link to YouTube to familiarize yourself with it.

I wanted to teach my students the reading comprehension strategy of visualizing what was happening as I read to them. I explained to students that visualizing is like seeing a movie in your head.  Here are the steps I used:

  1. At the end of the first page, I asked my ELs to close their eyes and imagine what is happening in the story. I then asked them to draw the picture of what they had imagined.
  2. After students made their drawings, we examined the picture of the 12 chocolate chip cookies that appeared on the next page of the book. One of my students showed me her picture of twelve sugar cookies with red sprinkles. I explained to students that the “movie” in their minds could change when they got new information. I then demonstrated how a new page of text provided them with this additional information. This is important to teach to students from other cultures, because they are often product-oriented and focus on the “right” response.
  3. Using visualization techniques for The Doorbell Rang helps students understand how the 12 cookies are divided first by two children, then four children, and then by six children. Eventually, 12 friends are sharing the cookies.
  4. We want ELs to use visualization as a means of understanding the story structure. As the story progressed, students were asked to visualize the 12 children who were now sharing 12 cookies and draw a picture of what one child would have on his or her plate. If students didn’t draw a plate with one chocolate chip cookies at the end of the story, I would have the class get in groups and assemble plates to represent when 2, 4, 6, and 12 children sharing a plate of 12 cookies. This can be done by using paper plates and cut-outs of chocolate chip cookies.

How do you teach reading comprehension strategies in your classroom? Please share your expertise.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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4 Responses to EL Reading Comprehension Strategy: Visualization

  1. Luis Maques says:


  2. Joan Axthelm says:

    I really like how you made the visualization concrete with the plates and pictures. I see how this will help my ELL students. Thanks!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you Judie,
    It is very interesting, I will use it in my class.
    Sounds great!


  4. Kevin Knight Kevin Knight says:

    Hi Judie,

    I really like this activity and plan to adapt it for my adult learners.



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