Visuals and Reading

Kathleen Stern

Kathleen Stern

Visuals and Reading

by Kathleen Stern

Over the last few years in my seventh grade reading class, I’ve asked students to do more visual analysis and creation. This has nothing to do with the fact that my twin sister is a talented artist and art teacher. Rather, I believe visuals, reading and critical thinking are inextricably tied. First off, we are visual people. Images can make us laugh, cry or gasp. They also make us stop and think. I want my students to react emotionally and intellectually when they see images. Secondly, visuals aid help students access the text and aid in comprehension of a text, vocabulary word or concept. Third, visuals are worthy of analysis in their own right. Students build visual literacy and critical thinking skills needed for high school, college and post-secondary life.

The Common Core gives us an opportunity to leverage visuals, specifically CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7: which asks students to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.”

Analyzing Existing Visuals

My students analyze existing visuals such as photographs, diagrams, illustrations, maps, book covers, and bar graphs. Here are a few ways they’ve analyzed visuals:

a) Make predictions based on a fiction or informational text cover

b)Make predictions by skimming visuals in an informational text.

c) Make inferences about a text before reading by using a Wordle composed from an excerpt of the text or back cover summary (see below).

Choose an image:
Describe the image below
Page # I predict

d) Compare film scenes from “A Raisin in the Sun” with excerpts from the book, noting lighting, foreground and background and asking, “why does the director choose to compose the scene in this way? How does it affect the plot or mood?” (see above)

Creating Visuals

Students also create their own visuals to synthesize what they have read, written or discussed. Here are a few things I’ve done:

a) As students analyzed sound devices in poems like onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance, they drew pictures in the poem’s margins and considered, “What images do these sounds create?” (i.e. if you hear car horns, you visualize a traffic jam).

b) After analyzing the persuasive techniques of writers and fast food advertisers, students created their own advertisements with persuasive tactics (see below).

c) Students did a close reading of an article about mural art in L.A. and then displayed the pros and cons of mural art in a visual.

d) Students created persuasive posters to convince policymakers to either support or oppose a new law requiring schools to outlaw fast food in lunches. Students analyzed their peers’ posters– including their facts/details, diction, vivid description/imagery—and voted on the most persuasive ones.

e) While reading “A Raisin in the Sun,” students determined themes around the topics of dreams, stereotypes, family strength, relationship tension and challenging tradition. They chose one theme statement to illustrate with details and colors and without using characters’ names.

f) Vocabulary: Every few days, students spend five to ten minutes completing activities around one vocabulary word. In a year, students learn 60 words. For the word “meander,” I ask students to draw someone’s path as he/she meanders to a desk. I also ask students to write captions for pictures like the here using the vocabulary word.

g) In a Double Entry Journal, students reacted to excerpts from documentaries “Supersize Me” and its rebuttal “Fat Head.” Then students picked one fact to express visually. The visuals included both the fact and a student’s reaction to the fact (see right).

Kathleen Stern, 7th Grade Reading Teacher


17 responses to “Visuals and Reading

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  6. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the work you are doing to tie the process of reading alphabetic words to images representing the connection among those words and your sharing the images of student work. You are so right about all you say…our brain sees in images not in words…well, at least most brains. Your activities help students to become metacognitive and this type of reflection builds thinking skills. Another use of image-making is to ask students to draw what they intend to write before actually writing…for many students, this helps clarify and organize thoughts rambling around in their head, especially the struggling writer challenged to generate words. Just another though.

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  9. I really like these examples, especially the variety (vocab, theme, persuasive techniques, etc) you’ve selected to share with us–especially since you have shared ideas for how students read visuals and also how they create visuals themselves.

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