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Reading Comprehension: Converting Words to Pictures

By Dianne Craft

When a student regularly reads a passage well, but can’t remember the content, we know that he is using an inefficient strategy for comprehension. He often is trying to remember the exact words he read, rather than converting the words into pictures. Whether he is reading for recreation or information, he must change the words he reads into images in his mind. The more these images involve the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch), the greater will be the comprehension of the passage.

Use the following steps to help a student develop his ability to change the words he hears or reads into pictures for good comprehension. You will be surprised how fast his comprehension skills will improve after just a few of these training sessions.

This method works well with one student or a group of students.

Step 1: Reading to Your Students

Choose interesting, descriptive material to read to your student. As you read, have the student sit upright and keep his eyes upward, creating a “movie” in his mind. You can pull down a projection screen to further aid him in his “movie making.” Read a sentence or two. Then ask him a few questions until you are sure he is seeing the pictures in detail.

You can instruct him how to use his “camera”, using the “zoom lens” for close-ups when he needs to remember a very small detail in his picture. Instruct him how to “move” his pictures and “freeze” them when he wants to notice something. He’ll have great fun with this!

When you get to the end of a passage you’re reading, instruct the student to “rewind” the movie, to answer some questions about the passage. As you ask the questions, direct his gaze upward as he reviews his “movie” for the answers. He will be very excited about his retention of the information. He may be downright amazed because he is used to responding to questions with the comment, “I can’t remember.”

Step 2: The Student Reads Aloud to You

After your student has demonstrated proficiency at converting words to pictures as he hears them, he is ready to read the words themselves and make the “movie.” Select a reading passage that is easy for him to read, so he can concentrate on pictures rather than sounding out the words. Repeat the process you used before, stopping the student after a sentence or two, to ask him some questions about his “movie.” Direct his gaze upward to see what he just read. Be sure to get detailed pictures. As this becomes easier and more accurate for him, you can increase the number of sentences he reads before you ask questions.

Step 3: The Student Reads Silently

When your student is successfully reading aloud while making good pictures in his mind, you can have him read a passage silently. Ask him to stop every few lines or so and tell you about the pictures he has made. If they are detailed and accurate, you can have him read to the end of the passage uninterrupted. At the end of the reading, have him “rewind” his film and tell you all that he has read. You will be surprised at the things he remembers! His “words-to-pictures” process will soon be automatic. The upward eye movement will soon be unnecessary for the storage of reading material.


  • No pictures: no answers.
  • A few pictures: a few answers
  • Great pictures: Great answers!

This strategy is simple, but very effective. Expect to see great changes in your students!

Following Verbal Instructions

  1. Begin by giving a one-step instruction.
  2. Have the child look up and picture himself carrying out the directive. As soon as he has a clear image of himself doing what he was told, he should go and do it.
  3. As the child gains confidence, additional instructions are given. Soon, the child will be able to picture himself doing two, three, or more things sequentially in a successful way.
  4. Also use “chalk-talk” when you can. This consists of sketching pictures of the idea or concept as you are explaining. For example, if you are giving daily chores orally, sketch a picture of a child brushing their teeth, taking out the trash, vacuuming, and making their bed. Use this in addition to a written or verbal list. Kids feel very successful when they remember their chores easily. Now providing the motivation to do their chores is another issue.

Daily Chores: Following Written Instructions

  1. Have the child begin by reading a single instruction.
  2. Direct him to look up and picture himself carrying out the directive. You can also sketch out what the instructions say. As soon as he has a clear image of what he is supposed to do, he should follow through and do as instructed.
  3. As he gains confidence, additional instructions are given. Soon he will be able to picture himself performing two, three, or more things sequentially, and will be able to successfully carry the directive out.

For a Language Arts Book

Circle the subject and underline the verb, put adj. above the adjectives.

  1. Use color.
  2. Actually do what the directions say, on the directions themselves, in color.
  3. For the right brain child, have this illustration of directions be part of his grade for that page. This helps train his thinking.
  4. Be sure to model this many time before you expect them to do it on their own.

Dianne Craft is president of Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado, and the author of Brain Integration Therapy for Children Manual, and “The Biology of Behavior” audio tape set. For more articles on children and learning visit her website:

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