Friday Favorites

Linking up today for some Friday Favorites!

friday favorites flower look.jpeg

I’ve posted a few of my favorite things this week already, including my favorite instant pot chicken method.

Chicken Tacos.jpg

And, one of my favorite teaching strategies to use in guided reading groups, intervention, etc.!

Manipulatives 1.jpg

Another favorite from this past week was going to Disney on Ice!!! I don’t have many pictures of the show, but it was great! Even my one-year-old was very into it for most of the show. (The giant tub of popcorn helped.)

unnamed (4).jpg

Recently I made my first purchase on I got both girls a new pair of light pink natives for under $25 each! I thought that was a great deal, and I also received a percentage off because it was my first time to order. The light pink are not on sale at the moment, but there are other colors and styles around $25. Great deals on our fav shoes!



Last, but not least, my baby girl in my favorite little Cath Kidston rose dress is one of the sweetest things to me. My father-in-law bought it for my oldest on a trip to London before she was even born. Now both of my babies have worn it. (and I just love her toddler belly in this pic.) Sweet sweet.

unnamed (2).jpg

Happy Friday, Friends!


My Favorite Instant Pot Chicken Method

Chicken Tacos.jpg

This post does have a specific recipe, but it is more more about the method.

The method:

  1.  Go outside to play in the yard with my kids. Realize it’s almost 4:30. Run to put chicken in the Instant Pot.
  2. Put 2-3 lbs of chicken in the pot with 1 cup of salsa and a packet of taco seasoning.
  3. Set it for 15 mins. Start cooking.
  4. Go back to playing outside with my kids. About 30 minutes later, I realize the chicken might be finished. (It is now about 5:00)
  5. Go inside, chicken is done. Switch it from pressure cooking to slow cooker. (I click the button and it reads 4 HRS. I’m not going to cook it that long, but it doesn’t matter.)
  6. Run back outside quickly. Stay outside for another 45 minutes.
  7. Come back in and shred the chicken. Make guacamole and assemble tostadas.

The chicken was fully cooked after 15 minutes. I could’ve taken it out then, shredded it with a knife and fork, and served it. The pressure cooker is quick. And after 15 mins it will be tasty and tender once it has been cut. However, it does not have that fall-apart feel to it like chicken that has been cooked 4+ hours in a slow cooker. But this method gives you that awesome fall-apart chicken quickly! Just 30 minutes to an hour of slow cooking after pressure cooking makes it super easy to shred.(and you don’t even have to switch it to slow cook immediately, just whenever you walk into the kitchen next.)

The Method in a Nutshell: Pressure cook chicken for 15 minutes. At your leisure, switch it to slow cook anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours until you are ready to serve.

This method works for my buffalo chicken, chicken verde, or sesame chicken. You can add 2-3 lbs of chicken and a bottle of your favorite bar b que sauce with this method, as well.

As for today’s chicken taco recipe: (I don’t claim this as mine! I think there are 1000 versions of this online.)


  • 2-3 lbs of chicken breasts
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 packet taco seasoning

*you can add more salsa if you want it to be more saucey


  1. Stir chicken, salsa and seasoning in the pot.
  2. Put on lid and seal. Cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Optional, depressurize and then set it to slow cook. Slow cook for up to 2 hours.

Use in taco shells, tostadas, nachos, etc.

Tactile Materials to Help Students with Visualization Challenges

When I think of manipulatives, I usually think of base-ten blocks, tangrams, or other math materials, but, manipulatives can be a valuable part of a reading lesson!! (Especially when you feel like you’ve exhausted many strategies, graphic organizers, etc!!)


Manipulatives can be especially valuable in small group/intervention lessons. Pyschology professor Arthur Glenberg, has developed an intervention system called Moved by Reading that utilizes specific props that go along with a story. It could involve a doll house with people, a farm set with animals and a tractor, etc. As students are reading, they move the props according to what is happening. As the lesson goes on, students are instructed to imagine moving the toys to fit the story instead of physically moving them. Glenberg’s strategies have been proven to be an effective comprehension strategy.

Using toys and props is a wonderful visual scaffold for lessons, and could become a good addition to a literacy station. The down-side is having to find all the toys and characters you need for that specific story. Thankfully, my sweet friend and educational consultant, Kaye Price Hawkins, taught me another way to use manipulatives to scaffold visualization.

Hawkins suggests using colored discs (often used in math) to represent different characters in a scene. Assign a different colored disc for each character in a scene. Students can put the discs together when two characters are talking or slide a disc away when a character has left a room.

I’ve often seen students struggle to visualize who is talking during sections of immense dialogue. This is a great strategy to help students keep up with who is speaking. Choose a piece of text to use in small group instruction. Before you read, have students assign each character a colored disc. You can even use a thin dry-erase marker to write a character’s initial on the disc. As you read the text you can push up the disc that corresponds with who is talking.

Manipulatives 2.jpg

When I read the final scenes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I had to reread a bit to keep up with what characters were fighting at certain parts of Hogwarts. When many things go on at once, you’ve got to read carefully to keep your visualizations up to speed.

I’ve seen students struggle with this when a text has great movement with multiple characters. To some readers, even a few scene changes in a chapter can challenge them. To help students with this, I like to add snap cubes to the colored-disc strategy in a small group lesson. We use a small tower of snap cubes to symbolize each setting in the selection and assign colored discs a character. As we read, the characters can move to the various “settings”. These physical symbols scaffold students to visualize the actual characters and settings.

Manipulatives 1.jpg

Using cubes and discs to retell Chicken Sunday.



I love reading Patricia Polacco’s Chicken Sunday to my students. You can use these simple materials to have students practice retelling a class read-aloud in a small group lesson or in pairs. This would also be a great activity to put in a retelling literacy work station!! You probably already have these at your campus, but if not:

These colored discs are about $10 on Amazon Prime! They also have several varieties of snap cubes.


I hope this inspires you to pull some visuals out for your kiddos! I promise, even 5th graders like this! 😉


Gradually Releasing Students to Build their Own Background

I often get ideas for reading lessons from my own life as a reader. When I read anything historical, fiction or non-fiction, I usually end up browsing the internet for more info and background. Gilbert King’s The Devil in the Grove had me reading about Thurgood Marshall and looking up maps of Florida before I finished the first few chapters.


(Sidenote: I’d recommend this book for adults, I would never mention this or recommend it to young students.)


Our students have the power to be independent learners and build their own background knowledge to support their personal reading. I like to model this and have them practice.

This simple lesson strategy can be used to help students practice building their own background knowledge:

1. I explain to my students that recently I was reading a book that described several train routes around London. I have been to London, once but I’m very unfamiliar of the suburbs surrounding it so I had trouble visualizing these smaller towns and the train routes that went around them. After a few chapters, I decided to look up a map of the London area to help me visualize. I tell them that sometimes I even look up information about a book’s setting before I read it, because I want to visualize it clearly.

2. I model this with Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris. I do a basic think-aloud as I model studying the cover and reading the summary on the book jacket or on the back of the book.


“The title and cover show me that Tua and an Elephant are probably the main characters. As I look inside I read here that this little girl lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had a friend who went to Thailand once, but I have never been there. Before I read this book, I want to know a little background on the setting so that I can visualize it as well as possible.”

3. I go on to model my research using World Book Online or Kiddle. I explain to them that I am not trying to learn every possible thing about Thailand; I want to read a bit, study a map, and view a few photographs to prepare myself for my reading.

4. Next, I have around 10 copies of novels for kids to examine with a partner. (You can have multiple copies of the same novel, as long as each pair has a book.) Each pair gets a book and a sticky note. I have to look at the cover, read the summary, and possibly even the first page or two. Then, I challenge the pairs to discuss what type of background knowledge they might need before reading that particular book including elements of the setting such as location and time period. I tell them to pay attention to dates or historical events referenced, and record this information on their sticky note. Walking around, listening and glancing at their sticky note helps you quickly determine if they are on the right track. Finally, I give them 5-7 minutes to use the class devices to search for information. I challenge them to record 2 things they think would be important to visualize before reading this book. If time allows, students can share their book and information to the class, or they can pair up with another group to share their findings.

5. To conclude the lesson, I ask them what they would think if I gave up on reading my book, just because I couldn’t visualize the train stopping in different cities. Of course, not! If one thing is confusing in a book, it doesn’t mean you give up, especially with all of the resources available. I explain that it is great to build background before you read, but you can also stop and do a little research in the middle of your reading. Students need to feel empowered as readers, researchers and learners. Through the year I continue to model this type of think-aloud to show them how I search for information to support my visualization.


This strategy works well with historical fiction, because typically the setting or historical event is listed somewhere on the book jacket. Be sure that all the books you choose have searchable items of interest on the cover or book jacket flaps. Titles that work well include:

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

Blood on the River, by Elisa Carbone

Books from the My America Series such as Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Jamestown Colony Diary by Patricia Hermes


*This lesson could be done in a lower grade classroom using books from The Magic Tree House or The American Girl series.

Removing Roadblocks to Visualization: Schema Building

I am totally preaching to the choir with this post! Seasoned teachers know the importance of building background and using visuals. Early child-hood teachers are total pros at remembering to use visuals, but sometimes as a 5th grade teacher I forgot the importance! I hope this post inspires you! 🙂

Visualization is a skill we take for granted. In a perfect world, all of our students would come to us with a natural ability to visualize. Unfortunately, some students struggle to create mental images necessary for learning and comprehension. In Arthur Glenberg’s article How Reading Comprehension is Embodied and Why That Matters, he gives a great thought:

“Another strategy might be to exhort the child to think about the meaning? Who has done what to whom?…How does this text related to a previous text? Use your background knowledge! Create pictures/movies in your head! But, all these exhortations presume that the child has access to meaning and is just too lazy to use it. What if the child is struggling to derive meaning from the written text? (Glenberg 2011).”

There are times and situations where getting students to talk about their background knowledge and visualizations truly helps them visualize. However, some students truly do not have “access to meaning” to even begin to visualize. Lack of background knowledge or experiences would cause them to not be able to access meaning.

So what do you do when students have these visualization challenges? Help them build some background!!!

Build Rich Experiences…Visuals for the Physical Eye Sharpen the Mind’s Eye

A few years ago I sat next to Sara on the bus as we rode to a zoo field trip. She had moved from Lebanon the year before, so I asked her if she had been to any zoos in Texas yet. She told me that the only zoo she had been to was one in Lebanon. Later in the day I asked her how the zoo we were visiting compared to the Lebanese one. She described the zoo in Lebanon as “a hallway of little cages of only a few animals.” She was astounded by the larger animal habitats full of plants, ponds, and scenery props. Sara had schema for a zoo, however it was very different than mine. Through the year, I got to hear many of Sara’s memories of life in Lebanon and Iraq. She had a whole set of schema for things, some frightening and some beautiful, than I did. All of our students come to us from different walks of life. Some of their lives may be similar to our own, and some vastly different. There is beauty in that. It is important to recognize that a student’s life and schema can alter the way they imagine something. Even though Sara and I had come from different backgrounds, she had been given many experiences and life opportunities that gave her vast, worldly background knowledge.

A student’s background knowledge will effect what they are capable of visualizing. Recall our discussion from cognitive science: when you hear a word it draws an imagen in your mind. If you do not have background or a visual connection for a new concept, it is very challenging to create an effective imagen. This reinforces the importance of using visuals and why it is so foundational to teaching.

(Sidenote: Tanny McGregor’s book, Comprehension Connections offers unique ways of taking abstract reading skills such as metacognition and inferring and giving them tactile visuals to help students learn the strategies (McGregor 2007).))

As busy teachers, it can be challenging to provide rich sensory learning experiences for students. Your time and resources are limited. Not every lesson can be a parade. But you can take advantage of field trips or special event days and milk them for all they’re worth.

One strategy I’ve found particularly helpful is to take as many pictures as possible of field trips and special events. I try to snap pictures of every animal, habitat, museum artifacts, etc. Then I can flash one of the pictures up on your projector any time it ties in with your lesson or the literature you’re working with.


After a field trip to the Inner Space Caverns, I used our photos to help students gain background for tons of informational text, etc.

Oil Spill.jpg

This Oil Spill Simulation is done with household ingredients. It incorporated science and gave us a visual experience for a selection we read on oil spills.

Blubber Glove.jpg.

Creating a blubber gloves only takes Crisco, laytex gloves and a bowl of ice water! One hand sits in the glove while the other is bare. Both hands go in the water. This gives students a sensory experience to learn how blubber keeps animals warm. We did this as a cross-curricular activity to help us build background for reading about the tundra.


This particular guided reading group spent a few days reading an informational book on ocean animals. The first day of reading this text I learned that nobody from the group had been to the ocean before. I knew they could see pictures in the book, but I wanted to give them a multi-sensory experience, so I borrowed a little salt from the science lab, and the next day we started off touching, smelling and tasting some salt water. It only took about five minutes to walk to the science lab for salt and one minute of instruction time to build a little schema on the ocean! These ideas are SO simple, but very effective!

New ELAR standards across the country have an increased focus on non-fiction text. Therefore, every tangible and visual experience students have across the content can be valuable for visualizing texts used in the reading classroom. The more vocabulary and rich experiences a child has, the better they will do as readers. If you made it to the end of this post, wow!!! Sorry it was SO LONG. But, I hope it inspires you to pull some visuals out and get some great learning going in your classroom!



(TOTAL SIDENOTE: In the past, reading instruction grades 4+ used to focus more on teaching a piece of text rather than teaching skills. (novel studies, etc) More recent practices involve skill-based models. More schools are adopting frameworks to foster independent reading through Reader’s Workshop and Literacy Station models. I am a believer in a skills-based model with a blend of quality shared readings. Students need to have shared reading experiences to model reading skills, but these shared readings also provide a great opportunity for teacher’s to bring in tactile, sensory objects that go along with the text. The salt water was quick and simple, but it supported comprehension. Small investments of time for sensory examples can lead to reading with greater meaning for any future text over the topic.)

Fluid Visualization vs. Single-Frame Imaging

A while back I sat with a group of boys for a guided reading lesson. The short selection they were reading described the process of cow skins being made into leather goods. After the reading, I asked them to explain what they read about.

Paul stated, “This was about colors and patterns.”

“So, what did you visualize as you were reading this whole selection?” I questioned.

“I saw different colors and patterns.” He replied.

When words on the page do not become comprehensible visual images in the mind, students may try to remember specific words or phrases from the text and repeat them.

There are a few reasons that a student may only cling to a particular word or phrase when giving a response: (Besides the fact that they may have gotten away with  regurgitating a phrase straight from the text as an answer in the past.)

  1. The decoding was too challenging for them to gain meaning.
  2. The reader was looking at the words but their mind wandered off. (As I often do if I’m reading a novel late at night.)
  3. A language issue could be a factor. Earlier, I discussed only visualizing two restaurants when I read a sentence in Spanish. My mind clung to the few words I understood. Sometimes this happens to our students if they are mentally translating as they read.

In Paul’s case, he was doing single-frame imaging. Visualization has often been referred to as a movie in your mind. I’d take the analogy a step-further, because it truly is: Words spark images in our mind. Sometimes you visualize a word and you see it as one single frame. As you are reading volumes of words per minute, the still images should come together to create fluid moving pictures. Fluidity of imaging is the goal, and a sign of true comprehension.

Imagine the contrast between a single-frame image and the continuous motion of a movie. Many of our kids only have single-frame images as they read, and our goal is for them to have fluidity of imaging.

As for Paul; he should’ve visualized an entire process that began with cow skins and ended with leather goods. However, he clung to “colors and patterns.” Single-frame imaging is common with struggling readers who might only pick up a few single items in a selection.   I will give suggestions on improving this in future posts.  Try to listen to your student’s responses and gather what type of visualizing is happening. Single Images or Fluid pictures? From there, you can begin helping them move into good comprehensible visualization.

Considering how English Language Learners Visualize Text

Each year I teach English Language Learners that represent anywhere from 3 to 6 different language backgrounds. I have tried at times to put myself in their shoes by reading Spanish, something I have limited capacity to understand.  Consider this sentence: (And let me say, I read this sentence with pretty fair fluency. Sounding out words with good inflection, does not a reader make.)

Quería probar el nuevo restaurante cerca del centro, pero iba a ser demasiado lleno , así que nos fuimos al restaurante chino , dragón rojo , en su lugar. 

Using my very best Spanish skills and background knowledge, I pick up on these things:

1.    I know “nuevo” means new because of towns in Texas such as “Nuevo Laredo.” (But I had to sit and draw on some background knowledge to get that word.)

2.    “Restaurante” is a cognate to restaurant.

3.    “Centro” means city.

4.    I don’t know any word meanings pero-lleno.

5.    “Restaurante Chino” might mean “Chinese Restaurant.”

6.    I’m not for sure, but if “dragón” is a cognate, then that part means “red dragon.”

All the meaning I have gained is that there is a new restaurant in the city and there is a Chinese restaurant called Red Dragon. I have a few visualizations of restaurants.The sentence in English says: I wanted to try the new restaurant near downtown, but it was going to be too crowded, so we went to the Chinese restaurant, Red Dragon, instead. While I was visualizing restaurants, I was missing the point of the sentence, which had more to do with why the individual chose to eat at the Chinese restaurant. Our ELL kids struggle with this and often miss the bigger pictures as they are learning a new language.

This can potentially be a roadblock to good visualization and comprehension. The good news is, with time and instruction this naturally improves.

Roadblocks to Visualization: Lack of Imaginative Play

In one of my favorite movies, Hook, Peter Banning, the former Peter Pan has grown into a rigid businessman. When he returns to Neverland, he has to complete many tasks to regain his inner-Pan. His adult brain struggles to enter the land of the lost boys. In one of my favorite scenes, the lost boys bring out empty pots and platters of food. The boys begin to voraciously eat out of these bowls. Peter looks totally baffled, until Tinker Bell reminds him that this used to be his favorite game. He begins to embrace his inner-child and begins imagining all of the food. “You’re doing it Peter,” the boys sing. Suddenly, a great feast is before him, and he is visualizing it all. This scene is a beautiful portrayal of childhood imagination at work.

It has been well established that play is critical to brain development in early childhood (Piaget 1962). The first five years of life is a critical time where play increases neural network formation (Kenney 2012). Even the earliest sensorimotor play encourages basic cognitive development (Piaget 1969).  One of Piaget’s studies discusses a very young child pretending to drink out of a box and then holding it to the mouth of others to drink from (Piaget 1962). The child is drawing on schema from her mind and then making the box a symbol for a drinking utensil. This shows that even basic pretend play is linked to drawing on schema and imagining.

Michele Root-Bernstein did an interesting study that showed that highly creative and intelligent individuals, such as Nobel Prize winners were much more likely to have engaged in deep imaginary play as children than the control group (Root-Bernstein 2012).

From a parental standpoint, I’m seeing these connections unfold before my eyes daily. Shortly after my daughter’s second birthday she began enjoying pretend play without any toys. One of her favorite games is to run to one side of the yard to “cook” all kinds of food for me, and then she runs them back. She spends a lot of time pretending to take orders, prepare food, and serve it. Truth be told, I love this game because I get to sit on my patio and drink coffee and there are no toys to clean up at the end! But, this simple game is actually a very powerful form of play. Her little mind is drawing on schema for all of the foods she describes in the game. I watch her pretend to put sprinkles on the cookies and syrup on the pancakes, and I can see her wheels turning. While independent reading may be years away, these games pave a path to good visualization.

Imaginative play, true to its name, allows children to imagine and form mental images. Kids have a natural knack for this type of play, but unfortunately some children may be in situations where this type of play is not fostered.  Many children in poverty may be facing challenges that impede the amount of time or materials they need to engage in quality play time (Milteer & Ginsburg 2012, Kenney 2012).

Teaching with Poverty in Mind discusses that children in low SES families have fewer play areas in their homes and have less access to toys or learning materials (Jensen 2009). While poverty is a factor in childhood play, it is definitely not the only factor. Other factors such as a single-parent home or the amount of time they are passively entertained by screens could be causing a decrease in children’s play (Kenney 2012). Whatever the case may be, some children have limited experiences with play, and it could affect their comprehension and visualization skills down the road.  

Roadblocks to Visualization: Lack of Conversational Skills

Lack of conversational skills is more of a red flag than a roadblock. I’ve noticed a connection between a student’s conversational skills and their ability to process mental images. To engage in a conversation and provide feedback to your listener, you must draw upon memories, experiences and images in your mind. If you have a student who shows difficulty carrying on a conversation, take note and listen to them retell anything they’ve read to look for possible visualization challenges.

After-school tutorials were a requirement on my campus. I always began our tutoring sessions with a long conversation time because it’s a powerful way to build trust and relationships with my struggling students. That first year I quickly realized that my tutoring students all had trouble carrying on an effective conversation. I’d ask questions about what they did over the weekend, and they’d respond with things like “nothing.” Or, when asked about what they like to do they would often respond with “I don’t know.” I often had tutorial students who did not know simple things about their own families such as where their parents worked.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, many students do not spend time in regular conversation with their families, missing out on this type of discussion in their young formative years. Cornell professor, Gary Evans found that “the higher the social class of parents, the more likely they are to speak to their children in order to initiate and sustain conversation” (2004).  In 2003, the “30-Million Word Gap” became a landmark study that showed that children from lower SES families heard 30 million fewer words than children in higher SES environments (Hart & Risley 2003). Others studies have come along after this one to discuss that it isn’t simply the volume of words that children hear, but rather the quality of the conversation (Sparks 2015).

For example, children of professionals are twice as likely to be exposed to “unique” words during conversation (Sparks 2015). Hart & Risley’s initial word-gap study has sparked many more studies that show that children in an “enriched language environment” often hear about twice as many words per day (Sparks 2015). Still another study by Gilkerson showed that preschoolers who scored in the top 10 percent of language tests had parents who had conversations that involved 18 more turns talking per hour than parents of children scoring in the bottom 80% (Gilkerson 2014). How well a child can converse can be connected with their academic performance.

Another concern I have about children’s conversational stimulation connects back with Smartphone use. Pediatrician and author, Jenny Radesky argues that mobile media use by parents often “replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction” (2015). If parents are spending more time on their phones and less time talking with their children, it can be detrimental. Radesky and colleagues also discuss that mothers using mobile devices when dining with children have 20% fewer verbal interactions and 39% fewer nonverbal interactions (Radesky, Miller, Rosenblum, Appugliese, Kaciroti & Lumeng 2014).

I bring this up also to show that this is a societal issue that could affect children from any social class. Perhaps more educated parents use more sophisticated language with their children; however any parent can disengage and have fewer interactions with their children as a result of Smartphone use.

What do conversational skills have to do with visualizing?

Cognitive research suggests that there is a relationship between visual imagery and visual memory (Pearson, Naselaris, Holmess & Kosslyn 2015). Our memories are connected with our ability to visualize, and conversation is one of the first ways young children practice visualizing for memory.

My daughter is a young preschooler, and I often ask her what she did at school that day. She usually says “hmm” and then responds with things such as “I play blocks with Max.” or “We paint a turkey,” etc. That “hmm” before she responds shows me she is thinking, remembering, and visualizing her memories so she can tell me what happened. We have these conversations every night when we tell daddy what we did during the day, or we tell our grandmother what we saw at the zoo yesterday.

This goes on all the time in families who talk to their children regularly. It seems so basic, and it is. I don’t intentionally sit and think “okay what questions can I ask Caroline to help her practice visualizing?” I simply talk to her, but having conversations with her has huge benefits! Teaching my daughter to visualize her memories and then talk about those images activates her brain. Talking with children stirs their memories and thoughts and causes them to activate mental images in their brains.

If you are teaching a student who struggles to activate memories and engage in conversation, there could be a chance that they are also struggling to activate their visualization skills when reading.

Roadblocks to Visualization: Lack of Background

Many years ago I was having a reading conference with one of my 3rd graders. He was reading High Tide in Hawaii from The Magic Tree House series. After he read a page, I asked him to turn the book over and tell me what he was seeing in his mind.

He said, “I don’t know.”

I asked him what he knew about Hawaii.

He replied, “What’s Hawaii?”

Well there you have it, I thought. How can you visualize something if you have no schema for it? He had no idea what this book was even talking about.

I’m not trying to oversimplify, but basic life experiences and background knowledge are key for picturing as you read. I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but I loved (and visualized) The Kite Runner. I clearly have never been to Hogwart’s, but I was totally there every time I read a Harry Potter book thanks to a little background on castles and magic. You don’t have to have a passport full of stamps to visualize all kinds of amazing places. However, you do need background knowledge and frames of reference. Cognitive research suggests that there is a relationship between visual imagery and visual memory (Pearson, Naselaris, Holmess & Kosslyn 2015). Visual memories create our background knowledge, and help us form images. Therefore, our background knowledge is deeply linked to what we are capable of visualizing when reading.

Earlier, I argued that too much screen time could be detrimental to visualization. We can never take away screen time, but we can take advantage of it to build background knowledge for visualization. Various forms of media and screen time have built a good deal of my background knowledge. Before I read The Kite Runner, I had some background knowledge of Afghanistan and the Middle East. My knowledge was rudimentary, but it was enough for me to visualize the story. For my own interest I stopped and looked up many pictures and articles online about Afghanistan in the 1970s.

As for my student, he went on to learn a great deal about Hawaii from information and photographs we found online and examining it on a map. We re-started the whole book together at a reading conference a few days later, and then he launched into independent reading to finish the book. Lack of background knowledge is a major contributing factor to visualization challenges, and later I’ll look at this more deeply and offer suggestions for building background. We cannot control the background knowledge and experiences our students enter with; however, we can help to build their schema so they can create stronger mental images.