Making Mind Movies

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Key Takeaway: Making mind movies (visualizing) is an important reading comprehension skill that can be developed at home.

Keep reading to learn more about this CRITICAL skill!

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Mind movies. Brain movies. Visualizing.

There are lots of different terms out there, but they all refer to the same thing: how visualizing what we read is critical to comprehension.

Making mind movies is one component that supports reading comprehension. In this post I am going to explain visualizing and why it is important, as well as give you tips on how to work on this critical reading skill at home with both independent readers and pre-readers.

The strategy of visualizing, or making mind movies (forgive me for alternating between the two terms) is simple enough to explain: what do you picture in your head when you read or hear a story?


To truly understand and comprehend there are several reading strategies (more on that in future blog posts), but perhaps one of the most imperative is visualizing.

Notice throughout this post that I am trying to refrain from talking specifically about children, because learning to read and learning to read better can happen at any age. The majority of my teaching career was spent with students who averaged reading three to four grade levels below where they should have been when they arrived in my room. They were not children. And when I moved to alternative education and taught high school seniors, many of whom were no longer in their teens, many also came to my room reading at a third grade level.

I say this to preface that these strategies do work, but for those who are still learning the basic foundational skills, these strategies might look a little different. I also want to note that I am not a reading specialist. I am not a special education teacher. I am an English Language Arts teacher. There are many components to reading and I argue that nobody truly fits into a single canned methodology. However, there are several strategies and habits that all effective readers utilize, whether they realize it or not.

My goal is to share all sorts of practices that will help you help your children become better readers.

The key to working on this is to choose the right text! You are not going to be able to picture something in your head that is short and boring or poorly written. You need rich, detailed text. So when you work on this strategy at home remember to choose good books!

Let me demonstrate:

If you have a passage that reads something like, "Earl had a bad day and did not want to go outside to play. Earl was upset." There isn't much to go on. A proficient reader will fill in the blanks and guess, based on his or own experiences, what that bad day could have been, and a proficient reader will probably picture in his or her head what an upset face looks like.

Now if you choose rich text (suggestions on "Get Hungry"), you will have a passage that helps the reader create those images. Lets take that same passage and tweak it: "Earl woke up and stepped on his Legos, yelped in pain and hopped downstairs on one foot. Earl saw the bus for school drive by and had to walk all the way to school in the pouring rain. When he finally got to there, sopping wet, he realized he forgot his lunch at home. When Earl got home he was upset. His eyes were low and his face was long. Even though the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds Earl did not want to go outside. Earl had a bad day."

Hopefully you had an easier time picturing what happened with the second version. Lets dig a little more into making a mind movie from that enhanced passage:

  • Can you see Earl stepping on his Legos? Do you know how that feels?

  • Can you picture the bus driving right by your house without stopping? How would that feel?

  • Can you picture Earl walking to school in the rain and having to sit all day in wet clothes?

  • When you get to lunch, how do you feel? Now imagine you don't have a lunch because you forgot yours, can you picture how Earl must have looked and felt with everybody else dry and eating around him?

  • When Earl finally got home he was upset. Can you picture what he might have looked like?

After thinking a little bit more about what you pictured in your head, re-read the passage: "Earl woke up and stepped on his Legos, yelped in pain and hopped downstairs on one foot. Earl saw the bus for school drive by and had to walk all the way to school in the pouring rain. When he finally got to there, sopping wet, he realized he forgot his lunch at home. When Earl got home he was upset. His eyes were low and his face was long. Even though the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds Earl did not want to go outside. Earl had a bad day."

Now push your thinking to the next level:

  • How does re-reading the passage change your mind movie?

  • How does it change your experience reading?

  • Can you apply what you know and feel from your own real-world experiences to help you create a better picture?

  • What does the author do to help you make those pictures?

Another great way to try this out for yourself is to pick up any book that does not have images and think about the mind movies you make as you read. Be aware of it, because as a proficient reader you probably take it for granted. Beginning and struggling readers often need explicit help learning this skill!

Want to try it out with an awesome children's book with no pictures? Check out B. J. Novak's ever popular The Book with No Pictures.

Another favorite is Roald Dahl's BFG, which can be enjoyed by younger children in short passages, but will surely be a favorite with elementary-aged kids. It was one of my all-time favorite books and I made my dad read it to me several times just to watch him struggle with the nonsense words. Sorry dad!


They key to building this skill is to stop and talk about key passages!

Let Bow Tie Guy and Wife explain it to you visually:

So how do I do this as a parent or caregiver?

A couple of EASY ways!

1. Lets start simple: DO NOT use a book!

Here are two suggestions on how to talk about what you are visualizing in your mind when you are not reading:

  • When your kids are laughing, talking, or playing ask, "What are you picturing in your head?"

  • If your kids are running around in some sort of imaginary world say, "Tell me what you're up to! Help me see it!"

Real talk. I do not understand where my seven-year-old is half of the time. Sometimes the boy is on a whole creative planet outside of this universe. He can tell me every minute detail. It's magnificent.

2. Moving up a level: Reading Together

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ronald Barrett is an awesome go-to text for visualizing.

If you can skim the book beforehand and choose a description or a phrase that really stands out to you in your own mind memory, flag it or make a mental note to pause there.

When you get to the sentence or passage that you flagged read it and then pause. Say something like, "Hey! I really like how that was written. When it says ______________, I pictured _____________ in my head. I could see it like I was watching a movie." And then keep reading.

This strategy in the education world is called a Read Aloud/Think Aloud. The goal is to model the thought process and move on. Don't pause too many times, because if you do the story becomes boring and dragged. Also, don't talk too long that you get distracted.

A teacher will pre-plan these stop and talk moments, but at home just pausing and talking about what is happening in your mind movie will model for your child how to do the same thing. In other words, vocalizing your metacognitive process serves a scaffold for your children.

Aim for stopping 2-3 times in a children's book. If you are reading a chapter book, do not stop more than once per page.

Here is Parents Help Kids Learn explaining it another way:

3. Next steps: Talking About Thinking

Now that you have modeled your thought process a few times start to flip it onto your kid.

Instead of saying what you thought, read the sentence or the passage and then pause and say something like, "Wow, that was really interesting, what did you picture in your head? What do you think?"

Congratulations! You hare having a critical discussion about reading!

You have crossed the threshold to monitoring reading comprehension!

If you are reading a book about a little red fox hopping through a forest, but your child tells you they're picturing aliens attacking an asteroid in a five mega-ton ship, either they aren't comprehending the text or they are not paying attention. You should probably go back and reread.

4. Advancing: Questioning Independent Readers

If your child is an independent reader, after they go and read for their 15 minutes or however long they are supposed to be reading, you can start by asking for a summary: "What did you read about in your story?"

Then, follow-up with, "Were you able to make a movie in your head? What did you picture as you read?"

5. Applying: Show What You See

A measure or activity you could use is to read a passage and have your child draw a picture or make a cartoon strip of what he or she sees in their "mind movies." Fair warning, you might get an eye roll and a "We do this in school you know" type comment.

The picture book conundrum:

"But if I am reading picture books with the text clearly illustrated, how am I helping my child build mind movies?"

Remember what I said about modeling? Picture books help us model. It helps readers check their comprehension. In other words, picture books help guide the comprehension.

Another way around this is to have your child listen to the story but don't show the pictures. As you read talk about what you both "see" in your mind movies.

Besides those already mentioned in this post, some amazing choices include Jane Yolen's Owl Moon, Dav Pilkey's The Paperboy, and Julie Brinckloe's Fireflies!

For this, try B. J. Novak's popular and hilarious The Book with No Pictures.

Picture books are absolutely ok for building this skill and I even encourage the use of picture books for many reasons in higher grade levels!

"Ok, if I can use a picture book to work on visualizing, can I visualize while watching a movie or show?"

Absolutely! Granted the images are already there, but you can stop and ask these types of questions:

  • How does my own experience with ______ help me understand what is happening in the movie? How does it help me relate?

  • Does this scene me think of anything else? What else do I picture?

  • How would the movie change if _______ happened instead? What would that look like? How would that play out?

Shorts are great for trying out those questions.

Quick Summary:

Visualizing, or making mind movies, is a critical reading skill. Comprehension will be compromised without strong visualizing skills.

You can easily encourage and develop this skill at home by asking your kids to explain what is going on in their heads, whether it is during play time or during reading time.

If your child seems to be struggling with making mind movies, I encourage you to keep at it. Remember, talking to his or her teacher is always an option.

Educators are our partners! We are all in this together!

I hope this makes your child HUNGRY for more books!

Happy visualizing!

Comment and share on social media! I'd love to know how it went and any modifications you might have made. We're all here to learn from each other, not reinvent the wheel!

Additional Resources:

Beers, G. Kylene. Reading Nonfiction : Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies / Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies / Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2016.

Bell, Nanci. Visualizing and Verbalizing: For Language Comprehension and Thinking. Paso Robles, CA: Academy of Reading Publications, 1991. Print.

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