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mental images

The Best Books for Teaching Mental Images

Debbie Miller, Reading, Reading with Meaning

I love to use picture books for teaching mental images in my elementary classroom. Creating a mental image or visualizing is an important comprehension skill for all readers. We want students to be able to picture what’s happening or make a movie in their mind to help increase their understanding of what they are reading.  

I use mentor texts when I am teaching mental image skills. When we are working on visualizing – I do not show the illustrations to my students when I read the book. I often hide the cover of a book by putting it in a file folder and then don’t show the pictures as I’m reading. While I’m reading students are closing their eyes and creating their own images. I will often have them stop and sketch their image on a sticky note to see how it changes throughout the story.  

They do love to see the pictures so I will often re-read the story at a later time and let them see the illustrations. It’s fun for them to see if their mental images match with the book’s pictures.

Here is a list of 3 of my favorite books for teaching mental images…

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The Napping House

Photo of the cover of the book - The Napping House

The Napping House by Audrey Wood is a one of the books for teaching mental images that I use when we start our visualizing unit.  This is a great book to use to stop at various points to have kids share or sketch their mental images because they will change throughout the book.

The book starts with a house where everyone is sleeping.  The granny is sleeping in her bed and as the story goes on a child joins her and then a dog and so on until the bed breaks at the end!

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I give students four sticky notes and then pick four points to stop in the book. I then send them to sketch their current image and at the end we do a gallery walk and see how their mental image has changed over time.

The Salamander Room

Photo of the cover of the book The Salamander Room for teaching mental images

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is another one of my favorite books for teaching mental images.  This book is also great to use and stop at various points for students to see how their image changes over time.

In The Salamander Room, a boy named Brian finds a salamander and decides to bring him home with him. Brian’s mom then inquires about where this salamander is going to sleep. Brian tells a very detailed description of all of the things he’ll bring into his room for the salamander – tree stumps for him to climb, wet leaves for him to play with, etc.  He then adds in other animals to keep the salamander company/feed him and his room turns into a forest oasis! 

I use this book like I do The Napping House. Students again will stop at a few specific points and sketch or share their mental image.  We then discuss how and why their mental image changes throughout the story and how it helps them understand the story.

Pigsty

Photo of cover of Mental Images book - Pigsty with photo of kid and 2 pigs.

Pigsty by Mark Teague is a hilarious and fun book to use for teaching mental images. When we read this book in class, we do come up with mental images throughout the book, but we aren’t sketching as we go. For this one, I ask students to come up with their most vivid mental image to record at the end.

In the story Pigsty, Wendell’s room is a big mess and his mother is after him to clean it. She told him it was turning into a “pigsty.” When Wendell went up to his room to clean, he found an actual pig on his bed. As the story continues, more pigs join and also help him create more of a mess.  Wendell then becomes upset when they start to ruin some of his things and decides it’s time to finally clean. The pigs helped him clean, but then decided they were on their way because his room was too clean for their liking. 

When I use this book for teaching mental images, I again do not show the pictures.  Students are coming up with their own visualizations.  At the very end, I ask students to draw their strongest, most vivid mental image and write a sentence describing it.  We then do a gallery walk so the students can see what mental image the other students picked.

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Teaching Mental Images

Reading
Blog heading for Ideas for Teaching Mental Images

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

Mental Images is one of my favorite reading comprehension skills to teach! It is such an important concept for students to learn and can be helpful with boosting their comprehension and understanding of stories! Today I’ll be sharing with you my favorite books to use for teaching mental images and some lesson ideas!

Debbie Miller also has an amazing teaching resource – Reading with Meaning – that has lots of great ideas for mental images and many other reading skills! I highly suggest checking it out!

Book Suggestions for Mental Images:

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

The Napping House picture book for Mental Images

This comical story is all about a house where everyone is napping. It starts off with a granny who is asleep and then a child falls asleep on top of the granny. Then, a dog falls asleep on top of the child and it continues on and on. This is a great book to use when stopping multiple times to see how mental images change over time.

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazar

The Salamander Room (Dragonfly Books) - picture book cover

In this story, a boy finds a salamander and starts to imagine all of the ways he could turn his room into a home for the creature. This story paints great images and is a great way for students to come up with mental images on their own.

Super Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst

Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest picture book cover

This is my favorite story for mental images. In this book, we are introduced to a character named Olivia whose younger sister Sophie is quite a mess! This story has many situations that kids can relate to which makes it easier for them to use schema to help them create their mental images.

Fireflies by Judy Brinckloe

Fireflies - picture book for Mental Images

In this story a young boy is excited to catch as many fireflies as he can. He thinks they are so enchanting but as the story progresses he realizes he must set them free.  Fireflies can provide a great visual. Now if students don’t have schema this visual could be interesting, but could also be a great way to discuss how people can interpret things differently.

Bedhead by Margie Palatini

Bedhead - picture book

This is another comical book that most students will relate to! We’ve all gotten bedhead at one time or another.  This story has Oliver’s family trying to help contain the bedhead and ends up with him realizing it’s picture day at school. The author writes so descriptively that the kids will have a great time creating mental images.

Teaching Ideas:

Creating Mental Images from Their Life:

First, I have students create mental images from events in their own life. I find it helps them to understand the concept if they can apply it to themselves first. I give them a paper with four boxes – one for each image. Prior to sketching the image, students close their eyes to focus on the specific mental image.  For this activity, I will often have students create an image for the time they learned how to ride a bike, a time they got hurt, their last birthday party, and their favorite place.

Poetry:

Debbie Miller suggests using poetry for mental images and it is a great way to help students use it with text – but on a small scale! I love using Shel Silverstein’s poems for this activity.  Students relate to them and they are funny, which makes them super engaging.  I use Bandaids, Sister for Sale, Rain, and Spaghetti.  

Students get to hear all of the poems and then pick the one that gave them the strongest mental image. Then, students will draw the image on a blank piece of paper.  After we talk about how even though some students chose the same poem, their images are different. We talk about how their schema and point of view plays a part in how they create their own mental images.

Photo of drawing of Spaghetti poem.
Photo of drawing of Rain poem

Books:

Next, I use many of the books that I listed above to help with visualizing.  For these read alouds, I do NOT show the pictures! I want the students to create the pictures in their mind. {I will often go back and read the story again after the activity and then share the illustrations).  

With these read alouds, I plan out a few stopping points ahead of time. I will often give students a page with 3-4 boxes. When I pause reading, students will then sketch their current mental image in one of the boxes. Then, I read some more and they sketch their new image. This is a great way to help students understand that their mental image can change over time. See an example below for the story – The Napping House.

Photo of book - The Napping House
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