Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It


Note: This article is adapted from a blog post that first appeared on Edutopia on May 13, 2014.

The images that form in your mind as you read—we call them "brain movies"—can be more exciting and memorable than a Hollywood film. More to the point for teachers and parents, guiding youth to visualize as they read is an engaging and enjoyable way to boost comprehension and retention.

Learning to create brain movies can help students make sense of complex nonfiction subject matter and "see" the characters, setting, and action in stories. Teachers who use our strategy tell us their students seem to have more fun—and success—as they read. These anecdotes are supported by research showing that students who are taught to develop mental imagery of text do better than control groups on tests of comprehension and recall.

The research basis for the usefulness of transforming text into mental images can be found in Allan Paivio's dual coding theory, which holds that cognition consists of both a verbal system for language and a nonverbal, visual-spatial one for images. By creating mental images from the words on a page or screen, we tap into both the verbal and visual-spatial representational systems, making abstract concepts more concrete and thus more meaningful and memorable.