Visualizing: Like a TV set in your head!

A Reading to Learn Lesson
by Amber Allman


Rationale: Once students have become fluent readers, they can begin to read to learn. It is very important for children to comprehend text as they read so that they may become expert readers.  Visualization is one very important tool that readers can use to aid in comprehension.  If students are able to visualize the story as they read, they are able to understand what is happening in the story. Visualization can help students become more interested and engaged in the book. This lesson is designed to help students visualize what they are reading by creating their own mental images.   


January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco

Square sheets of White paper or cardstock

Crayons, markers, colored pencils, etc.

Numbered cards with sections of the text printed on it.

Chart paper with vocabulary words written on it along with the definitions.


1. Say: When we read stories, sometimes it is hard to follow the story line and comprehend what we're reading. However, when we visualize what we're reading by using our imaginations, we get wrapped up in the book as if we were watching a movie! We see images in our minds that help us to understand what we're reading. We can also think back on those images later and better remember what we read.

2. Say: Today we're going to read January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco and instead of looking at the pictures we are going to visualize images in our minds! But first we're going to learn some vocabulary to help us understand the text.

Paddy rollers- Paddy rollers were slave patrollers. They were groups of three to six white men who enforced discipline on black slaves before the civil war.  They policed slaves on plantations and hunted down slaves that tried to escape.

Carriage- A carriage is a type of transportation for people a long time ago that was motored by a horse. Most of the people who ride in carriages are wealthy. Carriages are designed for comfort and elegance.

Skidded- Skidded means to slide sideways.  A lot of times when you skid that means your car, or in this case, the carriage comes to a screeching stop.  The wheels were moving too fast when the horses stopped so the carriage skidded, or slid, to a stop.

Tussled- Tussled means a struggle, or wrestle. In the story, the slave patrollers picked up a slave that was not willing to go.  Because the slave was resistant it turned into a tussle, or struggle.

Smote- Smote means to hit or strike someone really hard.  A smote is not like a spanking or a slap, a smote is really hard and is meant to hurt someone horribly.  Slaves were often smote when they disobeyed their masters.

Indiana- Indiana is a state in the north central part of the United States.  It was known as a free state before the civil war.  Many slaves tried to make it to Indiana so that they could be free.

Lash- Lash is a sharp blow or stroke with a whip or a rope.  Most of the time it is given as a punishment. 

Sparrow- A sparrow is a type of bird.  Sparrows are very small and brown.  Sparrows are the little birds that like to sit outside McDonalds. 

Sultry- Sultry means to be extremely hot. A sultry summer day would be an unusually hot day that is also moist and humid. Your skin often feels hot and sticky on sultry days. A dry hot day would not be described as sultry. A humid and hot day when it feels like it's going to rain in the heat of the summer would be described as sultry.

Michigan- Michigan is a state in the north central part of the United States. It is known for the Great Lakes but in our story for today, the setting is on a farm in Michigan. (Show the children where Michigan is on a map of the United States.)

(After you go over the vocabulary ask if there are any questions and make sure the children know they can refer back to the vocabulary chart throughout the lesson.)

3. Say: Now that we know some of the words we'll encounter as we read January’s Sparrow, let's get excited about learning how to visualize text! January’s Sparrow is a story about a young girl, Sadie, and her family. Sadie’s family lives in the South prior to the Civil War that means slaves are still common on plantations, or large farmlands. Sadie and her family decide that they want to escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad. Sadie’s family leaves during the middle of the night one night to make their journey towards Indiana.  Do you think Sadie and her family will escape to freedom safely? Or do you think the paddy rollers will catch them? We will have to read to find out! I'm going to use the first page to teach you how to visualize a story. As I read, I am going to create images in my head that relate to the story and help me better understand what is happening. Once I read a section, I am going to close my eyes so that I can better visualize what I just read. That way, there are no distractions and I will be able to focus on the story and the movie I am creating in my head!

4. Say: Ok! I am going to model how to visualize. Listen carefully! (Read from the first page but don't show the children the pictures) "Sadie, the youngest Crosswhite, shuddered when she saw the paddy rollers thunder into the slave yard on their horses, draggin’ a runaway on the end of a rope behind them." (Close your eyes momentarily and show the children you're thinking by pointing to your brain) I know that paddy rollers means slave patrollers and if they are dragging a slave that must mean he has done something bad.  I picture a man cut up and beaten being drug in the dirt.  I am also picturing how scared Sadie’s face looks.  I bet she is frowning, and grimacing like this (show students a grimace.) (Open your eyes and continue reading) "All of the slaves had been ordered to stand at the porch rail that mornin’." (Close eyes) Now I am picturing all the people in town gathered out on their porches to watch these paddy rollers bring in a slave that tried to escape.  I can see all the people so sad and upset.  Their faces all look like they are in deep pain watching what is going on.

5. Say: Let's try a passage together. I want you to close your eyes and visualize as I read, then you will share what you visualized! Make sure to not put your head down but to concentrate on the words and on visualizing the story. Let's make a movie in our heads!  Visualize what I say: They all feared the same thing on that plantation: Master Francis Giltner. Sadie’s momma and daddy, Sarah and Adam Crosswhite, and all her brothers gripped at the rail when they saw him rollin’ up in his fine carriage, settin’ right next to his youngest son, David, and his nephew, Francis Troutman. The paddy rollers hollered and whooped as they skidded to a dead stop, then hauled off’n they horses and tussled the runaway to his feet. Were you able to visualize this scene? Could you draw a picture of what you visualized? I'm going to start the passage over but read further so you can visualize the story better! (Read the first page of the book slowly and with expression so that the children can visualize.) Who would like to share what they saw in their heads as I read?

6. Say: Now that you have an idea of what January’s Sparrow is about and we know needed vocabulary, I'm sure you can't wait to continue to read and visualize this story! I'm going to continue to read the story but I'm not going to show you the pictures. I want you to visualize what's happening in the story. You do not have to close your eyes but you can if it helps just don't fall asleep! After we read, you're going to get a section of the story to illustrate based on what you visualized so pay special attention and really concentrate on visualizing! (Read the story without showing pictures, stopping periodically to remind the children to be visualizing and to encourage them in doing so.)

7. Say: Now that we've read the story, I want for you to put you mind movie on paper! I'm going to give you a card with a passage from the story on it. Read the passage, visualize what is happening in the passage and then draw what you visualize on the piece of square paper I will give you. Remember to look back on our vocabulary chart if you need it! On the back, describe what you drew.  After students are done, let them present their picture to the class and explain what they drew.  This will not only assess how well students can visualize, but also whether or not they comprehended the passage. (Assessment should include whether the picture connects to the text and if the explanation makes sense with the picture the child drew and with the text.)

Other References:

Polacco, Patricia. January’s Sparrow. Babushka Inc., 2009. Print.

Elizabeth Bryant: Lights! Camera! Imagination!

Back to Awakenings Index