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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Using Visual Images to Improve Comprehension for

Middle School Struggling Readers

Author(s): Anne Nielsen Hibbing and Joan L. Rankin-Erickson
Source: The Reading Teacher, Vol. 56, No. 8 (May, 2003), pp. 758-770
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the International Reading Association
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Anne Nielsen Hibbing
Joan L. Rankin-Erickson

A re is worth a
Thisarticlediscusses teacher thousand words:
and studentdrawings
in theclassroom, illustrations visual images
andmovies as external to improve
image-based tools that
supportreading comprehension
middle school

e are surrounded by visual im In my textbooks when they show pictures
agery through television, movies, it helps me see what they are talking about.
videos, computers, and illustrated
w If you look at a picture, it puts more ideas
texts. The use of these sources of images is
in your head.
obvious as one walks through a school.
Classrooms in the United States often have com If you have a picture itmay take a thou
and VCRs. School class sand words to get the true meaning of the
puters, televisions,
rooms, media centers, and computer labs are picture.
filled with visual images. Unfortunately this These statements indicate the students' under
bombardment of visual images does not neces
standing of the supportive roles pictures play in
sarily transfer to students' ability to create men them understand what they read.
tal images that support reading comprehension. We noticed that many of our reluctant and
We have found that our students who lack the readers with comprehension difficul
ability to create visual images when reading of ties were not able to describe the pictures in their
ten experience comprehension difficulties. For minds as they read. Over our years of teaching
these students the adage "A picture is worth a we've had several students who claimed to "see
thousand words" is particularly relevant as they
nothing" as a result of their reading. This is not
maneuver their way through the informational
surprising given the issues faced by many of our
maze of learning from text. We asked our stu limited vocabulary, little
students, specifically,
dents to reflect upon that quote and write their
background knowledge about many topics, lack
thoughts in their journals. These middle school of understanding of the relationships represent
reluctant readers responded with comments such ed in the language of the text, and lack of aware
as the following (all comments are presented as ness that attempting to visualize what is
written by students): are con
happening might be helpful. Students
A picture helps me by showing what's go fronted regularly with the continuous images of
ing on. television or video that create the visual

The Reading Teacher Vol. 56, No. 8 May 2003 ReadingAssociation (pp. 758-770)
?2003 International

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representation for them. Students may become dogs on a grill), a visual image of a context
dependent on the action sequence of images be where hot dogs have been eaten (the baseball
cause these images provide a concrete represen game when my son's team lost), emotional re
tation of actions, ideas, time, and space. Gaining sponses related to an event that included hot
meaning from an action sequence, as in televi dogs (the disappointment team parents shared
sion or video, is very different than using one's watching their sons leave the field), or other non
own concrete external experiences to create in linguistic images associated with hot dog.
ternal visual images that support comprehension. According to dual-coding theory, it is possible to
As we have paid close have nonverbal images only or images that also
attention to the development of imagery skills include associated words.
in our students. We have noticed that the strate The concept of dual coding, or the coding
of knowledge in both verbal and nonverbal
gic use of visual material can enhance reading rep
for reluctant and low-ability read resentations, suggests that the elements of both
ers and, indeed, can help them become more pro systems are intricately connected. This connec
ficient creators of internal visual imagery that tion between the verbal and nonverbal coding
supports comprehension. In this article we dis systems allows us to create images when we hear
cuss instructional
tools appropriate for middle words and to generate names or descriptions of
level students that use external visual images to things we see in pictures. In fact, there is some
build comprehension and are supported by the evidence that successful readers do this automat
research on mental imagery. We present a sum ically and that the inability to make verbal and
nonverbal connections quickly and efficiently is
mary of points practitioners will want to consid
er when using related to learning disabilities (Swanson, 1989).
sketches, illustrations, picture
and movies with reluctant and low-ability We have observed that creating a mental im
middle school readers. age of what a
is read is natural process for our
more proficient readers. In fact, when images do
not come easily to our proficient readers, they see
Pictures in themind?Mental it as a warning that there is a breakdown in com
imagery prehension and are aware of the need to use a fix
The role of imagery in making sense of text
up strategy (e.g., reread, adjust rate of reading,
has its theoretical roots in the work of Allan
refocus). In contrast, many of the low-ability and
Paivio and his colleagues (Clark& Paivio, 1991; reluctant readers with whom we have worked do
Paivio, 1971, 1983, 1986; Sadoski, Paivio, & not automatically create images or are unable to
Goetz, 1991). From this perspective, knowledge do so even with conscious effort. Rather than cre
is represented both verbally and nonverbally in
ating images associated with meaning, many of
what is referred to as a dual-coding system, in our struggling readers are focusing on the decod
cluding both verbal and nonverbal representa ing of words. When asked about the reading that
tions of knowledge. Verbal representations of he had just completed, Shaun (pseudonym) put it
knowledge are composed of words (the verbal this way, "I don't know what happened, Iwas too
code) for objects, events, and ideas. The imagery busy reading the words."
or nonverbal system represents knowledge in The more we encountered students like
"nonverbal representations that retain some re Shaun, the more we became aware of the spe
semblance to the perceptions giving rise to cific challenges faced by our low-ability readers.
them" (Pressley & McCormick, 1995, p. 71). Shaun happened to have difficulty with compre
For example, the words hot dog may evoke a se hension because he labored at decoding. In con
ries of verbal representations? "something you trast, some students read the words fluently but
eat in a bun," "made of ground animal parts," still lacked the ability to create mental images
"high in preservatives," and so on. Hot dog may that related to the text. In cases like this, there
also evoke nonverbal images that share some may be problems in the verbal or nonverbal cod
features with the actual perception or experience. ing systems or their ability to function in an in
Nonverbal images may include a visual image of tegrated fashion. Consequently, connections
a particular hot dog (the one I drooled over yes between words and images may not be made,
terday), an olfactory image (the smell of hot thus putting comprehension at risk.

A picture is worth a thousand words 759

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Research on mental imagery demonstrates refocus or reread in order to "get back on the
that comprehension of text is enhanced when right channel" and create an appropriate mind
students are prompted or taught to use mental picture.
imagery. For example, learners who were in In our work with struggling readers, we have
structed to create mental images of events in sen learned that sometimes the words and pictures
tences learned two to three times as much as may not match, not only because of a lack of fo
learners who read aloud the sentences cused attention or the struggle to decode words
ly (Anderson, 1971). When children are taught but also because of a limited vocabulary or back
to generate mental images as they read, they ex ground knowledge. For example, when reading
perience greater recall and enhanced abilities SOS Titanic (Bunting, 1996), Clarissa (pseudo
to draw inferences and make predictions nym) expressed puzzlement when she read, "The
(Gambrell, 1981; Gambrell & Bales, 1986; deck steward gestured toward the serving cart
that held silver teapots, sugars and creamers,
Pressley, 1976; Sadoski, 1983, 1985). Suzuki
(1985) identified implications for educators in cups and saucers" (p. 83). Clarissa did not un
her review of the imagery research. Specifically, derstand the use of the word saucer in relation
she determined that there is evidence that to cups and saucers. She was imaging as she

prompting students to use imagery and verbal read, but her image of saucer was tied to outer
elaboration has a powerful effect on learning and space and not to dishes. We observed another
For greatest benefits, the type of instance of confusion due to lack of experience
needs to be related to the age of the when Teyen (pseudonym), a student whose first
learner. Younger learners may need demonstra language was not English, looked bewildered af
ter reading "They gave up the firewood business
tions, whereas older learners may require "try
instructions only. Suzuki also found after Hal got his Caterpillar paid off from A
evidence that even the most proficient older ado Killing Freeze (Hall, 1988, p. 94). The student
lescent readers may need help in transferring said it did not make sense, "because a caterpillar
from one task requiring im is a fuzzy worm before it turns into a butterfly."
strategic behavior
to other tasks After Teyen was shown a picture of a Caterpillar
agery requiring imagery.
tractor he could resume his reading with under
standing. These students were aware of the "sta
Television in themind?A strategy tic" caused by mental pictures that did not make
for imaging sense and, unlike many reluctant readers, asked
As teachers of reluctant and low-ability for clarification.
readers, we have encountered students who lack Our reluctant and struggling readers often
the ability to create pictures in their minds. felt they had read when their eyes had passed
Therefore, we have incorporated several strate over the words. This type of reading can result in
gies to help students become aware of the imag the lack of a picture or a fuzzy picture on the
ing process. One strategy we use is an analogy of mental TV screen. When students become aware
a television in the mind. This analogy helps stu of the lack of an image or "static" from a current
dents to realize that there should be more going
image, they can then be taught to use fix-up
on in the reading process than just "barking the
strategies such as changing their rate, rereading,
words." We talk about the television screen that or
refocusing attention, asking for clarification
we "watch" as we read, and we use think-alouds to overcome the confusion. The ability to regain
to talk about the pictures on our mental screen an image related to the text becomes an indication
as we read. We emphasize the need for the pic that comprehension is back on track. The re
tures to match the words. We explain that when search on mental 1981) con
imagery (Gambrell,
the pictures and words do not match (e.g., a stu firms that students may need to be prompted
dent's mind wanders to picturing the dance on repeatedly to focus on their mental images, or
Friday night rather than picturing the actions of "television in the mind," as a way to monitor
the text) it is as if the channel has been switched comprehension. In addition to prompting, teach
from the "story" channel to the "dance" channel. ers may need to teach and model the fix-up strate
We teach students they need to do something gies to use when the picture is missing or fuzzy.
when this "channel switching" happens, such as We have found that this modeling and prompt

760 The Reading Teacher Vol.56,No.8 May2003

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ing must be an ongoing process. Students may Figure 1
not engage in these processes A teacher-drawn sketch in response to students' questions
least not until they see the value and feel the suc about Earthquake Terror
cess of doing so.

Drawings in the classroom

There are times when students cannot create
a picture in the mind due to lack of background
knowledge or the complexity of the text. Clarissa
achieved instant understanding simply by being
told that, in the context of the story, a saucer was
a "little plate that a cup sat on." For Teyen, a ver
bal description of a Caterpillar as a "vehicle used
in road building" did not trigger understanding.
However, after seeing a picture of a Caterpillar
tractor he not only could create an image in his
mind of what this was but also could see why it
was important to the meaning of the text.
In text Watchdog
the and the Coyotes
Sometimes a verbal description is sufficient and
(Wallace, 1995), the author took pages to de
other times an actual picture may be necessary
scribe the setting and the meeting of the three
to reach understanding.
main characters, dogs who lived side by side.
Some students experience confusion due to
Once again some students were having trouble
lack of understanding of critical features in the
envisioning the setting. The students understood
setting or spatial relationships between charac
this important part of the novel after the teacher
ters or items discussed in the text. We have found drew a diagram illustrating the spatial layout of
that a drawing or quick sketch made by the the dogs' neighborhood. A simple sketch can be
teachers is a useful tool to help create under worth a thousand words for some students.
standing. For example, one seventh-grade stu Just as teacher-generated drawings help stu
dent responded to a paragraph in Earthquake dents visualize events and relationships por
Terror (Kehret, 1996) by stating, "I don't get trayed in text, drawings done by students can
what's going on." Others from her class of low inform the teacher about what students are or are
ability readers (i.e., students scoring in the bot not understanding about a text. When reading a
tom quartile on a standardized achievement test) novel aloud to students, we give them the op
nodded in agreement at her expressed confusion. tion to just listen, or listen and create drawings
The paragraph described the making of a small based on the text being read. We have learned
shelter in the woods by using the trunk of a that these drawings provide a visible and explic
downed maple tree and three small alders to it record of learning (McConnell, 1993).
form the walls and roof of the shelter. The para Some students elected to produce drawings
graph read as follows, as they listened to the novel The Night Crossing

Afterstrippingoff as many of the lowerbranchesas he could, (Ackerman, 1994), an adolescent novel dealing

he laidthe rootend of thealderon topof thedownedmaple's with the Holocaust. As we examined the draw
trunk.He did the same thingwith the other twoalders. Next ings (see Figures 2, 3, and 4) it became clear that
he gatheredpine and cedarboughs.... He laidthemon topof there was great variability in what the students
thealders, forminga crude roof.He placed thealderbranch were portraying. Drawings in Figures 2 and 3
es thathe had removedacross the farend of theshelter,prop represented scenes directly from the novel be
ping themup to forma backwall. The shelterwas shaped like ing read, whereas the drawing in Figure 4 may
halfa tent,with an openingat one end. (pp.46-48) have had something to do with the topic of the
Holocaust but had no direct connection to the
After the teacher drew a step-by-step sketch of events included in the day's reading. Drawings
what was happening, the students voiced under that are related to the topic but not the text
standing. See Figure 1 for the drawing. should prompt the teacher to question students to

A picture is worth a thousand words

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Figure2 dents that the purpose of this drawing is to track
Student drawing, true to text,while listeningtoNight Crossing the action of the story and to represent the main
idea or events of each day's reading. The draw
ings of the previous days provide an excellent
If?^w.^l&ate'Vx source of information to help students activate
background knowledge and reconnect with the
text. The drawings also serve as a tool to help
students make predictions about the subsequent
Figure 5 shows the television screen draw
ings of one student after four consecutive days
of reading Night John (Paulsen, 1993). Frame 1
depicts the setting, including the layout of the
plantation and the relationship of the slaves'
quarters to the main house and the fields. Frame
2 shows one event of the chapter, the slaves being
served dinner out of a trough. Although this was
not the only event in the day's reading, this event
was one that illustrated the day-to-day treatment
of the slaves that was key to the overall meaning
of the chapter. Frame 3 illustrates the significant
event of the "trading" that went on between the
see if they are comprehending the text or simply main characters?that of secretly exchanging the
from related knowledge of how to write the letter A for tobac
drawing something background
but not tied to the events of the text. co. The final frame shows the hanging of a slave,
As Peeck (1987) pointed out, a student's failure one of the risks, discussed in the chapter, for
to produce or accurate drawings can slaves who break the rules. These drawings show
reveal comprehension at an not only the student's understanding of specific
gaps early stage in
the learning process. We occasionally have had events in the text but also an understanding of the
students who spent a great deal of time drawing larger issues represented by these events.
superfluous details to cover up their lack of un
derstanding of the text. For example, Figure 4 Illustrationsin the text
alerted us to question the student about his un In addition
to prompting image making and
derstanding of what had been read. His detailed using drawings to support imagery, it is important
drawing of Hitler speaking did relate to the for teachers to consider the role text illustrations
events of World War II but had nothing to do and book cover illustrations play in the reading
with the day's reading. This drawing became the process. Illustrations frequently serve an affective
starting point of a conversation that cleared up or motivational function for students. Peeck's
his confusion about important events and rela (1987) review of the affective-motivational
tionships in the text. effects of illustrations shows many positive out
In addition to informing the teacher of stu comes. Specifically, pictures can make reading a
dents' understandings, drawings can also aid in text more enjoyable, result in positive attitudes
retention of information (Snowman & toward reading in general and toward illustrated
Cunningham, 1975). But as Peeck (1987) cau text in particular, and can influence the time read
tioned, drawings need to be accurate, and time ers are willing to spend on a text. All of these ef
spent drawing needs to be evaluated in terms of fects are particularly beneficial for students who
net gain. One way we have structured students' are reluctant readers.
drawings is to have them quickly draw one Beyond the affective and motivational func
sketch on a series of television screens each day tions, illustrations also may serve to provide
after the read-aloud. This builds on our television knowledge to students who are reading about
in the mind analogy and communicates to stu things that are not part of their experience, as

762 The Reading Teacher Vol.56,No.8 May2003

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with Teyen and the Caterpillar picture. As too young and the boys' shorts looked like dress
Schallen (1980) stated, es. There was a noticeable change in the students'
attitude from that point on. The play no longer
Pictures help the reader learnand comprehenda textwhen
held credibility, and motivation to continue read
centralto the text,when they repre
they illustrateinformation
sent newcontent that is importantto theoverallmessage, and ing it declined. This experience caused us to pay
when theydepict structuralrelationshipsmentioned in the attention to the text-illustration match in the ma
text. (pp.513-514) terials we use with our students and to try to use a
mismatch productively.
The role of illustrations may be more critical for A text-illustration mismatch can be used to

struggling readers than skilled readers. For ex engage students more deeply with the text if the
students are set up for it. Our experience when
ample, Rusted and Coltheart (1979) confirmed
that poor readers frequently move from text to reading Such Nice Kids (Bunting, 1990) pro
vides an example of this. We knew that the main
pictures to text as they read, using the pictures as
a tool for understanding. In contrast, good read characters depicted on the cover of this text
ers pay little attention to the illustrations during looked much younger than they were described
their reading.Goldstein andUnderwood (1981) in the text. In our prereading discussion of the
confirmed that less competent readers are influ book with a small group of eighth-grade boys,
enced to a greater degree by text illustrations. we asked them to make predictions about the
For readers who struggle, pictures operate be ages of the characters. We then asked the boys
the decoration function to look for information as they read that either
yond (Levin, Anglin, &
as a tool to create or con supported or refuted their predictions. Several
Carney, 1987), serving
firm understanding. An of this was times while reading the novel, discussion re
when a small group of students reading Slam turned to the cover illustration. The students def

(Myers, 1996) repeatedly looked back at the initely felt the boys on the cover looked younger
cover to verify points in the novel. The cover de than 17, as described in the text. However, they
still studied the cover and tried to identify the
picts a young man holding a basketball in one
arm, staring through a chain-link fence. Students characters by name. And, regardless of the ob
turned to the cover when Slam, the main char vious misrepresentation of age, the readers used
other information on the cover to predict what
acter, was described as being six feet, four inch
es. One young man turned to the cover when we was going to happen. One of our final discus
sions included an overall critique of the cover
read, "I remember walking away to the other
side of the park and then turning back and look
ing through the fence to where he was" (pp.
30-31). The next day the student pointed out the Figure3
cover illustration and retold the incident in the Student drawing, true to text,while listening toNight Crossing
prereading discussion.
Sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand
words. When the text and illustrations do not
match, the illustrations can actually interfere with
comprehension and reduce learning (Willows,
1978). We found this to be true when a group of
middle school reluctant readers read "A Few
Dirty Words" (Scott, 1999), a play dealing with
harassment in school. The students nearly re
belled due to the one illustration that accompa
nied the play. The illustration of two young male
basketball players and a female manager ap
peared four pages into the play. The students had
already created an image of the characters based
on the text. The images described by the students
did not match the illustration. According to the
students, the two basketball players pictured were

A picture is worth a thousand words 763

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Figure4 These responses confirmed for us that low
Student drawing, unrelated to text events, readers do use illustrations to help them
while listening toNight Crossing details and to
picture story verify their under
standing. Students can benefit from the use of
illustrations if they are in alignment with the text
and if students are making connections that sup
port meaning making.

Picturebooks to build background

Given our students' positive response to pic
ture books, we have used them as a tool to build
background knowledge needed for the under
standing of adolescent novels taught in the class
room. Specifically, before reading novels dealing
with the Holocaust, our students read picture
books that dealt with World War II. After read
ing a self-selected picture book, students filled
out comment forms asking questions about read
ing the picture books. Student comments ranged
from general to specific, dealing with three dis
illustration based on information in the text. The
tinct areas: (a) the artwork, (b) the emotions por
active and detailed discussion provided evidence
that proactive attention to a text-illustration mis trayed or evoked, and (c) the increase of specific
content knowledge or awareness of details.
match and supporting discussions can help read
Many students critiqued the artwork.
ers engage more deeply in analysis of the text.
Overall, the more realistic or true to the text the
Because novels for adolescents usually pre illustrations were, the better the students liked
sent only a cover illustration, we had students
them. For example, some students wrote,
read picture books as a way to better understand
their use of illustrations. A picture book is de I liked the pictures because they were well
fined as a storybook that is "a fiction book with a drawn and detailed and colorful.
dual narrative, in which both the pictures and the He did a good job in drawing them. It looks
text work interdependently to tell a story. It is a exactly what I would picture inmy mind.
tale told in two media, the integration of visual I liked all of the different colors but all the
and verbal art" (Bishop & Hickman, 1992, p. 2). pictures were kinda blurry and not too clear.
After students read the picture books, we asked
The pictures were not very colorful. I liked
them to write in their journals about how the pic
that because it showed how dark and dull
tures helped them and what they liked or disliked was.
the Holocaust
about the illustrations. Comments such as the
the view that "pictures in text In research, Gombrich's (1982) arguments
following support
benefits" supported the conclusion that pictures are
consistency produce prose-learning
supreme in their capacity to arouse emotions.
(Levin et al., 1987, p. 53).
Many students' comments addressed the emo
It helped me get a better clue of what's go
tive power of illustrations and the role illustra
ing on. Helped me see what Iwas reading. tions played in helping them understand the
The pictures toled the rest of the story. emotions of the characters. For example, some
So I could picture out what the chipmunk students stated the following:
was doing?it also helps me read faster. They (the pictures) helped a lot because I
I liked tha pictures because it was less to really understood how the boy felt.
read and so I could just look at tha picture They (the pictures) were very graphic,
instead of having to picture it inmy brain. showed real cruelness.

764 The Reading Teacher Vol. 56, No. 8 May 2003

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I like how they (the pictures) made the Figure5
people's face sad and happy. You could Student drawings following read-aloudof Night John
feel the emotion. on four consecutive days
I could see the emotions on the faces and
Frame 1 Frame 2
know what they were going through.
The low-ability reader might not have the
memory "pegs" (Gambrell & Jawitz, 1993) for
some of the specific details within a text. Visual
representations can provide the memory peg
needed (Kozma, 1991) to connect with appropri
ate background knowledge. Specifically, stu
dents may not understand the written description
until they have the visual representation to link Frame 3 Frame 4

with it. Students' comments expressing expand

ed understanding of specific details in the picture
books on World War II provide evidence of the
role illustrations may play for some readers.
It helped me understand how people can
build things so nicely and how the guards
would watch them all the time.
The kids used sticks as guns. They didn't
use plastic ones!

They showd want it was like after the

bomb and before.
tions (Peeck, 1987) and can provide students
In one of the pictures it showed Anne and with critical background information and sup
her sister sitting together with a big blanket port for understanding related texts. Movies are
around them and they were both bald be enjoyable, they motivate the learner, and they
cause the Germans shaved there heads to can result in positive attitudes toward reading.
make things out of. And that showed me Movies also can provide time contexts, setting
that it was cold and sad where they where. details, and other important situational informa
tion for those students who have less prior
The comments of our students demonstrate
knowledge of the subject being addressed.
that text illustrations support low-ability readers.
Movies can be a language model for individuals
Students used the illustrations to assist them in
who are reading texts that include unfamiliar di
understanding what they read and as vehicles to
alect. Visual representations offer memory pegs
provide additional and supporting information.
that can be used to form associations with infor
mation already in long-term memory (Kozma,
Movies as image makers 1991). Our experiences support the belief that
"Seeing is beeter than hearing seeing is be movie images provide information students need
living," wrote one of our students when asked to make sense of text. However, the type of
to write in his journal about his reaction to movie and how it is used must match the teach
watching amovie version of a book we had been and the learning needs of the stu
ing objective
reading. For this student, the visual images pro dents. Following are examples of using movies
vided by the movie cleared up many of his con to meet different learning goals.
fusions and helped him "imagine" the reality of Before beginning a literature unit about the
what he was reading. Holocaust with a class of middle school reluctant
Showing movies in a reading classroom can readers, we asked students what they knew about
facilitate different learning goals. Movies in the the subject. Seven of the 12 students knew noth
reading classroom can have many of the positive ing about it. The others knew it had to do with
affective-motivational effects found in illustra Hitler and the killing of many Jewish people. We

A picture is worth a thousand words /?b

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decided to use movies to help build the back had related to the novel Monkey Island (Fox,
ground knowledge our students needed if they 1991), itwas evident that the students did not un
were going to successfully read The Devil's derstand that homelessness is a real problem that
Arithmetic (Yolen, 1988) and Daniel's Story affects families and children very much like
(Matas, 1993). themselves. After seeing a television show based
To meet the objective of building back on a family's experiences with homelessness,
the movies we selected were two middle school students commented in the
ground knowledge,
not video versions of the books; rather they were discussion, "I didn't realize people like me were
such things as historical documentaries and clips homeless" and "I thought the homeless were
from other
fictional and nonfictional movies bums." Throughout the remaining discussions of
about the same time period and context. We se the novel, students often referred to information
lected movies that would provide information from the movie. The movie had provided key
about the setting; the historical and religious images with which to connect new information
from the novel (Gambrell & Jawitz, 1993). In
context; layers of conflict between
the multiple
individuals, communities, races, and religions; this case, the movie did more than simply pro
and characters?not to the books, but vide cognitive background information regard
rather the roles played by individuals or groups ing the topic of homelessness. The movie
the Holocaust. provided students with a greater ability to reflect
After unit, we asked
on the judgments they hadmade due to their lack
teaching the Holocaust
the students to write in their journals about what of accurate information. Students' increased un
had increased better enabled them to empathize
they learned. Their knowledge derstanding
of the "facts" they talked with victims of homelessness and to personally
substantially. Many
about came from the movies connect with characters and events in the novel.
they had seen rather
than the books they read. Two students directly We know of many teachers who use movies
as a "reward" for finishing a class novel or play.
stated that the movies helped them to picture the
events from their novels. The movies After watching a movie version of To Kill a
key images to enhance understanding and com Mockingbird (Lee, 1960) in her English class,
students to then create in one struggling reader reported that she finally
prehension, allowing
ternal images as they read the novels. When "got it" (the book). This report and others like it
students were asked to write in their journals led us to believe that movies based on novels
or not the movies had helped could be used more effectively with struggling
about whether
the novels, readers, especially when the text is difficult and
them understand they echoed many
same the novel is unfamiliar in vocabulary, language
of the things they had written regarding the
support they had gained from picture books. structure, dialect, setting, or time period. Our
concern resulted in what we now refer to as the
Specific comments included the following:
Watch-Read-Watch-Read (W-R-W-R) cycle of
When you watch a movie you can get a novel reading. Several teaching goals can be met
better picture of what is happening. with this technique. Specifically, W-R-W-R can
The movies helped us read in our book. It be used to build background knowledge prior to
was like visual. I understand visual things and as students move the text.
reading through
better then reading. It can also be used as a tool to confirm under
In the book when talked about the standing of previously read text, to teach how to
to teach how to confirm or
ghetto it did not sound that bad tell you make predictions,
saw it?it was wet and dark...people where deny predictions, and to provide the students
in the streets. In the books have with memory pegs to use as they read. In order
dying you
to make your own pictures. for this technique to be effective the teacher must
be familiar with both the text and the movie,
When you watch the movie, a lot of things
where they match well, and where they differ.
just click. The basic W-R-W-R cycle goes like this:
Sometimes we have stopped in the middle of 1. The teacher introducesthe novel inwhatevermotivating
a book to watch a movie to help build necessary manner he or she decides would work bestwith students.
background knowledge. From the discussion we Part of this should includea discussion that helps the

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teachergain an understandingof the backgroundknowl The W-R-W-R cycle is much like the
edge studentsbring to the text. Directed Reading-Thinking Activity developed
2. The teacherexplains thattheclass isgoing towatch a brief by Stauffer (1969), with the visual representation
clip of amovie based on thenovel theywill be reading.The provided by the movie inserted prior to each sec
teacheralso instructsthestudents toattendto specific ele tion of reading. This cycle of activities ensures
ments of themovie clip. This could includedetails related students are understanding the novel and, per
to setting, such as climate, ruralversus urban, indications an opportunity
haps more important, provides
of poverty or wealth, or types of homes or buildings to practice good reading processes. The parallel
present.Studentsalso could be promptedto pay attention visual representation of the text allows students
tospecific characters,theirclothing,and theirphysical fea
to practice visualizing, summarizing, predict
turesand to tryto predict theirrole in the novel. Students
ing, and confirming even if they struggle with
could listen forunique vocabularyor dialect used by the
characters.Finally,studentscould trytoget a sense ofwhat reading the text.
When we use movies at the end of a unit of
problemsmight be faced by the characters.The teacher
drawsattention to those aspects of the text thathe or she study or a novel, different strategic purposes are
thinkscould pose difficultyforstudentsand thatare repre at play. At the end of reading aloudNight John
sented in themovie clip. (Paulsen, 1993), we showed our seventh-grade
3. Studentswatch the firstmovie clip. Itcould be a short three students the movie of the same title (Hallmark
to five-minuteviewing or itcould last longer,depending Home Entertainment, 1996). In this case, we
on themovie, itsmatch to the text,andwhat the teacher's wanted students to compare and contrast the
goals are.The point to rememberis thatstudents need to content of the book and movie. As part of this
see enough to help themunderstandthe targetedelements process, students created a Venn diagram plot
of the textand tomotivate them to read,but not so much and differences between the
ting the similarities
thattheyfeel theydon'thave to read. book and the movie. Once students compared
4. The class processes thecriticalelementsof themovie, with and contrasted the basic information included in
the teacherdirectingthediscussion to thecriticalelements each, the students were asked to write in their
thatwill facilitatecomprehension.Partof this discussion liked book or
journals about whether they the
should includestudentsmaking predictions aboutwhat movie better and
why. The students overwhelm
theywill read inthe firstchapter(orwhatever lengthof read
ingly favored the movie, saying it provided more
ingassignment).The success of this step depends on the details and allowed them to see what was going
teacherknowingwhat elements of themovie will be most
on. Other students favored the movie due to af
useful to theunderstandingof the textand helpingstudents
fective reasons. Some students preferred the
"notice"these elements.
movie because Waller, the plantation owner, did
5. Students readtheparalleltext, lookingfor informationthat
not seem as mean in the movie as he was in the
matcheswhat theysaw in themovie relatedto characters,
book. Specific comments favoring the movie in
setting, context,and so on. Theyalso readto confirmtheir
related to theaction or cluded, "I liked the movie more than the book
predictions sequence problemspre
sented inthe firstclip of themovie. because..."

6. Afterstudents readthe firstassigned text, it is discussed you can actly see whats going on and you
with thespecific intentofmaking thecriticalelements more can under-stand it better.
salient and pointing out thatstudents can use the images you can get a better picture of things. I'n
fromthemovie to add to theirunderstanding. the movie it seems likeWaller is nicer then
7. Students watch the second clip of themovie. This clip in the book. Waller helps them pick cot
should cover thematerial thatstudents have just readbut ton.... I'n the book Waller treats them with
not go beyond that.This allows readersto see the visual no respect what so ever.
representationofwhat theyhave read, to confirm the un
movies are really discriptive. It show you
derstandingtheygained fromreading,and to preparethem
forthe nextsection of reading. exactly whats happening. It's also more re
laxing. I also like it better cause the end
8. Students discuss any new understandingsandmake pre
ing isn't letting you hang there as much as
dictionsabout thenextsection of textto be read.
the book does.
9. The cycle ofwatch, discuss, read,discuss, watch, discuss,
readdiscuss continues until the novel iscomplete or stu the movie was more interesting. It had a lot
dents have gained enough backgroundthattheycan read more detels, and you could acealy see what
the restof the novel independently. was going on and you just couldn't amagin it.

A picture is worth a thousand words 767

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Primarypoints forpractitioners

1. Don't assume your students can use visual imagery to support reading comprehension. Check out their
ability to create images with discussions of what they "see" or with student-generated drawings.
2. Students who have imagery skills may need to be prompted to use imagery to support comprehension.
Those who don't have the skill will need to be taught.
3. Look for opportunities tomodel imagery strategies to your students. Discussing what you see on the tele
vision screen inyour mind will help students better understand this process.
4. Support for comprehension with visuals tools does not need to be elaborate. A teacher-drawn sketch or
picture can provide the necessary clarification for students who are confused or lack the knowledge
necessary for understanding.
5. Lack of ability to create images or ineffective images may be due to lack of background knowledge or
vocabulary rather than reading skill. If this is the case, background knowledge will need to be built.
Providing the knowledge with picture books, movies, or other visual media also gives students a visual
"memory peg" with which to connect new information from the text.
6. Student drawings can be used formultiple purposes, but must be used strategically. Provide students with
a purpose for drawing. Help them see that their drawings are a representation of their understanding,
that drawings can help them remember important information, and that earlier drawings can be used to
make predictions about what might happen next.
7. Be mindful that lower ability readers tend to rely on text illustrations more than good readers. When the il
lustrations are accurate representations of the text, encourage students to use them to support compre
hension. When the illustrations are not a good match, use this mismatch to provoke discussions that lead
to deeper understanding of the text and build evaluation skills. Set students up for the mismatch before
hand so they won't be disappointed and possibly disengage from the text.
8. Use movies inways that address students' learning needs. Carefully select movies based on the learn
ing goals?to build general background knowledge about a topic addressed in text; to provide visual im
ages of setting, characters, and relationships in the story; to teach comprehension skills such as
summarizing, predicting, and confirming; or to promote evaluation skills by comparing and contrasting the
movie with the text. Be explicit with students about the learning objective forwatching the movie.

It is interesting that some students who pre Our students have provided evidence that the
ferred the book also said they liked it better be use of movies as an instructional tool has sup
cause it provided more details. Many of these ported their learning. However, we have found
students liked the fact that they could create their that students benefit most when we are strategic
own in their minds, about the use of movies and are clear with stu
images of the characters
dents about why we are using movies and what
rather than using the ones provided by the
they should attend to. This is consistent with the
movie. Basically, they liked their images better.
of comments
work of Solomon (1984) who found that setting a
Examples by students favoring the
for a increases the
purpose viewing program
book version of the story included, "I liked the
learning related to that purpose. Teachers need
book better than the movie because..." to decide whether movies would be useful in ad
the book has more detail you get to know dressing the learning goals and the needs of the
the chariders a little better. students and then be explicit with students about
the desired outcomes.
it explind all the parts. I could see what I

thought the book was about, and looked

like. Not what someone else though.
Final thoughts?A summaryof
it had a lot more deatail and it longer. I also important issues
Research done on the role that imagery plays
liked to imagine what it would be like be
in reading comprehension has implications for
ing a slave. teachers as they work with students of all abili
you get to pick what everything looks like ties. Figure 6 presents a summary of the major
in your head. points discussed throughout this article related

The Reading Teacher Vol. 56, No. 8 May 2003

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L.B., & Bales, R. (1986). Mental imagery and the
to using external images to support reading
visual Gambrell,
comprehension monitoring performance of fourth- and fifth
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These presented as "Primary grade poor readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 11,
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Claudia M. Reder

Proud of his poem in which he has neatly printed the word sunset
several times around the sun he had drawn,
a first grader shares his poem with a classmate.
The picture takes up the whole page.

His friend looks at it, says,

"You know the sun doesn't go down. It doesn't set.
The earth is going around the sun. The sun doesn't move."

The other boy looks surprised his poem is "wrong."

He erases the word sunset.

In its place, he writes, "Earth set." He smiles.

who teachesat LesleyUniversityinCambridge, USA.

770 The Reading Teacher Vol.56,No.8 May2003

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