The Key to Improved Attention and Memory for Optimal Learning

Did you know that visualization can be the key to unlocking memory abilities, attentional skills and enjoyment for learning? Surprisingly, the use of mental imagery for learning is not a new

Use of Visualization Throughout History:
In fact, an appreciation and recognition of visualization is sprinkled throughout history. It can be traced back as far as Aristotle in 348 B.C.  He wrote, “recollection is a searching of an image.” Again, in the 5th and 6th century, Greek and Roman intellectuals used mental images to
enhance memory (Ashcraft, 1989; Sadoski and Paivio, 2001). At that time, visualization was a common strategy used for public speaking.  Scholars used this skill, which is now known as method of loci, to organize and recall a speech by imagining and associating topics with everyday objects (Douville, Pugalee, Wallace, & Lock, 2002). Yet again, in the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas spoke of visualization, indicating that we acquire knowledge by forming “phantasms” or mental images (Magill, 1963).  Finally, in the 19th and 20th centuries, a resurgence of interest in mental imagery took place in the fields of experimental psychology and cognitive psychology (Thomas, 2013). Piaget, with a focus on cognitive constructions and “mindfulness,” offered a renewed interest in the role visualization played in cognition and learning. (Douville, Pugalee, Wallace, & Lock, 2002).  Einstein was also a proponent of visualization and, to this day, is often quoted as saying, “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.” 
What’s the Scientific Proof?
Most recently, scientific methodologies have been utilized to assess the validity and utility of visualization. In the past 50 years, researchers have looked at the impact of mental imagery on academic achievement. There is a host of research on this topic, and this blog focuses on some of the key studies that investigate the impact of mental imagery on learning.  
Research on the Impact of Visualization on Reading:
Research has investigated the effect of visualization on reading abilities. Studies have shown that there is a direct link between poor comprehension skills and the inability to visualize text (Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell and Bales, 1986; Gambrell and Jawitz, 1993; Steingart and Glock, 1979).  In contrast, research substantiates that students who picture what they are reading, thus painting the setting, characters and plot on the canvas of their mind’s eye, have better comprehension scores and find greater joy in the reading process (Bell, 1991; Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell and Bales, 1986; Gambrell and Jawitz, 1993; Long, Winograd and Bridge, 1989; Sadoski, 1985; Sadosi, Goetz and Kangiser, 1988; Sadoski and Quast, 1990; Steingart and Glock, 1979). Algozzine and Douville (2004) also assert that training in mental imagery aids students in generating their own mental images when reading. In addition, students who visualize while reading are better at making inferences and accurate predictions (Gambrell, 1982; Steingart and Glock, 1979). Moreover, research on the efficacy of using visual imagery has also been shown to improve deep connections that aid in memory recall and reading comprehension (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). Clearly, visualization is a necessary cognitive skill that helps readers attend to and encode literature, but mental imagery also helps learners develop their expressive language abilities.  
Research on the Impact of Visualization on Writing:
Employing visualization has also been demonstrated to enhance writing skills in students (Jampole, Konopak, Readence, & Moser, 1991). In particular, gifted students who received mental imagery instruction outperform those who did not on originality and the use of sensory descriptors (Jampole, Konopak, Readence, & Moser, 1991).  Additionally, Algozzine and Douville (2004), claimed that training in visualization helped students generate their own mental images when writing. Furthermore, Kwan-Lui, Liao, Frazier, Hauser, and Kostis (2012) reported that visualizing events described in writing, “is crucial for constructing a rich and coherent visuospatial mental representations of the text.” Finally, when Jurand (2012) researched the efficacy of visualization for a summer writing program, he reported that art projects were a successful method that helped students to visualize their ideas during the writing process, and they also served to develop the students’ imagination. Yet, reading and writing are not the only areas of academic achievement that benefit from mental images.
Research on the Impact of Visualization on Math:
Visualization hones mathematical abilities too. Dougville, Pugalee, Wallace and Lock (2002) suggested that using mental imagery can help learners to, “concretize abstract mathematical concepts in ways that facilitate more effective problem-solving.” They also noted that more advanced math imaging can be achieved through storyboarding activities where the steps of a math problem are drawn in a pictorial sequence. Dougville, Pugalee, Wallace and Lock (2002) claimed the words of their participants offered compelling evidence. Participants suggested that using mental imagery was like, “having a video camera in my brain” and like “going to a movie in my head” and that, “reading and learning was more fun” for the participant students.  Clearly, the mathematics community embraces the benefits of visualization but do the hard sciences concur?
Research on the Impact of Visualization on Science:
Even the scientific community is beginning to consider how visualization can make research more understandable and manageable to the public (Kwan-Liu, Liao, Frazier, Hauser, Kostis, 2012). When
students visualize graphic progressions and cycles, as well as webs, diagrams, and lab experiences, they can improve their understanding and memory of the content.  Although the research on visualization in the sciences is sparse, it appears clear that all areas of instruction are enhanced by learning to use one’s mind’s eye. 
Qualitative Evidence Supporting Visualization: 
Qualitative anecdotes further support the power of visualization in learning. Many of my students who love to read and also have excellent reading comprehension, claim that words, “create movies in
their heads,” which allows them to take a mind trip into the fantasy realm created by the author. Similarly, the actor, Tom Cruise noted, “I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.” Some talented few have reported that they can even relive historical events, past science experiments, and classroom lectures!  Likewise, visualization is reported to help with the writing process.  Great writers, like Mark Twain, claimed to have used personal visualizations to help him write a scene by picturing the moment and then painting it with words. Twain remarked, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Likewise, the writer, Holly Lisle professed, “We have to see – really see – the people and places around us as if our bodies were full-sensory cameras and our minds were film.” Even scientists report that they use visualizations to help them grasp concepts. Albert Einstein was credited with saying, “a picture says a thousand words.” He also offered advice on how to visualize in the 4th dimension: “Take a point, stretch it into a line, curl it into a circle, twist it into a sphere, and punch through the sphere.” Even if a student can visualize and use their imagination, they
may or may not be using this talent when reading, writing or listening.  Because reading, writing and listening all require attention, researchers suggest that some students find that they do not have the cognitive space to visualize when learning (Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell, & Jawitz,
Overall, mental imagery appears to impact all areas of academics. Douville and Algozzine (2004) unite the prior outcomes, and propose that visualization can be used across the curriculum.
How Can I Teach This Needed Skill?
I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions.  To help with this process, I wrote a book entitled Mindful Visualization for Education.  In fact, this blog includes an excerpt from the book, and all the full citations are available in the full document.  This 132 page downloadable document (PDF) provides a review of the research, assessment tools, over twenty game-like activities and lesson suggestions in all the subject areas as well as for vocabulary development and listening.  In addition, I offer two PowerPoint downloads that review the 10 core skills that need to be developed to optimize visualization abilities.

If you have any thoughts on the use of visualization for learning, please post a comment! Also, if you have had some success with visualization in the classroom, please share your experiences.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to:,  

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Using a Geoboard to Help Students with Dysgraphia

Recently I discovered the geoboard and now I love to use this product to develop mathematical skills, visual spatial skills, visual reasoning and fine motor dexterity.  In fact it is great for my students that have dysgraphia.

What is a Geoboard?
A geoboard is a math manipulative that students can use to explore basic shapes and geometry such as perimeter, area and coordinate graphing.  It consists of a wood board with evenly spaced rows of nails or a plastic board with protruding pegs around which string or rubber bands are wrapped.

How Do I Use My Geoboards?
Due to the popularity of rubber band bracelets, one can get a huge variety of colorful rubber bands in many different sizes.  I have organized mine into sectioned plastic boxes so that my students have many options to choose from.  Here are a number of fun activities that I offer my students in my own private practice.

For my young learners I use the geoboard to:

  1. learn the formation of letters and numbers.  It is a wonderful tool to use when students struggle with letter, number or symbol reversals.
  2. instruct about the many shapes – triangles, squares, rectangles…
  3. develop spatial skills where students copy a design I create on another geoboard or from a picture of a design that I created on a geoboard.
For my older students I use the geoboard to:
  1. develop writing skills.   Players create images that they then described in writing so that another player can create the image by following the directions.
  2. teach and review coordinate graphing.
  3. teach and review the plotting of points on a coordinate plane.
  4. creating, line, frequency and bar graphs.

If you too are using a geoboard, I would love for you to comment below this blog.  Also please share if you are using the geoboard in other creative ways.

Click on the image below to purchase on Amazon:

Free Visualization Game: For Improved Reading, Writing, and Memory

Developing your student’s ability to visualize can provide them a “secret weapon” that can enhance learning capacity, improve memory and spark creativity.  In fact the research shows that visualization improves reading comprehension, creative writing abilities and the encoding and retrieval of math, history and science concepts.

Free Visualization Game:
I recently
finished a book that reviews the history and research behind visualization and
then provides teachers everything they need to assess and teach this complex
skill.  In celebration, I wanted to share
one of my favorite games, Picture This
and Draw
. The best part about this particular game is it not only develops the capacity to visualize, but works on verbal reasoning, expressive language, visual memory, fine motor integration, spatial skills, attention to details, and the ability to follow directions.  This game is one that I enjoy
playing with my own students.  In fact, I
played it this past week.  
Jenna and I went to opposite sides of the room with two pieces of paper and some colored markers. We each drew images on one piece of paper and then described our pictures in detail on the other piece of paper.  We hid our illustrations and then shared our descriptions with one another.  Our next task was to recreate the images by generating our own visualizations from the words and then drawing it on a blank piece of paper.  Once we finished, we compared the new drawings to the originals and analyzed the results.  
Jenna’s image is depicted to the right.  Please note that it is important to keep images very simple.  Below you will find a full description of the game.
Picture This and Draw:

pencils or magic markers
Group Administration:
a simple image, with no more than 3 – 6 very simple elements. 
one student or the teacher describe the image to the other students verbally or
in writing.  Use as many details as
the size, color, number, shape and the location of the objects on the
have each student produce a drawing of his or her visualization based on the
description presented. 
sure each student can not see what the other students are drawing. 
all the students have finished, share the drawings with the group and discuss
which student’s drawing is closest to the description. 
ways the presenter could have done a better job describing the image. 
each drawing and discuss what each student could do to improve his or her
Individual Administration:
can also play this game one-on-one.   
by going to opposite sides of the room so that each player can not see each
other’s work (each player should have a set of colored pencils or magic markers
as well as two blank pieces of paper). 
one page, both players should make very simple drawings with no more than 3 – 6
elements, as in Jenna’s image pictured above. 
on the other page, each player should describe, in words, the image they drew
with as much detail as possible. 
the players should share with each other the description of the image they
drew, while still concealing the drawing. 
player reads the other player’s description and completes a drawing based upon
the players compare their images and discuss in what ways improvements could be
made to the written descriptions, as well as the drawings.
If you would
like to learn more about the history of visualization and also access
assessment materials and many other fun activities and games that will teach
this needed skill, please come check out my new publication Mindful Visualization for Education as well as my two Teaching Visualization PowerPoints.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to, &

The Ten Visualization Skills Needed to Improve Reading, Writing and Learning

Visualization is an important skill to master as it can lead to improved attention and a better memory. In fact, mental images can be used as a secret weapon to tackle the encoding of new material. It can be used when reading. Accessing your mind’s eye can make the scenery, characters and plot of a book come alive in your imagination. Also, it can be used for writing. Picturing a story before you write it can improve descriptive writing and it will also make the writing process a lot more fun. Finally, visualization can assist when listening to new information. Taking the time to make mental images when listening to a lecture can help you to sustain attention and can make the material far more memorable. So how can you improve your ability to visualize?

There are ten visualization skills that need to be addressed.

When making visualizations in your mind’s eye, try to develop each of the ten areas by asking yourself questions like: What are all the colors? How big are all the objects? Are their any important shapes? How many objects are there all together? What is the mood? From what perspective am I viewing my visualization? What is the background? What direction are the objects facing? Is there any movement in my visualizations? Are their other senses I could use to enhance my visualizations – such as sound, taste and touch?

These are a lot of skills to develop, but with the right exercises your visualization skills can improve dramatically. Do you teach the visualization skills in your class?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

For a free copy of the Ten Visualization Skills as well as Power Points lessons  CLICK HERE