Standard Lesson

Mind Pictures: Strategies That Enhance Mental Imagery While Reading

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 40- to 50-minute sessions
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In this lesson, a three-pronged approach is used to help students create mental images while reading. The first approach develops schemata (prior knowledge) and visual awareness (the understanding and interpretation of visual images) by introducing content-related picture books and having students respond to the illustrations using a series of question prompts. The next approach capitalizes on existing visual comprehension using a strategy called Watch-Read-Watch-Read (W-R-W-R), where video clips build background knowledge and assist students in developing "memory pegs" as they read. Finally, students use a strategy similar to the think-aloud approach, creating drawings to illustrate and understand relevant information gleaned from print.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Readers often lack the ability to create visual images when reading comprehension breaks down, resulting in fix-up strategies that focus entirely on decoding.

  • Many reluctant and low-ability readers are unable to describe images and pictures in their minds as they read.

  • Students are regularly confronted with images from television, video, and computer technologies, resulting in visual representations that are created for them as opposed to by them.

These lessons seek to capitalize on students' familiarity and comfort with visual imagery, while developing the independent skills needed to fully comprehend print using a visual process.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Little Brown, 1990) or another novel with a companion movie

  • Movie version of Maniac Magee (Nickelodeon Network, 2003)

  • Overhead projector or LCD screen

  • Related picture books with themes of homelessness or prejudice




1. Gather the following picture books to be used before reading Maniac Magee to build students' background knowledge and help them visualize one of the themes of the novel:
  • Bunting, E. (1991). Fly away home. New York: Clarion Books.
    This story is about a boy and his father who live in an airport.

  • Disalvo Ryan, D. (1991). Uncle Willie and the soup kitchen. New York: Mulberry Books.
    This book tells the story of a boy who works for one day in a soup kitchen with his Uncle Willie, preparing food for hungry people.

  • Bunting, E. (1994). Smoky night. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company.
    When the Los Angeles riots break out in the streets of their neighborhood, a young boy and his mother learn the value of getting along with others, no matter what their background or nationality.
2. Read the novel Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli or another novel that has a movie companion.

3. Preview the companion movie, and identify clips that can be used to enhance visual imaging in preparation for students reading the book.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize that visual images aid in comprehension

  • Examine their own process for constructing visual aids, particularly when comprehension of a text breaks down

  • Demonstrate the effective use of multiple strategies for creating "mind pictures" and "memory pegs" while reading independently

Instruction and Activities

Before Reading: Introduction of Mental Imagery

1. Discuss how readers create pictures in their minds when they read (also referred to as mind imagery), and how these images can help them better comprehend a story.

2. Provide an example by presenting a simple sentence, such as "The dog chased the cat up the tree." Ask students to close their eyes and visualize a mental picture of this scene. Model the think-aloud approach by verbalizing what you notice, see, and feel in the picture in your mind. Give students the opportunity to share their mental pictures as well, encouraging differences in the various responses.

3. Facilitate a class discussion that helps students become aware of the imaging process. Compare the images you make while reading with watching television, whereby the pictures in your mind are like a television screen that you can use to see what is happening in a story.

4. Ask students to recall the last time they read a book and then watched the movie. Have them share some examples with the class and think about their understanding of the book before and after watching the movie. How did the pictures from the movie compare to the pictures they had created in their minds while reading? Compare these examples to a book they have read that did not have a companion movie.

5. Emphasize the value of pictures or illustrations that match the words in a text. Picture books and videos provide good examples.

Before Reading: Picture Book Imagery

1. Read aloud one of the picture books you gathered in advance of the lesson, such as Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting, making sure to also give students an opportunity to look at the pictures. The theme of this book is homelessness, and it also serves to prepare students to read Maniac Magee.

2. Display a blank copy of the Picture Book Questions handout on the overhead projector or LCD screen, and think aloud while completing the handout, basing your responses to the questions on the pictures in the book.

3. Select a different picture book for students to read independently or in pairs. (Smokey Night by Eve Bunting would be an appropriate selection as it focuses on the theme of racism and also prepares students for reading Maniac Magee.) Instruct students to read the first two pages of the book and answer the first two questions on the handout.

4. Discuss the questions together as a whole class before having them read the rest of the picture book and answer the rest of the questions on the handout. Explain that this strategy is called the reading-question-answer process.

5. When students are finished reading and answering the questions, have them discuss their answers interactively and elaborate on them to ensure full awareness of the importance of visual images to reading comprehension.

6. Have students reflect on their understanding of the book prior to answering the questions compared with their understanding after answering them. What impact did examining the pictures in the book have on their reading comprehension?

During Reading: Watch-Read-Watch-Read Approach

1. Model for students the process of applying the Watch-Read-Watch-Read (W-R-W-R) approach, by following the procedure on the Watch-Read-Watch-Read Teacher Checklist.

2. Introduce the novel Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli in an effective, motivating manner. Maniac Magee offers some theme openers for the novel, which you may find helpful.

3. Facilitate a class discussion that elicits background knowledge from students. Possible discussion questions include:
  • How does a person become a legend? Have you ever known anyone who was a legend? Tell who, when, where, and why.

  • We are going to read a novel about prejudice and friendship. What do you know about prejudice? What do you know about friendship?

  • What do you know about homelessness? How do people end up homeless? How might a child your age end up homeless?

  • Have you ever lived anywhere or been anywhere where you didn't fit in? Where and why?

  • Have you ever met someone else who was a misfit or did not fit in?
4. Prepare students to watch a short clip from the movie Maniac Magee (i.e., a 3- to 5-minute segment), allowing them to see enough to understand targeted segments of the text, but not enough that they will not feel motivated to read the novel. Instruct them to pay attention to details related to the setting (e.g., rural versus urban, indications of poverty or wealth, types of homes or buildings). Prompt students to also pay attention to the characters' clothing and physical appearance and to listen for new or unknown vocabulary and dialect used by the characters.

5. After having students view the short clip, elicit predictions about the book and encourage students' curiosity by inviting them to read the novel to find out more. For example, based on their first impressions of Maniac Magee, elicit predictions about his character based on the setting, the way he is dressed, his hairstyle, and the fact that he likes to run a lot. Give students time to read chapter 1 silently.

6. Continue in this manner by having students watch critical elements of the movie, participate in an interactive class discussion about the movie clip eliciting their predictions, and then read the parallel text that matches what they saw in the movie.

7. After reading the parallel text, students can discuss the critical elements, such as the characters, setting, and plot, as a class and think back on whether their predictions were correct. If their predictions were incorrect, ask them to consider why they may have had different ideas based on the movie version than were actually presented in the book.

8. Elicit a comparison of the movie versus the text. Ask students how the pictures they developed in their minds while reading differed from the images they saw in the movie. Ask them if any of the images were the same.

9. After using the W-R-W-R process multiple times while reading Maniac Magee, point out how students are using images from the movie to add to their understanding of the book. Make sure that they are noticing critical elements and confirming their predictions while reading. Discuss the correlation and relevance of this method to independent application of visual imaging and reading comprehension.

10. Continue to repeat the W-R-W-R cycle until students have gained enough background knowledge to grasp the concepts in the book and are able to read and apply the W-R-W-R strategy independently.

After Reading Selected Sections: Draw Aloud

1. Model for students, using an overhead projector, how to use the Draw Aloud Organizer. Read aloud a short section of Maniac Magee (or use a separate reading for the purposes of modeling the strategy), and then draw a response to the first prompt on the organizer and explain it to the class.
  • For example, read aloud the following passage from Maniac Magee:
"One day his parents left him with a sitter and took the P & W high-speed trolley into the city. On the way back home, they were on board when the P & W had its famous crash, when the motorman was drunk and took the high trestle over the Schuylkill River at sixty miles an hour, and the whole kaboodle took a swan dive into the water." [From chapter 1, page 5]
  • After reading the passage, draw a picture of the scene and think aloud:
"I picture this long train with calm people inside, reading the newspaper, sipping coffee, chatting - and suddenly a crash without any time for them to notice. This is why I drew windows with faces of ordinary people inside, not looking surprised (yet) while the train approaches a leap off a cliff..."
2. If students need more clarification or do not understand the process, apply this approach again reading a second passage.

3. Distribute the Draw Aloud Organizer to students and have them work through the next section of the novel interactively as a class. After reading the text passage silently, ask students to draw pictures of the character or event in the illustration box. Have them also include a caption with their pictures.

4. Invite students to share their illustrations in groups or in pairs, and then share your own illustration with the entire class. Ask students to discuss how the illustrations by their classmates were different or the same.

5. When it seems that students understand the process, allow them time to read independently and complete the organizer by drawing pictures for each chapter.

6. Bring students together to discuss and compare their drawings as a class. Ask them to also think about what impact their drawings had on their reading comprehension. Do they think they were able to understand the story better before or after they did their drawings? Did they find themselves automatically creating pictures (in their minds) after drawing a few on paper?


The following websites can be used to find extension activities to use before, during, and after the reading of Maniac Magee.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • After the entire book is read, instruct students to complete the Student Self-Assessment. This rubric can assist in assessing their awareness of the concept of creating visual images to improve comprehension. It can also confirm the extent of their conceptual understanding of the different strategies.

  • Circulate around the room while students are working throughout this lesson and take anecdotal notes. Note students' reactions to the different visual strategies, their participation in class discussions, and any individual difficulties they encounter with the concept of using visual images to enhance reading comprehension.

  • Review the completed Draw Aloud Organizers and grade them using a point system. This information can be used to assess the extent of students' conceptual acquisition, as well as their comprehension of the reading compared to prior assessments.

  • Conduct individual conferences with each student to clarify any gaps in understanding gleaned from your review of his or her Draw Aloud Organizer and your anecdotal notes. Try to clarify understanding by pointing out and questioning missed concepts, ideas, or difficulties. As an example, you might say to a student:
  • It seems, based on your drawing, that you may not have fully understood , what does this represent or symbolize to you?

  • I notice that you didn't complete the last drawing. Do you know where Jeffrey was running at the end of chapter 32 and can you explain why?

  • I notice that your drawings weren't finished or captioned around the middle of the story. Why is that? How can we finish these?
  • Direct a whole-class discussion based on feedback gleaned from your student conferences, anecdotal notes, and review of the Draw Aloud Organizers.


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