I Visualization Strategies: Imagery Talk

These strategies aim at helping students form mental images as the core of their mental models.

Encouraging mental imagery: A teacher or student describes something they are imagining that is not present in the class. These descriptions can include visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and/or auditory components.

We notice that skilled science teachers encourage students to use:

  • Mental imagery of shapes, configurations.
  • Moving imagery, of movement or change within a system.
  • Kinesthetic imagery, the feel of the effects of a force, an acceleration, or two opposing forces. This is especially useful when reasoning about aspects of a system or phenomenon that are not readily visible.

These encourage students to use their powerful mental visual apparatus to help make sense of systems under discussion, and to clarify their own thinking.


In the three connected examples below, the teacher is supporting his middle school students in visualizing the difference in size between a protist cell and molecules moving in and out of the cell through the cell membrane.

Example 1: Ask students to imagine

T: Imagine looking at the Titanic. Now we are zooming toward the Titanic, coming up closer and closer like this. It’s 17 stories tall. Can you imagine tilting your head back to see the deck 17 stories up?

Example 2: Ask students to imagine a scene and describe their own imagery

T: If you were this close to the Titanic, could you see the whole thing? Close your eyes and tell me what you imagine seeing. Do you think you can see the deck? The side of the hull? How about the rivets in the hull, can you see them? How big do those rivets look to you?

S1: About this big (holding up thumb and forefinger about a half inch apart).

T: Anyone else? How do they look?

S2: About this big (indicating about a quarter inch).

T: So everyone sees them about this big? OK.

Example 3: Visually enhance: Describe something as larger or smaller to make it easier to imagine

T: Now imagine that the protista is the size of the Titanic. Then a molecule would be about as big as one of those rivets.



For more on how the visualization strategies support the rest of the framework, see the following pages:

Educator's Tour - Level I
Introduction to the Full Theory


Articles, Papers and Websites

More in-depth discussion of using imagery talk to support student thinking is found in the following papers by the team:

Using imagery support strategies to develop powerful imagistic models (Price, Stephens, Clement, & Núñez-Oviedo, 2017)

Identifying teaching strategies that support thinking with imagery during model-based discussions (Stephens, Clement, Price, & Núñez-Oviedo, 2017)