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An Introduction to Using Visualization in Language

By Rolf Donald
Visualization has been widely used in sports psychology over the last 30 years to enhance all
aspects of performance. This article will look at some of the ways that it can be applied to
language learning.
What Is Visualization?
Visualization involves the creation of real or unreal images in the mind's eye. We can use it
to refer to visual images, images of sound, movement, touch, taste, and smell.
Introducing Visualization to Students
The following script is one way of introducing visualization to students who have no
experience of it. If you would like to experience it yourself, record the script and then listen
to it following the instructions.
1. Sit with your back straight. Take a few deep breaths (Wait 20 seconds). Now close your
eyes and breathe normally. If you don't want to close your eyes, that's fine. Listen to the
sound of your breath coming in and going out (Wait 20-30 seconds).
2. Imagine you have a TV set in front of your eyes. When you switch on the TV, I'd like you
to see a white screen. Switch on your TV now and see the white screen (Wait 20
3. Now write your name on the screen in black using your left or right hand (Wait 20 - 30
4. Now change the color of the screen and your name. Choose your favorite colors. Make
the colors as bright as possible (Wait 20 -30 seconds).
5. You are now going to turn up the volume. When you turn up the volume, you will hear
your favorite music or song. Turn up the music so you can hear it clearly (Wait 20 - 30
6. Now let the music and the screen disappear and switch off your TV.
7. When you're ready, open your eyes again.
Follow-Up Task

If you wanted to add the senses of taste and smell, how would you do it?
If you were using this script with a class, what language would you pre-teach, or would
you translate it into L1?

Guidelines for Using Visualization in Class

If you're using visualization for the first time, don't be too adventurous. Play safe until
you are confident it works for you.

Some students may feel that they can't produce images that are "good enough." Stress that
it's not necessary to produce vivid images like in a dream. If they can describe the image,
that's fine.
Have a clear aim for the visualization.
Use a script. When writing a script, include clear open questions to help students produce
different images. Use specific verbs, for example, "see," "feel," "hear," "taste," "smell." It
is important to include different senses as your class will be made up of students who are
predominantly visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.
Include suggestions in your script to help those students that don't automatically produce
images. For example: "You're reading a magazine. What kind of magazine is it? It could
be a sports magazine or.."
Mark the points where you need to pause to give students time to create images. Practice
reading it aloud.
In class pre-teach any key vocabulary in the script.
Explain what visualization is and why you are going to use it.
Lead students into the visualization gently. Allow them to relax. If they don't want to
close their eyes, that's fine. If you have included questions in your script, tell students that
they shouldn't answer them aloud.
Present your script repeating key elements. Don't rush it.
Bring students out of the visualization gently.
After the visualization, set up the communication/writing, etc. task.

Practical Applications of Visualization

Visualizations can be used for speaking practice as they create a natural information gap.
o For descriptions. For example, a visualization of a student's relative, focusing on
personality and physical appearance, can be followed by the student's describing the
relative to a partner. Write the questions from the visualization on the board as
prompts, for example, "What's he/she like? What does he /she look like?"
o To stimulate speaking. For example, after a visualization of an airport departure lounge
where students hear the conversations of a variety of different people (for example,
two strangers who have just met, etc.), they act out the conversations.

For narrating. For example, after a visualization of a memorable event, students ask each
other about the event using the questions from the visualization. Change the present forms
into the past. So "What's the weather like?" becomes "What was the weather like?"

They can be used to focus on the layout and content of letters. Students write a letter on
their TV screens based on question prompts in the script. For example, "Who are you
writing to?" "Where are you writing the letter?"

They can be used to develop students' self-confidence. For example, a visualization of a

successful learning event.

Students can also write their own scripts, for example, a virtual tour of their country, their
house, etc.

Continue the Script


If you would like to practice writing scripts, try this task...

In class you are working on the topic of travel and want to revise narrative forms. The aim of
your visualization is to help students recreate a journey they have taken so that they can
describe it to a partner. To enable students to really relive the experience, write the script as if
it's happening in the present. However, after the visualization, write the key questions on the
board in the past. Here is the beginning of the script for the visualization. Continue the script.
1. When you switch on your TV, I'd like you to see yourself on a journey you have taken. It
could be a car journey, or a train journey, or a flight, or maybe on foot or on a bicycle.
2. How are you traveling? Where are you going?
Why Use Visualization?

It can bring classroom activities to life and make them more memorable.
It creates a natural information gap.
It combines left- and right-brain functions (language and imagination).
It can help students develop their ability to create different sensory images.
It can add variety to your teaching.
It can help students learn to relax making them more receptive.