Ernest Pounds

  Reading comprehension, Adult basic education, General education development (GED), Job skills, Life skills

Learner Level:
  Multilevel...can be adapted to any level of learning

Time Frame:
  1-2 hours, possibly broken up into two shorter sessions depending on learner interest and persistence.

Learner Grouping:
  Individual, Small group, Whole class, Self-directed student work

  This activity has been conducted in the regular adult education classes as well as Families First classes. Families First is the Tennessee program to provide training for those welfare recipients who lack basic education skills. While learners do work toward a GED, emphasis in these classes is shifting toward the knowledge, skills, and attitudes learners need to acquire and keep a good job. The classes are normally composed of 12-15 men and women of varying ages. The learners are in class five days per week and four hours per day.

  Trenton Special School District Adult Education Program

Type of Program:
  Workplace education

Student Population Served:
  Basic skills (grade levels 5-8.9)

Increased comprehension with the use of imagery

This activity leads learners through the process of forming mental images of what they read in order to improve reading comprehension using, as three examples, the written directions for using a whetstone to sharpen a knife, a short news story of interest, and then a paragraph from a literary work. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Learners will improve their comprehension of reading material by generating mental images upon reading a description.

Primary Skill:
Read with understanding

Secondary Skills:
Reflect and evaluate

Learner Needs & Goals:
Learners agreed that comprehension was a problem when they realized that just because they could read the words didn't mean that they understood what they were reading. A related problem was in trying to remember what had been read when they hadn't really been able to visualize it in the first place. This learning activity was developed as a skill or technique to use to increase comprehension and better remember what had been read.

Learning Activity Description:

  1. Spend a few minutes in discussing problems some people have when they don't comprehend what they read. Include justification for job performance.
  2. Discuss methods people use to help them understand and remember what they read, for example:
    • Use mnemonics - Remembering that the first letters of the five Great Lakes spell out the word HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior)
    • Reread - Read things over several times to aid comprehension.
    • Make lists - Make lists or outlines to help comprehend what is read.
    • Summarize - Summarizing or putting things in your own words may also help.
    • Visualize - Seeing a picture in your mind.
  3. Divide the learners into groups of three or four and seat the group members together, preferably around a table. Give each learner the first page of Handout 1, "General Knife Sharpening Instructions" or other instructions of your choice.
  4. Either have one learner read aloud the directions and/or instructions or have learners read the directions/instructions to themselves. Learners then compare their images by naming the materials needed and the steps that must be taken in the process.
  5. Distribute copies of the second page of Handout 2, "Knife Sharpening Techniques." This author differs from the first on how best to sharpen a knife. Learners read this page, try to visualize the recommended technique, and discuss how these directions are the same and how they are different from the first instructions they were given.
  6. Putting the two sets of directions aside, have each member of the group write down his visual image of how to use a whetstone to sharpen a knife in detail. Learners may choose to write about either method or choose to write about both, comparing and contrasting the techniques.
  7. Extend this activity using the human interest story you have chosen from the newspaper or magazine. Again, depending on the reading abilities of your learners, have one person in the group read the story or have learners read silently. Either way, learners should try to visualize what the passage describes. Groups then discuss what they read. What images do learners within a group agree on? Discuss some of the differences in their mental images.
  8. Repeat step 7 using the descriptive narrative paragraph from a literary work.
  9. Have learners turn in their copy of the paragraph from step 8 and individually write their own description from their visual image they created to help them remember.

Materials and Resources:

  • Copies of pre-written instructions and/or directions of how to complete a certain task. Directions for how to sharpen a knife using a whetstone are available on and may be copied from the Web at These directions are also included as Handout 1. (Small illustrations are included in the Web site directions that are not included in the handout version.)
  • Copies of a descriptive, short, human interest story from a newspaper or magazine.
  • Copies of a descriptive narrative paragraph that would be easy for your readers to relate to and visualize from a literary work of your choice. A paragraph describing a character the first time he/she appears in a book would work well.

    (For Internet Explorer users, right click on link then choose "Save target as". For Netscape users, just hold down the shift key and click on the link.)

    Handout 1

    The description learners write in step nine of the learning activity is a good assessment of their abilities to read and visualize what they read in order to help them remember. My learners were surprised at how much they could remember to write down. Sometimes details that are not actually included in the reading become a part of the visual image formed by the reader and are written down also. This extension of the visual image should be encouraged if it is not contradicted by the text. After completing the lesson, the learners could easily see how forming mental images would help them better understand and remember what they were reading.

    Learners enjoyed this activity because it gave them something to build on and to be able to use in other activities. I found this activity to be valuable in helping the learners see how important it is to visualize what one is reading. This activity could also be used in the work place when written instructions are given by the supervisor to be carried out by the employee. The worker can make a mental image of what the directions are saying. Learners could see how this technique would be helpful in following written instructions or directions on the job.


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