School & District Management Teacher Leaders Network

Picture This: Helping Readers Flex Their Imaginations

By Cindi Rigsbee — June 07, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

Not long ago, I walked around a middle school classroom and made note of decorations on students’ binders. The girls, in particular, had drawings and magazine cut-outs depicting the actors from the Twilight series movies. Later I noticed the same types of images decorating student lockers. I marveled at the popularity of the books, and as a reading teacher, I was delighted to see kids interested in reading. I was impressed by how connected they felt to characters in a story. Then I realized something. The students may not feel connected to the characters, but to the actors playing the characters.

I’m reminded of that today because, even though I’m fighting it for all I’m worth, I’m losing my own personal image of my favorite character from The Hunger Games series. I’m losing Katniss. I’m trying to hold on to the protagonist I’ve known for over two years. I’ve tensed every muscle through her battles. I’ve had nightmares over her struggles. And now I’m trying to hold on to how I’ve pictured her, but I’m losing … because she’s gradually being replaced in my head by an actress.

As a reading teacher, I encourage my students to visualize the descriptions in the books they read—what my principal calls “the movies in their heads.” While reading The Hunger Games trilogy, I could see Katniss. She became a friend during those books—one I felt I actually knew, one I missed when I put the books down.

But now that a major studio is making a movie based on The Hunger Games, I’m inundated with pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, the beautiful and talented actress playing Katniss. My Katniss is not quite so beautiful. Instead, she’s tough. She’s dirty. And she doesn’t have pouty lips as perfectly shaped as the bow she carries. In short, Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t look anything like the Katniss of my imagination.

I worry about our students’ imaginations dying out, becoming extinct from lack of use (like we’ve been warned about our pinky toes). I’ve asked students about the Twilight novels, which many have read. Do they have their own version of the character Edward or do they default to Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward in the movie? They enthusiastically shout that Pattinson is their Edward. Who needs an imagination when the media so conveniently supplies the details? And just think of it: Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t see the actor Daniel Radcliffe when they hear the words “Harry Potter”?

As teachers, we must make an explicit effort to design lessons that foster our students’ imaginations:

• We have to model the transformation from the author’s description to the reader’s idea of what that world looks, sounds, and feels like: “How is Katniss described by the author? What does she look like to you? Let me tell you how I pictured her when I read it … .” If we’re lucky, every student’s rendition is a little different, every imagination taking the author’s words in slightly different directions. Hopefully, we can get ahead of the movies and video games, and ahead of the music videos that interpret the songs for our students so they don’t even have to bother. Hopefully, we can teach them first to think and imagine for themselves.

• Besides modeling for students by sharing our own thoughts and images, it is also important for students to be exposed to genres that veer away from the world they know: fairy tales, fantasy novels such as Tuck Everlasting and A Wrinkle in Time, and dystopian novels that are all the rage now like The Giver, Matched, and, yes, The Hunger Games.

• Read-alouds can be good for the imagination, too, since they prevent students from rushing through the author’s words at breakneck speed (or, for younger students, focusing too much on the illustrations in the book). By asking students to listen, we can give them time to craft those “movies in their heads.”

• And it’s critical that we give students the opportunity to write their own fantasy stories and to talk about the things they imagine.

There are things we can do in our personal lives, too, to prepare children to love imaginative acts, including the act of reading. As parents, it’s important that we allow time for play. There are so many opportunities for our children these days—from soccer to basketball to ballroom dance—that they can be overscheduled until there’s no time to “just pretend.” We can encourage play by taking part in it. There’s nothing more fun than being “the patient” in a pretend doctor’s office, a “customer” in a pretend restaurant, or a “student” to a 5-year-old teacher.

Hopefully, that 5-year-old will grow up to be the kind of reader who has already made many “movies in her head” before she sees her favorite characters (her own Katniss or Edward) on the big screen.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP
School & District Management Opinion 'Futures Thinking' Can Help Schools Plan for the Next Pandemic
Rethinking the use of time and place for teachers and students, taking risks, and having a sound family-engagement plan also would help.
17 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
School & District Management Opinion The Consequence of Public-Health Officials Racing to Shutter Schools
Public-health officials' lack of concern for the risks of closing schools may shed light on Americans' reticence to embrace their directives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Best Ways for Schools to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Being better connected to families and the community and diversifying the education workforce are some of the ways to be ready.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."