July 10, 2012

Living language through guided imagery

Visualization, also known as guided imagery, is one technique that is among my favorite and that I believe many students and teachers have not yet experienced. The use of guided imagery can be seen as "whole brain" multi sensory learning as it includes movement, music, poetry, creativity, and real experiences from the child’s inner world. When used properly, visualization has the power to relax students, focus their attention, increase their concentration, stimulate creativity, and cultivate inner peace. 

What I love about it is that after the experience teachers respond to students' demands of language giving them the words they truly need to express themselves. And their expression comes with a lot of emotion, oh yes!

Here I share some of my favourite visualization activities:

One word:  here the teacher asks students to close their eyes and the teacher says a word, let's say "dessert", and asks students to imagine. Each student then shares what they saw in their minds. One might have seen cake, other ice cream, and a third one fruit salad. I suggest starting with nouns ( animal, food, mountain), then moving to adjectives (cold, heavy, happy), and then moving to abstract nouns (fun, friendship, mistery). 

I personally would refrain from choosing words that might bring uncomfortable images such as sadness, violence, and loss. They can also share if they only saw it or also smelled, tasted, listened, or felt it in their minds. Students can also choose words as long as they are approved by the teacher. Great for circle time!

Story listened with eyes closed: here the teacher either tells a story or students listen to a recorded passage with eyes closed. Let's say that they listen to a passage that narrates a prince entering the castle library and seeing the princess close to a window.

After listening (make sure it's easy that every student can understand) the teacher can ask students to find similarities and differences in how they saw the prince, the library, the princess, and the window in their minds. Some guiding questions can help such as the following: 
What was the prince wearing? 
How much light was there in the library? 
What was the princess doing? 
Were there curtains over the window? 

If all students describe the prince as being blond with blue eyes, one can have a discussion about stereotypes. With more advanced groups the students can ask questions to others on how they saw specific aspects. 

Questions guiding the imagery: here the teacher takes the students on a trip guiding them through statements and questions such as: 

You are in your favorite place. 
Somebody you really like is coming. Who is this person? 
This person has the best idea. What is it? 
You and this special person suddenly find a box with a key. Would you open it? What is inside?
Hmm, getting hungry after some time. What are you eating? and drinking? 

Guess, you got the idea. It's important to bring students in the visualization with a warm introduction and also bring them back with a tender closure. Sentences can be said every 20 seconds, so then students can really have time to feel the experience. Soft background music can help creating the climate, even though it might be annoying for some students. Better ask. 

After the visualization, you can ask them to write, draw, compare, etc. Bear in mind that this experience is very personal and students have the right not to share what they have lived. 

Storytelling with gaps for students to imagine (learned/adapted from Mario Rinvolucri): here a story is told and students imagine/create what happens in parts of the story. I share an example below: 

Wife and husband are sleeping and suddenly the phone rings in the middle of the night. The husband picks up the phone and there is a strange voice that says (students imagine). Then the husband tells his wife and she says (students imagine). He goes to the kitchen to (students imagine) and suddenly finds one strange thing on top of the table (students imagine)...

The difference here from the previous one is that there is a storyline which is common to all students different from the previous one in which each student has more freedom to go wherever they want. 

Students can mime and others guess afterwards. 

Guided adventures (learned from Maureen Murdock): The teacher guides students through an incredible story like the following: 

You are walking in your house, and then you see a trap door ahead of you, you think, wow this is strange, but even so, you decide to open it. You see a staircase below and you start going down the steps. When you notice you are down and can't see the light from the street. It is very quiet and quite cold. You see that you are inside a room made of glass and that you are in the bottom of the sea. Wow, unbelievable! You can notice the fish breathing and gradually you can see their colours shining.Oh, oh! From a distance a shark looks and you are afraid that it might see you...

Later the teacher can ask students:
Which was the part you liked the most? the least? 
What would you change in the story? 
What title would you give to the story? 

Some hints: 
Make sure you tell the story in the second person (You) to make it very real. 
Use a lot of interjections and adjectives. 
You can intensify structures you are working on. 
Students can retell the story (with help) to a peer that is with eyes closed.  
Advanced students can create new adventures for classmates or younger students. 

Here is a story in this same style by Canadian storyteller Dan Yaschinsky: 

Hope you have enjoyed these visualization activities as much as I have with my students and also sharing them here with you!

Send you a big frog-hug, 


Did you like it? Share it then! 

Oh, before I forget! This is a book that I recommend with lots of visualization activities for young learners. 

Spinning Inward by Maureen Murdock 

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