Visual Tools for Reading Comprehension

The Giver, Lois Lowry, Inspiration, visual diagram, story map, web, visual thinking

September marks the beginning of Read-A-New-Book Month, launching us back into the school year and decisions around choosing the best books to engage students and stimulate their thinking and writing skills. From time to time, I pick up juvenile literature lists to see what is being read and how reading has changed since my school days.

One book I recently read from a middle school list is The Giver by Lois Lowry. I consider it to be a dystopian novel, simpler than Animal Farm, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but similar with complex concepts and themes. The book, which earned a Newbery Medal and sold 5.3 million copies, grabs students’ attention with thought-provoking dialog and writing.

If you’re considering introducing The Giver to your students this fall, visual thinking and learning strategies, such as mapping characters, plots and key themes, can help students develop early critical thinking skills and better understand the complex themes of the book for class discussions and writing projects.

This diagram, created in Webspiration®, may be downloaded for any non-commercial use. Click to enlarge.

According to the National Education Association, adolescents move from concrete to abstract thinking with skills in deductive reasoning, problem solving and generalizing, placing implications on instructors’ teaching strategies. In the article “Brain Development in Young Adolescents,” Pete Lorain recommends that middle school teachers help students practice and exercise critical thinking with “graphic organizers to assist in visualizing problem solving.”1

Scientific research also shows that visual thinking techniques and the use of graphic organizers are effective in improving students’ reading comprehension. Graphic organizers increase the amount of cognitive information the brain can absorb as it enables working memory and other key brain operations devoted to learning new material.2

In challenging novels like The Giver, visual learning and thinking can help students make the appropriate connections between characters and plot and help them to think critically and creatively in their analysis of themes.

Within their literary web or graphic organizer, students can identify characterization, conflicts and themes, adding notes to recall examples that support their point of view and their analysis of the book. These notes can be used later for class discussion, or to write novel responses, book reports or essays that assess the students’ overall comprehension and critical thinking around the novel.

So, while you scan the reading lists this fall and look for complex, classic novels to incorporate into your literature units, keep in mind the use of visual thinking tools to enhance your students’ literary experience and their thinking, comprehension and writing skills.

Check back next week to learn how visual learning and thinking tools contribute to the goals and efforts of building 21st century skills.

Mona Westhaver
President and Co-founder, Inspiration Software, Inc.

Mona Westhaver, President and Co-founder of Inspiration® Software, Inc., has more than 30 years’ experience in visual thinking, systems thinking, and educational learning tools and technology. She has a passion for helping people learn to clarify thinking and feelings and to communicate knowledge and views in a positive way.
Mona Westhaver
View all posts by Mona Westhaver
  1. Lorain, Peter. “NEA – Brain Development in Young Adolescents.” NEA – NEA Home. Web. 19 Aug. 2010. <>. []
  2. Graphic Organizers: A Review of Scientifically Based Research. Rep. Inspiration Software, Inc. Web. 19 Aug. 2010. <>. []

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