The Key That Could Unlock a Child’s Language Development

Do you ever feel like there is a missing piece in your child’s language development, especially in the areas of reading and listening comprehension? Have you been unable to find the key to unlock the mystery of why he continues to experience difficulty despite therapy, extra help, and tutoring? If so, then keep reading – what I describe below could be the missing link!

This past July, I had the privilege of attending Nanci Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing training in Asheville, NC, and since that time I’ve been able to utilize the first steps of the program with several of my students. What a super neat experience to watch children learn to make detailed pictures in their minds and then express what they are seeing back to me!

This program is an excellent tool for helping children meaningfully fill existing holes in their expressive vocabulary. Additionally, the structure words within this program provide a concrete starting place for eliciting verbalizations in children who have difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas. It has also been particularly enlightening to learn that a child can be more successful at performing higher order thinking tasks (e.g., main idea, conclusion, prediction, inference) when he can clearly picture what the words he is reading are depicting.

So, what is Visualizing and Verbalizing? 

It is a program specifically designed to develop language comprehension and thinking based on the connection between imagery (nonverbal) and language (verbal). Though designed to be administered individually, Visualizing and Verbalizing can be adapted for groups, and there are no proposed age or ability limitations for its use.

Nanci Bell provides insight into the many symptoms a child may exhibit which may, at least in part, have their root in weak concept imagery. Some of these symptoms, in addition to difficulty comprehending and expressing oral and written language, include difficulty following directions, difficulty grasping humor, difficulty interpreting social situations, difficulty with cause and effect, and difficulty with attention and focus. 

While instructing a child through the Visualizing and Verbalizing program, consistent use of words such as picture, see, and imagine drive each lesson. The principle of questioning rather than telling is another primary component of the program. Repetitive, daily stimulation is recommended for success. Kids learn that “words turn into pictures and pictures turn into words.” How simple, yet BRILLIANT!

Once this new way of thinking is established for a child, the next step in the Visualizing and Verbalizing program includes removing the visualizing piece and walking the child through the verbalizing piece. At this point, the structure words I mentioned previously are introduced. Examples of the structure words include color, movement, background, and perspective. Here, a child learns to describe a given picture in a way that creates the same picture in his teacher’s mind.

Following these first two steps, the visualizing piece is added, in which the child learns to make pictures in his mind of single words and clearly express these pictures. The child is then taught to visualize and verbalize with increasing complexity through progressive steps involving single sentences, sets of sentences, whole paragraphs, and whole pages. As the text length increases, higher order language tasks are incorporated into the lessons.

A child’s independence, automaticity, and speed at which he processes spoken and written language steadily increase across the program. I love that a relationship is built and trust is developed between the teacher and the child which facilitates his growth and learning. Rewards and praise are ever present throughout each step.

As a Visualizing and Verbalizing provider, I am learning to improve my ability to ask relevant and appropriate questions to guide my students’ imagery skills. I am also learning to change my teaching vocabulary which in essence changes the process by which my students think. Nanci points out in the manual that we often assume everyone creates pictures for words in his mind. As you begin to question your children/students, you may find this simply is not the case. How encouraging to know there is a tool available to support our efforts to help our children think differently, in pictures!

If you feel that your child could benefit from the Visualizing and Verbalizing program, contact me at Kid’s Creek Therapy for a free consultation. I am excited to see what doors the Visualizing and Verbalizing key opens on my quest to helping children develop their language skills.

Katie Burch, Speech Therapist

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