Using Photographs and Illustrations to Support Reading Comprehension

A book with paper boats
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Whether they are the cave drawings in the south of France, the cartoons of Hogarth or Satellite pictures, illustrations and photos are powerful ways for students with disabilities, especially difficulty with text, to find and retain information from textbooks and non-fiction. That, after all, is what reading comprehension is about: understanding and retaining information, and having the ability to retell that information, not performance on multiple choice tests. 

Often students with reading difficulties are so stuck I find, when working with struggling readers, that they get so stuck on "the code" - decoding unfamiliar multi-syllabic words, that they don't get as far as the meaning. More often than not, they actually miss the meaning. Focusing students on text features, such as the illustrations and the captions help students focus on the meaning and author's intent before they actually have to read any text. 

Illustrations will help students 

  • Understand what the author believes is important in the text.
  • Visualize the context of the non-fiction text (especially history or geography) or content of the chapter/article. For students who struggle with text, the visual representation of content will help them "see" the important content. 
  • Learn text specific vocabulary. An illustration of an insect in a biology text or a plant in a botany text will be accompanied by captions or labels. Be sure that students note that information in the text. 

Using Pictures and Illustrations in Conjunction with Other Text Features

An essential part of SQ3R (Scan, Question, Read, Review, Reread) a long term strategy for developmental reading is to "Scan" the text. Scanning basically includes looking over the text and identifying important information.

Titles and Subtitles are the first stop on a "text walk." Titles will also help introduce the important topic spedific vocabulary. Expect a chapter about the Civil War to have specific vocabulary in the subtitles.

Be sure to have a list of focus words for flash cards before you start your text walk: Give (or have available) 3" by 5" cards available for students to write down the text specific vocabulary as your do the text walk together. 

Captions and Labels accompany most pictures, and should be read as you do the "text walk." Be sure students record all of the important vocabulary, even if they can read them. Depending on your student's sophistication, a picture or a written definition should go on the back. The purpose should be for your students to be able to define the vocabulary using their own words.

The Reading Strategy - The Text Walk

The first time you teach the strategy, you will want to walk the child through the whole process. Later it will be better if you can fade some of your support and have students take more responsibility for the text walk. This would be a great activity to do in partners across abilities, especially if you have students who benefit from the structure but have stronger reading skills.'

After reviewing the titles and pictures, have students make predictions: What will you read about? What do you want to know more about as you read? Did you see a picture that surprised you? 

Then scan together for vocabulary they should have on their flashcards. Make a list on the board or using a document on the digital projector in your classroom. 

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Using Photographs and Illustrations to Support Reading Comprehension." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Webster, Jerry. (2023, April 5). Using Photographs and Illustrations to Support Reading Comprehension. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Using Photographs and Illustrations to Support Reading Comprehension." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).