Skip to main content

Reading Comprehension Strategies for the Adult Learner

Dianna is a writer with a background in education and business. She writes to inspire and encourage others.

Reading Comprehension Involves Mental Imaging

Reading with comprehension requires decoding and mental imaging of words. Picturing words helps to understand text.

Reading with comprehension requires decoding and mental imaging of words. Picturing words helps to understand text.

Did you know that nationally twenty percent of adults read at or below the fifth grade level¹? The inability to read beyond this level prohibits completing simple tasks such as reading prescription labels, helping children with homework, filling out basic forms and reading directions. Reading Comprehensively involves active engagement with words: decoding what is read and visualising the words in your mind.

The cause of poor reading comprehension is based upon factors such as:

  • Late introduction to reading
  • Poor imaging of words (mental imaging)
  • Environmental Issues
  • Learning Disabilities

Despite the factors mentioned above, adults who wish to improve their reading comprehension have opportunity to do so through literacy programs, online websites, CD rom software and determined individual effort. In this article, the basic skill of mental imaging will be discussed as a reading comprehension strategy for adult learners. It is one that can be practiced individually and at your personal comfort level.

Using Mental Images In Reading Comprehension

Using Mental Images

Reading Comprehension is understanding the flow of words and being able to see mental images of the words as we read. Have you ever read a passage of text and found yourself having to re-read it two or three times, and still not able to comprehend what is meant? It happens occasionally to everyone, especially after a stressful day at work and you've tried to read the same newspaper article three times! Some adults have difficulty picturing what is read as a norm, and have difficulty organizing their thoughts to retell what they have read, which leads to frustration. Can you imagine having to go through this every day of your life at home, work and in social interactions?

There is hope for those of us who need help reading with comprehension through mental imaging. Developing your ability to picture a word in your mind helps to understand text. For example, when you read the word bird what do you see in your mind? You may see a little red bird or a large pink flamingo (or did you see one of those popular "angry birds"). Now, read it out loud. Your brain reads or sees the word and hears the sound and then establishes a mental picture. There is a connection between your brain's right and left sides that work jointly to trigger this picture.

Reading is like driving. As you drive down the road you keep your eyes focused on what is ahead (mostly, ignore the phone ring and texting, please!). You anticipate what is coming and drive forward with confidence. When we read, the pictures we develop help us move forward through the sentence or passage. As we practice this skill (mental imaging), we are able to increase our reading speed (drivers,watch the speed limit!).

Take the quick quiz below to experience how we read and how mental imaging helps us to move forward through a sentence. Read each sentence and try to picture the words as you read through the text.

Mental Imaging Exercise

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. The girl skipped across the meadow dotted with red tulips.
    • I pictured the girl, skipping, the meadow, dotted with red tulips
    • I pictured the girl, skipping, the meadow
    • I pictured the girl skipping
    • I pictured the girl
    • I pictured nothing
  2. The boy chewed an apple while sitting on the fence railing.
    • I pictured a boy, chewing an apple, sitting, and a fence railing?
    • I pictured a boy, chewing an apple, sitting
    • I pictured a boy chewing an apple?
    • I pictured a boy?
    • I had a blank visual image


Use the scoring guide below to add up your total points based on your answers.

  1. The girl skipped across the meadow dotted with red tulips.
    • I pictured the girl, skipping, the meadow, dotted with red tulips: +5 points
    • I pictured the girl, skipping, the meadow: +4 points
    • I pictured the girl skipping: +3 points
    • I pictured the girl: +2 points
    • I pictured nothing: +1 point
  2. The boy chewed an apple while sitting on the fence railing.
    • I pictured a boy, chewing an apple, sitting, and a fence railing?: +5 points
    • I pictured a boy, chewing an apple, sitting: +4 points
    • I pictured a boy chewing an apple?: +3 points
    • I pictured a boy?: +2 points
    • I had a blank visual image: +1 point

Interpreting Your Score

A score between 2 and 4 means: ?

A score between 5 and 6 means: ?

A score between 7 and 8 means: ?

A score of 9 means: ?

Scroll to Continue

A score of 10 means: ?

Reading Comprehension Exercise

Practice reading printed material such as the newspaper, signs along the way, and labels on food packaging during daily activities.

Practice reading printed material such as the newspaper, signs along the way, and labels on food packaging during daily activities.

Reading Comprehension and Mental Imaging

In the quiz, were you able to mentally visualize pictures as you read? Did you score 100%? Some of us are able to read with greater speed and comprehension than others. Others read at slower rates but are still able to see some pictures form in their mind. And, there are those of us who cannot picture anything at all when we read. Didn't get a high score? Not to worry, this can be helped by practicing mental imaging and over time you will increase your reading comprehension skill.

To help increase your skill, try pulling photos (magazine pictures work just as well) of objects or people and attaching labels to them. Place them around your home or in a scrapbook so that you can practice reading them silently and out loud. Mentally picture the words so that you can build an association to the words as you read. In this way you are associating words with your life experiences which will help you to establish a lasting connection. You will find reading easier and faster as you continue to practice daily.


Adult Reading Comprehension Strategies


Highlight Text

Use a highliter as your read to emphasize important words.


After you read a small section, retell the text using simple words outloud.


Use a dictionary as you read to look up words you don't understand.


Play games that require you to memorize pictures.

Audio Tapes

Listen to audio tapes that help you create mental pictures as you listen.

Art Class

Take an art class. This will help you visualize objects both in form and mind.

Read Daily

Read newspapers, magazines, signs, labels, etc. and try to create a mental picture as you read.

You May Enjoy This Article

Even as an adult, you can learn to read with comprehension and enjoy the satisfaction of reading with meaning. This will also enable you to communicate better with others. This article covers only one area of reading comprehension but I hope this small view will help others to establish a good habit and love of reading.

If you have any suggestions or comments to add to this article, please leave a comment below. I am sure others will benefit from your ideas and expertise.


  • Hub Article written in response to March 2012 question asked by Cardelean.
  • ¹Source: National Institute For Literacy, Facts on Literacy, 2001

© 2012 Dianna Mendez


Rugda Attiyah on November 19, 2015:

Hi, teaches12345! I loved your article. May I please use this as a source for my paper? If so, can you tell me the copywrite, etc?

Thank you!

Future Graduate Student in NJ

Dianna Mendez (author) on February 28, 2014:

Kerlund74, thank you for your feedback on the post. I agree, reading is the only way you are going to learn, expand your world, and write well.

kerlund74 from Sweden on February 21, 2014:

Great advices and methods. I think reading a lot helps improving, lik eyou also mentioned, most of the rest is new for me:)

Dianna Mendez (author) on April 28, 2013:

Hello Kevin, it's not too late, dear friend. Glad you found it helpful. Reading is always a great path to leadership and success. Enjoy your week and stay safe.

Kevin Peter from Global Citizen on April 28, 2013:

Excellent and very useful hub. The instructions given in the hub to increase the reading ability would be of great use to all. I would have tried these with my children if I had read it earlier. But its not late yet. Thanks a lot.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 11, 2013:

Jcx, I am glad this post was of use to you in increasing your reading comprehension. I always encourage readers to use visual imagery and to practice it daily, it does help to connect words, print and sound which are necessary reading skills. Practice small reading exercises daily, as I am sure you well know, it will strengthen your comprehension over time. Thanks for the feedback and support.

jcx1803 on March 11, 2013:

Hi folks, I to have always struggled with reading comprehension. I was privileged however to have professors assist me throughout college to attain my goal of receiving a mathematics degree. However my issue still remains. I have began a search to find answers to help train my mind and solve this issue. Some resources suggest Visual Therapy, as well as seeking help from a psychotherapist. Creating a picture while reading does agree with previous methods I have learned. However I am a slow reader, and would like to become a fast reader who fully understands what I read. This webpage is a blessing, and I would be grateful for any assistance anyone could provide. Please feel free to respond here, or email me:

Thank you

Dianna Mendez (author) on September 25, 2012:

William, I appreciate your positive support. Thanks!

William Gunther on September 25, 2012:

hey ,so have done a great job.............carry on on on

Dianna Mendez (author) on September 22, 2012:

Hey, Missy! I really appreciate your taking time to stop in here to read this hub. Glad you enjoyed it. Enjoy your day. Blessings.

Missy Mac from Illinois on September 21, 2012:

Enjoyed this article on reading comprehension. As a newbie, I like your format and quality content.

Dianna Mendez (author) on August 27, 2012:

Laura, thanks for your visit here. I am glad that you found it useful. Thank you for your kind words. I do appreciate feedback from other professional, such as yourself, on these topics. Have a great evening.

Laura Tykarski from Pittsburgh PA on August 27, 2012:

teaches12344 I often see your comments on other hubs and don't know why I've never looked at your profile. I am glad I did and came across this particular hub. I volunteered years ago for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and have been thinking about doing so again if my work load goes to part-time. You give great suggestions here and this is really a well formatted hub. I look forward to browsing through more of your hubs, if I re-up for the GPLC they will really come in handy.

Dianna Mendez (author) on July 31, 2012:

With the convenience of spellcheck, my spelling has become a little off... yes, it is something I need to work on (and I was a spelling bee!). Thanks for your contribution and validation to the hub, Jools. Take care and live well.

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on July 31, 2012:

teaches12345, interesting hub. This brought back memories for me - I used to be an adult basic skills teacher and we used to use this and other strategies to help readers. Most of my time was spent trying to improve spelling :o(, never easy for adults!

Dianna Mendez (author) on July 25, 2012:

Goforthejuggler, you just have proved how early reading skills make a difference in longterm learning and enjoyment. Thanks for the validation of this topic.

Joshua Patrick from Texas on July 25, 2012:

I've been reading as far back as I can remember and I'm STILL opening up the electronic dictionary from time to time to refresh my vocabulary and learn new synonyms and antonyms - voted up!

Dianna Mendez (author) on July 19, 2012:

Ruchira, there are so many useful programs out there for adults who are lacking in this skill. Hopefully, they will find the resources to enable them to enjoy life through reading.

Ruchira from United States on July 18, 2012:

excellent information, teaches12345. I do agree that some % of adults lack in that area and your strategy is good.

voted up as useful and interesting

Dianna Mendez (author) on June 25, 2012:

Molly, what a sweet reflection. I guess you are right in that respect, it is more of a ministry that I have a real passion about. Thanks for the votes of support. Be safe and well out there.

Mary Strain from The Shire on June 25, 2012:

This is going to be helpful to someone, Teaches...probably quite a few someones. I get the feeling that teaching is less of a profession for you, and more of a ministry. :-)

Up and useful!

Dianna Mendez (author) on June 18, 2012:

It's good to see you here Vinaya! Thanks for your visit and comment on the topic. Yes, we are never through learning and that's a good thing! I thank you for the follow and will get around to reading more of your hubs shortly. Take care and be safe out there!

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on June 17, 2012:

Learning is something that is never completed in our lives.

Thanks for sharing this useful and informative hub. You are a wonderful teacher.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 31, 2012:

Phdast7, I think visual learners will most benefit from the method but others can practice using it slowly to build reading skill. Good add on to the hub! Thanks for your visit and comment.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 31, 2012:

Glad you found some helpful information in the hub, Alocsin. It's a pleasure to see you here. Thanks for your supportive comment and the vote.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on March 30, 2012:

Hi Teaches - This is an excellent Hub with some great reading strategies. I particularly like how you slowly and carefully laid out all the information and gave examples of how mental visualization can be do helpful.

Very good work. SHARING

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 30, 2012:

I've always considered myself a good reader but you offer tips that can help improve that ability. I like the mental imaging strategy the best. Voting this Up and Useful.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 27, 2012:

Hello TeacherJoe! We all have those moments when we are so taxed that we can re-read a passaage over and over without comprehension. Yes, we need to relax and go slowly. I agree we are led to write at times instructed by His Spirit. Thank you for your encouraging words and support! God's best to you!

teacherjoe52 on March 26, 2012:

Very good article.

Yes many times I have to re-read a passage. Most times I just try to relax more and read slower. Then it coes out.

Using a dictionary has greatly expanded my understanding.

When a vers or passage jumps out at me, I copy and paste onto a word document and write what comes to my mind (personally I believe that is the Holy Spirit wanting to share something important)

I used to use a hughliner, but like previously mentioned now I just copy and paste, the write what comes to mind.

You write exhalent article.

Keep it up.

Good girl

God bless you.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 26, 2012:

It makes me happy to know that the information will help your daughter. Please give her a hug for me. Along with your findings, I too never realized I did this until my training. I guess I am a day-dreamer at heart so this helps. Thank you for the comment, visit and vote of support.

Susan Ream from Michigan on March 25, 2012:

I never realized that I picture scenes and every detail I read until I took the quiz you posted. One of my daughters has dyslexia. I was trained by a husband/wife team of college professor's on how to teach someone with dyslexia. I used a lot of visuals and hands on tools which really helped. Your tip about connecting pictures with words makes great sense and is most likely a missing piece of the puzzle to help her with comprehension. I will share it with my daughter.

Helpful information and written very well! Voted up and Useful.

Thank YOU!


Dianna Mendez (author) on March 24, 2012:

I never thought of it, but it would be of great use to a writer as well. Thanks for the additional insight you have added. Thanks for visiting and your support. Take care.

RTalloni on March 24, 2012:

This info will be helpful to a wide variety of people, and using the tips in proofreading would help writers. Interesting and useful--voted up.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 15, 2012:

Victoria, you are correct, this would be a real help to foreign language students. Great suggestion! Thanks for the encouraging comments and support. Walk in peace today.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 15, 2012:

You have an analytical mind, Cloverleaf, which is valuable in many situtations. It's unfortunate the quiz doesn't show up on other tech items (can't pull it on my iphone either), perhaps technology will fix these soon. You are always a positive note to the hubs. Thanks for your visit. Cloverleaf.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 15, 2012:

Prasetio, this would help most anyone to learn to read with understanding. It takes time and a dedication to follow this routine every day. However, over time it will happen. You are a most welcome visit here! Thanks foe the support.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on March 14, 2012:

Great hub. You are so knowledgeable to put this information together like this. I like the techniques you listed. They would also work well with my foreign language students! Many votes here!

Cloverleaf from Calgary, AB, Canada on March 14, 2012:

It's funny, but I tend to visualize the words themselves in my mind, rather than the visual images. So if someone asks me how to spell something, I usually already have the letters imprinted firmly in my mind. I think it's a great idea to practice mental images when learning to improve reading skills. I'm sorry but I was unable to do your quiz because it didn't load on my iPad. Thanks for a great hub, voting up and sharing.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on March 14, 2012:

Very inspiring hub, especially for me who come from the country where English wasn't major language. I learn many things from you. Thank you very much and rated up!

Blessing and hugs, Prasetio

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 14, 2012:

So true sofs, if one is able to visually see and relate to content they will read with more understaning. I would add that the closer the reading is to life experiences, the better retained. Thank you for the votes of support and for your visit. Be safe and well.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 14, 2012:

I think a lot of us scored lower on the SAT, GRE and GMAT college entrance exams (and the math, too) because of the time limit pressure and depth of testing. As you proved by your success and degrees, it is a skill that increases with practice and use. I am happy to hear about the wonderful professors who took time to help you. This is rich. Thank you so much, drtuthman, for your votes of support. Blessings.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 14, 2012:

It's good to hear that you practiced the exercise of imaging as you read. It does take time and patience to build this skill. That is why the earlier chldren are introduced to books, the better they will read. I don't think the ability to read with comprehension is specific to any culture, I think it has to do with how early one is introduced to print and sound as words. It would be interesting to see how other countries teach reading skills. If, I could, I would travel and look into this. But for now, the internet has statistics posted that would help to compare reading levels. Thanks for stopping by joanveronica. I appreciate your wonderful comments and so glad you enjoyed the hub. Be blessed.

Sophie on March 14, 2012:

Great information here.. Studies show that people who can relate visually and emotionally to the content they read are the ones who do well in academics.. Active reading is the only way to improve comprehension. Voting up and across. Have a lovely day.

Drtruthman from Harlingen, Texas on March 14, 2012:

Wonderful Hub. So very true. As one who almost did not get admitted into college because my reading and comprehension was so bad, I appreciate greatly. I now have an earned BA, MA and PhD and read over 2800 words a minute with nearly 100% comprehension. It still has allot to be desired due to my epilepsy and medication but the lessons you mention are very effective. I am forever thankful for professors who worked with me in the early days to help me. I hope others will learn from your Hub and apply. I voted UP all across. Great job.

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on March 14, 2012:

I really liked the focus of this hub! As I imagined a person actually practising some of your suggestions, another thought came to mind: you would need a lot of perseverance! Unfortunately, this is not such a common quality, I know Chilean nationals do not score so high here. Would this be a Latino characteristic? As a child in a British family context, I had perseverance drummed into me forever!Thankfully, this has paid off very well in my senior years.Do you have any opinions to share?

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 14, 2012:

Thank you, MazioCreate, I appreciate your visit and commenting on the hub. The table ideas are good practice for everyone as they will help us to increase our reading with comprehension. Be well and safe.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 14, 2012:

Christy, I don't know if my original response reached you and I wanted to thank you for your comment and support through hubpages. I think it would be quite interesting to see how the US compares to Canada in reading levels. I believe our US school systems need boost their primary grade programs to stimulate critical thinking skills. Thanks for the visit and be safe out there!

MazioCreate from Brisbane Queensland Australia on March 13, 2012:

Good hub! In particular the summation of skills and way to practise in the table is a great way to present this information.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 13, 2012:

Now that you mention it, it would be interesting to see how the US compares to Canada in reading levels. The US educational system needs restructuring of the literacy programs in schools to close the gap between high school and college. Thanks for the suggestions, read and words of encouragement.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on March 13, 2012:

Reading daily is a good tip. I live in Canada and would be interested to find out how reading levels compare to the US. The advice you offer is explained well, a very useful hub!

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 13, 2012:

I agree, reading is a path that leads to knowledge and is a habit well worth keeping. Vellur, I thank you for your insight and support. Keep safe!

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 13, 2012:

You have hit upon a great truth: we do visualize what we write and it gives the ability to write with passion. I appeciate your stopping in and your suggestions mean much to me. Blessings!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 13, 2012:

Great hub, excellent ways to improve reading skills. Reading is very important to gain knowledge and improve one's skills. Reading is a great habit to develop. Voted up.

Sturgeonl on March 13, 2012:

What a great hub! Excellent suggestions for developing comprehension. I think the focus you gave to visualizing is so important. I truly believe readers can improve their ability to visualize with practice. This strategy is also important for writindg descriptive and engaging stories. Voted up and useful!

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 12, 2012:

Thanks mythbuster, I appreciate your encouraging words and visit. The tips work well with practice and time and will help those who wish to speed up their reading skill and understanding. Take care.

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 12, 2012:

I am so glad to hear about your GRE score, mine was not so hot either. Why is it that we can teach the subject but cannot score well on the test? I have never been a great test taker. I think it's because I read too much into the content. Glad you stopped in and enjoyed the read. Have a good day.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 12, 2012:

This is an excellent topic and you did it great justice.I scored lowest on the reading comprehension section of the GRE than any other area. I love the mental images tip, a great reminder! Thanks!

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on March 12, 2012:

Nice tips here for adult students or just for anyone who wants to improve reading, comprehension and imagination skills. Thanks for sharing!

Dianna Mendez (author) on March 12, 2012:

I love to write a hubs that may help someone acquire skills that will help build confidence in themselves. Thank you, billybuc, I know you are a busy person and your taking time to stop in and comment means much to me. Also, I know a fellow teacher understands the methods and I appreciate your review. Blessings.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 12, 2012:

Excellent information from an experienced teacher who knows what she is talking about. Nicely done young lady!

Related Articles