Many concepts depend upon a student’s ability to understand without a reliance on language. In particular, a student’s ability to visualize what such concepts are describing solidifies his/her understanding of that concept. This ability is known as mental representation. The rotation of the planets and the geographic locations of countries are two such instances of nonverbal concepts that may be best understood through mental representation.

In addition, the growth of conceptual understanding depends upon a student’s higher order thinking ability to know when he/she does and does not understand, that is, metacognitive awareness.

Here are some strategies to help students enhance their ability to understand nonverbal concepts.

Helpful Hints

  • Guide students through the multiple forms of maps (globes, physical, route, weather, populations, political). Students may need specific instructions in reading maps of different types.  
  • Arrange for students to construct their own maps to show personal or relevant information, such as drawing maps of areas in school or pictures of their rooms.
  • Use maps, diagrams, charts, tables, etc. to reinforce what is being learned, rather than introduce new information.  
  • Give students practice connecting picture illustrations/diagrams with written text. For example, have students match with diagrams to math word problems, a written outline of a reading passage to a sematic map of that same passage, etc.  
  • Have students preview the graphics/diagrams in reading assignments, then read the passage, and then reexamine the graphics/diagrams within the text. The previewing and re-examination will likely make the graphics more meaningful.  
  • Incorporate guided creative thinking activities into the content areas to promote ongoing concept formation. For example: In mathematics, How can 4/5 and .8 refer to the same quantity? In science, Since light seems to be neither a wave nor a particle, what is it? In social studies, How is a topographic map similar to and different from a satellite map?, etc. (Sternberg & Spear-Swerling, 1996)