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Visualization strategies help students solve math word problems.

Visualization strategies help students—including those with autism spectrum disorder—to learn the cognitive processes for solving math word problems.

Visualization facilitates comprehension, memory and recall, and problem solving. It is a critical component of problem representation, yet many students do not use this important process in learning.


Using Visualization to Solve Math Word Problems

The visualization process requires students to picture familiar situations or settings, such as their bedroom, and describe what they see. Students often close their eyes when they visualize these familiar scenes. They can visualize themselves as they walk to school or the bus stop and describe what they see along the way. Other visualization activities can be used to acquaint students with this powerful learning tool.

Visualization is used in combination with verbal rehearsal to practice recitation of processes and strategies. Verbal rehearsal is speaking aloud the components of a task or strategy until the components are committed to memory (i.e., Solve It!’s Read, Paraphrase, Visualize, Hypothesize, Estimate, Compute, and Check, known as the acronym RPV-HECC). In Solve It!, students memorize the mathematical problem-solving processes. They are instructed to close their eyes, remember the acronym RPV-HECC, and see the steps in their minds.

Initially, students are required to think out loud as they solve math problems at their seats. After a few months of weekly practice, as they become more proficient problem solvers, they will progress to covert (e.g., whispering, thinking to oneself, and silent self-talk) rather than overt verbalization of the Solve It! process as they solve problems.


Visualization Helps Students Represent Math Word Problems

Students also are taught how to use visualization to represent mathematical problems with pictures, diagrams, storyboards, tables, graphs, and other schematic and graphic displays. They begin by making drawings, pictures, or other visual representations on paper but are told that they also can make mental images.

The teacher models the difference between a pictorial representation or simple picture of a problem and a schematic representation (i.e., an image that shows the relationships among the problem parts). This is crucial, as the representations—to be useful—must show the relationships among the problem parts and incorporate relevant information in the problem. As students become proficient math word problem solvers, they will use paper and pencil only when problems are particularly challenging or when they are appropriate to the problem.


Learn More

Solve It! is an evidenced-based instructional approach that helps students—including those with math difficulties, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder—learn the cognitive processes and self-regulation strategies to develop math word problem-solving skills. Visualization is a key instructional strategy that students learn when becoming good problem solvers. Learn more.