An introduction to using visualisation

Visualisation has been widely used in sports psychology over the last 30 years to enhance all aspects of performance. In this article I will be looking at some of the ways that it can be applied to language learning.

An introduction to using visualisation - methodology article


  • What is visualisation?
  • Introducing visualisation to students
  • Guidelines for using visualisation in class
  • Practical applications of visualisation
  • Continue the script
  • Why use visualisation?

What is visualisation?
Visualisation involves the creation of real or unreal images in the mind's eye. I will use it to refer to visual images, images of sound, movement, touch, taste and smell.

Introducing Visualisation to Students
The following script is one way of introducing visualisation to students who have no experience of it. If you would like to experience it yourself, record the script onto a cassette. Then listen to it following the instructions.  


  1. Sit with your back straight. Take a few deep breaths (Wait 20 seconds). Now close your eyes and breathe normally. If you don't want to close your eyes, that's fine. Listen to the sound of your breath coming in and going out. (Wait 20 - 30 seconds)
  2. Imagine you have a TV set in front of your eyes. When you switch on the TV I'd like you to see a white screen. Switch on your TV now and see the white screen. (Wait 20 seconds)
  3. Now write your name on the screen in black using your left or right hand. (Wait 20 - 30 seconds)
  4. Now change the colour of the screen and your name. Choose your favourite colours. Make the colours as bright as possible. (Wait 20 -30 seconds)
  5. You are now going to turn up the volume. When you turn up the volume you will hear your favourite music or song. Turn up the music so you can hear it clearly. (Wait 20 - 30 seconds)
  6. Now let the music and the screen disappear and switch off your TV.
  7. When you're ready open your eyes again.

Follow-up task

  • If you wanted to add the senses of taste and smell, how would you do it?
  • If you were using this script with a class, what language would you pre-teach, or would you translate it into L1?


Guidelines for using visualisation in class


  • If you're using visualisation for the first time, don't be too adventurous. Play safe until you are confident it works for you.
  • Some students may feel that they can't produce images that are 'good enough'. Stress that it's not necessary to produce vivid images like in a dream. If they can describe the image that's fine.
  • Have a clear aim for the visualisation.
  • Use a script. When writing a script include clear open questions to help students produce different images. Use specific verbs, for example, 'see', 'feel', 'hear', 'taste', 'smell'. It is important to include different senses as your class will be made up of students who are predominantly visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners.
  • Include suggestions in your script to help those students that don't automatically produce images. For example:'You're reading a magazine. What kind of magazine is it? It could be a sports magazine or…..'
  • Mark the points where you need to pause to give students time to create images. Practise reading it aloud.
  • In class pre-teach any key vocabulary in the script.
  • Explain what visualisation is and why you are going to use it.
  • Lead students into the visualisation gently. Allow them to relax. If they don't want to close their eyes, that's fine. I use the image of a TV in front of their eyes, but it's only one way. If you have included questions in your script, tell students that they shouldn't answer them aloud.
  • Present your script repeating key elements. Don't rush it.
  • Bring students out of the visualisation gently.
  • After the visualisation, set up the communication / writing etc. task.

Practical applications of visualisation

  • Visualisations can be used for speaking practice as they create a natural information gap.
    • For descriptions. For example, a visualisation of a student's relative, focusing on personality and physical appearance, can be followed by students describing the relative to a partner. Write the questions from the visualisation on the board as prompts, for example, 'What's he/she like? What does he /she look like?'
    • To stimulate speaking. For example, after a visualisation of an airport departure lounge where students hear the conversations of a variety of different people (for example, two strangers who have just met etc), they act out the conversations.
  • For narrating. For example, after a visualisation of a memorable event, students ask each other about the event using the questions from the visualisation. Change the present forms into the past. So 'What's the weather like?' becomes 'What was the weather like?'
  • They can be used to focus on the layout and content of letters. Students write a letter on their TV screens based on question prompts in the script, for example. 'Who are you writing to?' 'Where are you writing the letter?'
  • They can be used to develop students' self-confidence. For example, a visualisation of a successful learning event.
  • Students can also write their own scripts, for example, a virtual tour of their country, their house etc.


Continue the script

If you would like to practise writing scripts, try this task...

In class you are working on the topic of travel and want to revise narrative forms. The aim of your visualisation is to help students recreate a journey they have taken so that they can describe it to a partner. To enable students to really relive the experience write the script as if it's happening in the present. However, after the visualisation write the key questions on the board in the past. Here is the beginning of the script for the visualisation. Continue the script.

  1. When you switch on your TV I'd like you to see yourself on a journey you have taken. It could be a car journey, or a train journey, or a flight or maybe on foot or on a bicycle.
  2. How are you travelling? Where are you going?


Why use visualisation?

  • It can bring classroom activities to life and make them more memorable
  • It creates a natural information gap
  • It combines left- and right-brain functions (language and imagination)
  • It can help students to develop their ability to create different sensory images
  • It can add variety to your teaching
  • It can help students to learn to relax making them more receptive.

Rolf Donald, teacher and teacher trainer, Eastbourne School of English

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