reading and imagining exercises for kids

Reading and Imagining Writing Exercise For Kids

My guest blogger today is Jeffrey Pfaum, an inner-city schoolteacher, who is sharing his creative ideas for reading, writing, imaginning and drawing exercises.


Reading-and-Imagining Writing Exercise

You can develop the imagination with simple exercises, where the mind changes words into pictures. Ask your child to close her eyes and picture—or visualize—words in her mind. For example, have her read the word dog, and say:

  • “Picture the word ‘dog’ in your mind.”
  • “What are you looking at?”
  • What picture(s) do you imagine?”
  • “Describe the mind-picture(s).”
  • Draw or pencil-sketch what you imagine.”
  • “What thoughts, feelings, and experiences are triggered by the mind-picture(s)?”

(1) The key is to draw out the details of the mind-picture, or what they are visualizing: type of dog (if they can name it), color(s), shape/size (what it looks like), and actions, movements, and behavior. The more they see and imagine, the greater the engagement and motivation.

(2) When you add feelings, thoughts, and experiences to the picture, you expand their response to reading words: “I want you to find “dogs” by scanning—taking a quick-look back—at your memories with the mind’s eye to find pictures, feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Write your answer and draw or sketch what you imagine.”

Note: When first introducing visualizing words, the practice responses/lessons can be oral.

reading and imagining exercises

Try Longer and More Complex Sentences

From 2-word real and surreal sentences, continue with longer and more complex sentences, for example:

  • Lightning struck the tree.
  • The trees’ leaves changed colors in the fall.
  • The father teaches his young daughter how to ride a bicycle.
  • She practiced tennis by hitting balls against on the handball court in the schoolyard,
  • smashing them hard off the walls, one shot after the other, running side-to-side, forward and back, to reach the bouncing balls.
  • One day, while riding the bus to school, millions of butterflies came in through the windows, filling up every inch of space, covering me, and also, the other passengers, and made us into human butterfly people.

Follow through with the basic questions—pictures, feelings, and thoughts experienced—to get your child to see what happens in the mind after reading the sentence:

  • “What picture(s) do you see in your mind?”
  • “What feelings, thoughts, and experiences are triggered by the mind-picture(s)?”
  • “Draw or sketch what you see in your imagination.”
  • “Who or what is viewing the mind-picture?”
  • “Where do you see this mind-picture?”
  • “How is visualization or imagining like watching a movie?”

Drawing or sketching the mind-pictures reinforces the visualization process. Also, ask them to explain their drawings: “What is happening in this scene?”


Part 2: “Contemplation Music Writing”

“Reading-and-Imagining” connects to the second part of the project, “Contemplation Music Writing,” mainly through the similar fundamental skills taught: visualizing, creating, thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  These basic learning skills make the reading activities effective multi-sensory morning “workouts” because they energize and motivate kids.

The Music Activity: Contemplating Inner Experience Listening to Music

The purpose of the counting activity is showing kids firsthand what inner experiences are.  These practice exercises act as a lead-in to the music writing activities.


  • “I am going to play 10 minutes of music for you to listen to with your eyes closed.”
  • “Sit back, relax, and put your head down on the table/desk.”
  • “’Contemplate your experiences’ while listening to the music.”
  • “To contemplate your experiences, means to look closely and carefully at whatever is happening in your mind and imagination while the music plays.”
  • “When the music stops, take 1 minute of ‘think time,’ to recall your inner experiences,

 and then write about whatever happened inside yourself.”

  • “Search for and re-view any mind-pictures that might have come up.”
  • “Check out any feelings and thoughts that came up while listening.”
  • “Write as many experiences as you can remember on your paper.


Key Notes about Contemplation Music Writing 

The main purposes of the two-part project is to:

  • Help children become aware of the internal skills needed for for learning and learning how to learn.
  • See what happens inside their heads while reading and writing.
  • Become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent.
  • Give kids plenty of time to understand and appreciate the contemplation process.  One key to successfully implementing Contemplation Music Writing is doing it regularly: tri-weekly sessions will impact a kid’s way of thinking, perceiving, and experiencing the inside-and-outside worlds.
  • As the contemplation writing sessions accumulate, children increase their self-awareness and inner-sight or seeing inside.  They learn about the contemplation process and enjoy the music as it soothes them into their world(s).  Experiencing one’s self is an important part of the learning process.  If kids are aware of the mind’s ability to observe, record, visualize, re-create, and create pictures, they have discovered a way to get into the underlying worlds of reading and writing.
  • Throughout the two-part project you’re relying on the child’s written and oral responses to develop the lessons, and you never know what you’re going to get, which can make things a little tenuous.  Their answers—and your questions—will make up the discussions following every writing lesson.  The combination of questions-and-answers, an inquiry- and passion-based approach, will improve and expand the communication between parent-teacher-and-child/student.


Music for the Contemplation Writing Lessons

Use music, from popular (Top 40) to classical, or their “playlist of favorite songs,” so kids can encounter themselves and experience the feelings and sensations associated with their inside worlds.  They will learn to see what brings them up-and-down, and create a positive attitude towards the art of contemplation, thinking creatively as well as critically, and develop self-expression skills.  You also want that same attitude towards your communication with them.

Even though some of your child’s contemplation writings might show negativity, that’s fine.  It will be the experience of music and contemplation and then, in turn, expressing and discussing it with you, that will provide the release of emotions.

The music I used—from the 80s—included songs by Michael Jackson, Whitney Huston, Lionel Ritchie, Peaches and Herb, Eddie Grant, Billy Joel, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, and the Police, as well as meditative classical music, flute music by Carlos Nakai (Native American) and Werner John, and meditation tapes of ocean sounds, for example.  You can also let your child choose his/her favorite music from their playlists and iTunes repertoire.

I experimented with different kinds of music for many years and discovered that most of the selections worked because they helped ease kids into peaceful journeys of self-discovery as well as self-motivation.  The combination of inner-sight, awareness, and energy became the fuel that created a positive learning environment in the classroom.

 Jeffrey Pfaum teacher

As an inner-city schoolteacher, Jeffrey Pflaum created innovative projects in reading, writing, thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, poetry, concentration, and vocabulary. He has written a book titled Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Can Lead the Way.


reading and imagining exercises for kids

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. A great post – this really chimed with me. I’ve used a couple of the ideas that you recommend Jeffrey (during author talks to schools in London) but I’m encouraged to explore this further after reading your post.
    Regarding the use of music, you may be interested in something I tried recently. I wasn’t sure how well it would go down with the 5/6 year-old children in the class I was reading to – but actually it proved one of the most effective things I’ve done (and the adults in the room loved it too). At one point in the story a broken mechanical dinosaur wakes up. Here, I stopped reading and uncovered a tatty, leather-covered box (a wind-up gramophone). I asked the children to guess what it was. Of course none of them knew, but they came up with some very imaginative suggestions. One girl asked if it was a ‘time portal’ – and I said that actually, in a way, it was. I then asked them all to imagine the broken dinosaur waking as I wound up the handle and played ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ sung by Dinah Shore in the 1930s. I was worried that this would be too much of a digression away from dinosaurs, and maybe a bit too sophisticated for that age group, but not so. The music is very haunting (and more so with the hiss of the gramophone) so it really captured that moment in the story and brought it to life as a imaginative experience.
    Looking at your suggestions, next time I will make more of this. So thanks for your post – I’m sure others will find it useful too.

    • Hi N.S. Blackman,
      What a cool author visit you did! Love the gramophone idea! That is wonderful.

      For anyone who is wondering what book N. S. Blackman is referring to, she is the author of The Secret Dinosaur series. It’s perfect for kids just starting to read independently who love dinosaurs. Her’s is a fun adventure with a fun twist to the dinosaurs — they are machines that come back to life!!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Mr. Avila’s Kindergarteners Act Out Miss Nelson is Back!My Profile

    • Dear N.S. Blackman,

      Thanks very much taking the time to comment on the post.

      “Smoke gets in your eyes” is not too sophisticated for the 5/6 year old age children because music of all kinds triggers the mind and imagination of different age groups. Didn’t the Platters also do a version of it? I can still hear the title line ringing through my ears…

      I worked my “Contemplation Music Writing Project” with 2nd grade kids and the stories they wrote were amazing, like giant pizzas devouring the earth, followed by that same student writer devouring the giant pizzas, until she blew up. Ha, ha. The creative storytelling came after listening to music, with no prompts, except to “write about whatever you experienced inside yourself while the music played.” So there are a lot of creative and perceptive doors to be opened by throwing in a little music.

      The frameworks for visualization were also taught via diagrams of the inner eye illuminating or spotlighting the triggered mental-images traveling across an imaginary TV screen in the “mind’s magic reading theater.” Here, in my approach, the imagination is called a “self-amusement park,” where kids can have fun and entertain themselves viewing mind-pictures, memories, dreams, fantasies, and experiences, along with the accompanying feelings and thoughts.

      This might sound sophisticated for lower grade children, but at that stage, the creativity level is extremely high, and they “get-the-picture(s).”

      You might be interested in checking out Betsy Rose (Google her online) who uses her original music/songs and the guitar to develop mindfulness/awareness in younger children.

      I looked through your dinosaur series of books and thought they were terrific–fantastic illustrations.

      With kind regards,

      Jeff Pflaum

  2. Love the idea of combining music with writing. As adults, most of us listen to music while we work…what a wonderful idea to introduce music as a way to encourage creativity in children whose environment does not encourage them to write.

    • Hi Barbara,
      I totally agree! I want to try this with my son this summer as a way to get him to write more! He writes wonderfully imaginative stories but has to be encouraged to write since he much prefers video games.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Mr. Avila’s Kindergarteners Act Out Miss Nelson is Back!My Profile

    • Hi Barbara,

      Yes, it works, music triggers so much, and please check my comment to N.S. Blackman for more information connected to your comment.

      I have re-connected with my former students, now in their 30s and 40s, and they said, in the beginning, when I first started using music writing with them, they were not thrilled with a no-prompt approach, like, what do I write about if he doesn’t tell me. I wanted the kids to dig deeper because “everyone has something important to say and express,” and I wanted to, and would, listen to it in a non-judgmental way.

      With upper elementary children, 4th and 5th grade kids, and 6th grade middle school kids, their “contemplations” or writings were, for the most part, about real-life experiences (although fantasies and daydreams were expressed as well).

      For younger children in the 2nd grade, it was a creativity and imagination explosion into storytelling, yet, some kids did chime in with everyday experiences such as questioning things that happened in their lives: “Why does my older sister pick on me?”

      Combining music with writing came from my own experiences with music: When I came home from a hard day at school, I played music to drown it all out, but instead, it all came back to me, the mind-pictures, feelings, and thoughts I went through during that day.

      So I tried it out on the kids to see what would happen–and things did happen that changed the children individually and the entire classroom environment.

      Check out my website,, for samples of the students’ writings, themes culled from the writings/contemplations, articles on “Contemplation Writing,” and other information related to combining music with writing.


      Jeffrey Pflaum

  3. What creative writing prompts! I need to try some of these with my 8yo this summer!
    MaryAnne recently posted…Summer Fun for Kids from Crayon Box ChroniclesMy Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,
      I was thinking the same for my 9-year-old!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Mr. Avila’s Kindergarteners Act Out Miss Nelson is Back!My Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,

      Thanks for your comment.

      As I had mentioned to Barbara, please check out my comment to N.S. Blackman.

      My work is not so much about prompts, because I consider my writing technique a “non-prompt” approach.” It’s more about giving kids ‘frameworks” or structures for visualization as a way to develop their creativity and creative thinking skills (see my comment to Barbara).

      I drew simple diagrams on the board: a profile of a face with a real eye looking outward, and an imaginary inner eye inside the head looking at and highlighting mind-pictures (m-ps), feelings (f’s), and thoughts (t’s) moving across an imaginary TV screen (rectangle).

      To demonstrate this concept ask them to visualize absurd sentences (as well as real sentences) and use the questions described in the post to probe their responses. Especially with silly, ridiculous sentences, you will find kids responding and really enjoying themselves thinking, feeling, visualizing, and experiencing the inner landscapes of mind and imagination. They will begin to understand the ideas behind the inner eye, mind-pictures, triggered feelings/thoughts, and the imaginary TV screen in the mind.

      When you put all these ideas together you get the “mind’s magic writing theater,” where kids will take the mind-pictures (along with conjured up and connected feelings, thoughts, and experiences) and “translate” or change them into words or “story.”

      With kind regards,

      Jeffrey Pflaum

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