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Answered by Lisa Lewis and Allyson Cousineau Grant, Speech-Language Pathologists at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO)

The following article was developed in conjunction with the  TA@l’école webinar entitled La stratégie d’imagerie mentale du mot et son efficacité dans l'identification rapide des mots fréquents [Mental imagery strategy for visualizing words and its effectiveness in quickly identifying common words]; click here to see the recorded webinar (only available in French).

Mental imagery, or the ability to create a visual representation in your mind, is a powerful concept that is widely used in the world of medicine and psychology. Researchers are also finding that it has its place in education. More specifically, creating a mental image of a word can support visual reading processes (Bell, 2020). Research shows that this strategy benefits students diagnosed with dyslexia or dysorthography (Simos, et al, 2002; Krafnick, et al., 2011; Faber, 2006). In addition, creating mental imagery of a word is a strategy that can be used in the classroom to support reading and writing instruction. There are many strategies and methods used for teaching reading and spelling and mental imagery can be used in conjunction with them and as an Errorless Learning Method. This article will explore two errorless lexical spelling methods that support spelling instruction: teaching spelling patterns and the visuo-semantic method.

Errorless lexical spelling is a method that is gaining increasing recognition and support. This is a “method of encouraging behaviour whereby the learner cannot make mistakes or can avoid mistakes as much as possible” (Stanké, et al. 2015). The aim of this method is to present opportunities where the student always sees the appropriate spelling of each of the words studied.

Among the various errorless learning methods, we would like to draw attention to the method of teaching spelling patterns, which “consists of offering children the opportunity to explicitly learn lists of unrelated words that share certain spelling patterns” “Stanké, et al. 2015). This method overlaps with the strategy of creating mental images of words, linking spelling and images. By studying the target words on the list, students and teachers can complete various word manipulation tasks starting with the correct spelling, right from the start. The image of the targeted word is therefore recorded, memorized and stored correctly during various reading and writing tasks. One example of this is a word ladder activity, like the one pictured below.

mental imagery

A second errorless learning method is the visuo-semantic teaching method, which “facilitates memorizing inconsistent spellings of words by using (different) types of memory. (This method) consists of making a drawing to illustrate a word’s underlying concept, while at the same time integrating how to spell a sound that may pose a problem” (Stanké, et al. 2015). This memory-enhancing method can be paired with the mental imagery strategy, by using the illustrations like the ones below, which link spelling and imagery, on flashcards used during mental imagery tasks.

mental imagery snake

The examples above illustrate how errorless learning methods and mental imagery strategies can be used simultaneously to provide students with many opportunities to learn correct and appropriate spelling.

Let’s explore a more practical scenario illustrating the use of errorless learning methods during a lesson on creating mental images of words. To begin with, by making judicious word choices, teachers can create lists of words that have similar spelling patterns. These word lists can be combined effectively with the word ladder activities proposed above. In addition, when teachers give students words to read, students can be provided with visual clues as suggested by the visuo-semantic teaching method. If a student makes a mistake by incorrectly reading a particular word, the teacher should then follow the following steps for handling errors (e.g., the student reads “giraffe” with a “hard” g instead of a “soft” g or pronounces the “t” in “castle”). First, give the student the right pronunciation of the word by warning them that this is a word that plays tricks on people, and reinforce this word through mental imagery exercises (e.g., manipulating the letters in the word) (Bell, 2020).

In conclusion, different literacy methods and strategies can be combined to provide an additional effective reading and writing intervention. It is essential to use all the evidence-based modalities available to us (e.g., gestural, visual, auditory, etc.), to support our students and to enable them to advance in learning to read and to spell. The mental imagery strategy for words is highly recommended for students with LDs. It offers many advantages for learning how to read and spell, and for reading and spelling remediation. Mental imagery, when combined with other strategies, is a winning avenue for teachers to enrich their literacy approaches to ensure practical and effective interventions with students in their classrooms.


Bell, N. (2020). Seeing Stars ® Program Symbol Imagery for Phonological and Orthographic Processing in Reading and Spelling (SI) - Second Edition. [Manual]. California, U.S.A.

Faber, Günter. (2006) The effects of visualizing and verbalizing methods in remedial spelling training: individual changes in dyslexic students’ spelling test performance. International Journal of Special Education, 21(3), 85 – 95. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ843622.pdf

Krafnick, A. J., Flowers, D. L., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2011). Gray matter volume changes following reading intervention in dyslexic children. Neuroimage, 57, 733-741. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.062.

Simos, P. G., Fletcher, J. M., Bergman, E., Breier, J. I., Foorman, B. R., Castillo, E. M. … Papanicolaou, A.C. (2002). Dyslexic-specific brain activation profile becomes normal following successful remedial training. Neurology, 58, 1203–1212. doi:10.1212/WNL.58.8.1203.

Stanké, B., Ferlatte, M-A., Granger, S. & Poulin, M-J. (2015) Efficacité de l’enseignement sans erreur de l’orthographe lexicale. Québec, Canada. (https://brigittestanke.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/efficacitc3a9-de-l_enseignement-sans-erreur-des-cahiers-de-laqpf-volume-5-num_351ro-3.pdf)

About the Authors:

Allyson GrantAllyson Cousineau Grant, MHSc., O(C), Member of CALSPO/OAOO

For more than 13 years, Allyson Cousineau Grant has worked at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO) with children and adolescents who have a variety of communication difficulties, including difficulties in speech, language, reading and writing. Ms. Cousineau Grant also provides assessment and intervention services with preschool- and school-aged children, at a private office. In these varied contexts, she collaborates with the teaching staff and special education technicians to support them in their interventions with special needs students in the classroom setting. This strong collaboration allows her to identify and integrate winning strategies for supporting such students. In recent years, as part of the Master’s Programs in Speech-Language Pathology and in Audiology at the University of Ottawa, Ms. Cousineau Grant has taught the following courses: Troubles du développement du langage en milieu scolaire [Language development disorders in a school setting], Développement et fonctionnement typique de la communication [Development and typical functioning of communication], and Concepts d’orthophonie pertinents à l’audiologie [Concepts of speech-language pathology that are relevant to audiology]. She is also delighted to provide the course in Développement de la lecture et de l’écriture, évaluation et intervention en milieu francophone en ligne [Development of reading and writing, assessment and intervention in a Francophone online setting] for the University of Alberta. Passionate about teaching and about the education of apprentices in speech-language pathology, she participates in supervising interns in order to give them the necessary tools to apply theories, strategies and effective priority interventions in a school setting. She has many areas of interest as a speech-language pathologist, but Ms. Cousineau Grant focuses her efforts on language, reading and writing disorders, as well as on augmentative and alternative communication (AAO).


Lisa LewisLisa Lewis, MHSc, O(C), Member of CALSPO/OAOO

For the past 18 years, Lisa Lewis has worked with different populations, such as with preschool and school-aged children, as well as adults presenting with various developmental or acquired communication disorders. She has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to oral and written language difficulties and disorders (reading and writing), social communication (pragmatics), speech (articulation/phonology, voice and stuttering), learning disabilities and executive functions. In her job at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), she works very closely with all members of the school team to support them in their interventions with students, whether these are one-on-one, small-group or classroom interventions. This strong collaboration has enabled her to equip staff with effective and winning strategies so that they can better support special needs students, such as those who have a language development difficulty or disorder (LDD), a learning disability (LD), or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as to support students with a mild intellectual disability (MID). In recent years, Ms. Lewis has also taught a few college-level courses at Cité Collégiale, as well as certain courses in the Master’s Program in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Ottawa. Since 2016, Ms. Lewis has also participated as a speaker each year at the LD@school’s Educators’ Institute, with the goal of supporting Ontario teachers working with K-12 students with LDs, to help them adapt their teaching approach efficiently. Passionate about teaching and about the education of new speech-language pathologists, she participates actively in the clinical supervision of many speech-language pathology and audiology interns so that they will be equipped to apply winning practices and strategies, and effective priority interventions in school settings.