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Picture-At-Punctuation –

A Powerful Tool for Assimilating Facts in Reading

Picture-At-Punctuation is a simple technique drawn from the Davis Methods which enhances both comprehension and retention of what we read. The principles behind the technique are straightforward:

  • Punctuation marks such as full stops, exclamation marks, question marks, colons, semicolons, and sometimes commas, mark the end of a complete thought;

  • A complete thought can be either pictured or felt. The words: “There was a woman standing by the…” do not evoke a complete mental image. The complete sentence: “There was a woman standing by the kiosk.” does;

  • Words are but symbols. A word encodes an idea, but the idea itself is distinct from the word. To comprehend words or text, we have to decode them; consciously or unconsciously, we must convert the words that we read or hear into mental imagery;

  • For detailed, conscious comprehension of text, the above punctuation marks serve as “Stop Signs” where we can stop and check if we have a clear mental image (picture or feeling) about the sentence or clause we have just read.

Using this process for fictional text is an exciting process that brings the printed word to life. Try reading through the following passage that forms the opening of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis , stopping at each vertical line to check your mental image of the section immediately preceding:

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, | he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. | He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back, | and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments, | on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. | His numerous legs, | which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, | waved helplessly before his eyes."

Stopping at each full stop and most of the commas to create a conscious mental image converts this passage into a vivid, almost movie-like experience. As well as making reading pleasurable, the technique may enhance our critical reading abilities. Can insects actually lift their heads high enough to see their legs? Why does the passage refer to “numerous legs” when all insects have just six?

Consciously converting words into images also enhances and extends our retention of what we read. I have worked with individuals who, after reading a passage using Picture-At-Punctuation just once, were able to answer comprehension questions on the passage, impromptu, in full detail as much as two weeks later.

So much for fictional writing; but what happens when a student applies this technique to factual texts, such as subject-specific reading for school? Take these passages:

“What is the impact of outward UK direct and portfolio investment? In the short term, overseas investment sees money leaving the country and so worsens the current account. In the long term, income earned from these UK assets owned overseas is a credit item in the income section of the current account. As a result of past overseas investment, the current account improves.”[1]

“A mole of a molecular compound contains 6 x 1023 molecules. It has a mass that is equal to its relative formula mass. So a mole of water (HO) has a mass of 18 g. A mole of carbon dioxide (CO) has a mass of 44 g. This also works for ionic compounds, so a mole of sodium chloride (NaCl) has a mass of 58.5 g.”[2]

Without a certain level of subject knowledge, the Picture-At-Punctuation technique will seem to “fail”.  However, this is precisely the point at which the technique becomes a powerful diagnostic tool. If a student stops at a punctuation mark and cannot form a mental image, this tells us that one or more of the terms contained in the preceding sentence or clause is not fully comprehended by the student. For instance, if a student cannot picture the meaning of the words outward, direct, portfolio and/or investment, he or she will not succeed in creating a mental image for the meaning of the first question in the first passage. If a student cannot picture the meaning of mole, molecule, compound, mass and/or relative formula mass, he or she will make little headway in picturing the first two sentences of the second passage.

At this point, Picture-At-Punctuation can be used in conjunction with a range of simple research tools: discussion with a teacher or fellow-student, a paper or electronic dictionary, Internet resources including Google Images, and (if known,) other Davis techniques such as Symbol Mastery for Words, can all help to fill in the absent mental images for the meanings of these words. Doing so regularly with a student creates the habit of researching unknown words while reading. With this approach, Picture-At-Punctuation becomes not just an aid to reading comprehension, but a vehicle for repairing missing or mis-learnt knowledge.

[1] Source: Tutor2U -

[2] Source: BBC Bitesize:

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