The multi-sensory approach involves different parts of the human brain, which provides learners with more than a single way to make connections, understand more concepts and retain knowledge. For instance, in an activity that integrates auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli, children will be able to build a relationship between the sound, feeling and appearance of that learning activity, which will enable learners to better remember the main information of that task.
Multi-sensory techniques can be used and adapted to support students learning in any topic area or subject. It is suitable for every student from the early years to secondary and higher education. The traditional learning process of some subjects involves multisensory learning as a normal way to teach relevant subjects to the students.
Multi-sensory instruction can be broken down into four pathways:
- Auditory (Sense of Hearing)
- Visual (Sense of Sight)
- Tactile (Sense of Touch or Fine Motor Movement)
- Kinaesthetic (Body Movement or Gross Motor Movement)
Typically, one of these modalities is usually predominant in each student. Some prefer to use their hands when learning, while others might need to see a visual representation of an image or picture to grasp the concept.
When a lesson utilises all four learning pathways, it capitalises on student strengths and strengthens their weaknesses. By using lessons that engage multiple modalities, educators have a much better chance for students to grasp a concept on initial instruction.
While some still think the Orton-Gillingham reading approach only belongs in special education or reading intervention programs, we have seen first-hand the type of impact it can have for all students.
5.4.1. Multi-Sensory Activity Examples
Students learn at different paces. However, by using multi-sensory strategies, students are given multiple opportunities through various delivery styles to reach their full learning potential.
Here are five activities that you can implement in your classroom today!
- Read it, Build it, Write it
This multi-sensory activity is perfect for teaching Red Words, or irregular words (i.e. ‘said’ or ‘does’). For these words that don’t fit the expected spelling patterns, students need to be able to master them and identify the irregularities.
In this activity, students are given a sheet of paper with three boxes on it, labelled “Read It”, “Build It”, and “Write It”. Each student is also given flashcards that have Red Words already written on them, magnetic or block letters, and a writing tool.
The students and the teacher will read the irregular word that is in the “Read It” box. With the teacher’s help, students can identify what makes the word irregular. Identify what is unexpected in the spelling pattern. From there, your students will use magnetic letters to build the word they just read in the “Build It” box. Once they’ve successfully built the word, the student writes it in the “Write It” box.
- Writing in Sand/Shaving Cream
This multi-sensory technique incorporates visual, auditory, and tactile pathways to reinforce letter-sound correspondence.
Using cookie sheets, plastic trays, tables, paper plates or other mediums, teachers can have sand prepared or shaving cream ready ahead of time. The teacher calls out a known sound. The student repeats the sound, then uses their pointer and middle fingers to write the letter that makes that sound while verbalizing the letter name and sound (/b/ b says /b/). By using their fingers to write, they are accessing thousands of nerve endings that transfer patterns to the brain.
If you choose to use this strategy for whole words instead of letters, make sure you are choosing phonetic words that follow expected spelling patterns.
- Air Writing
This is a similar activity to writing in sand or shaving cream but uses gross motor (and is less messy!) Air writing, also called sky writing, helps reinforce the letter and sound that each letter makes through muscle memory.
When air writing, have students stand and air write with their dominant arm. Students should move from their shoulder to promote large muscle movement. Tell your students to visualise the letter in a specific colour. As students air write, have them verbalise the letter name and sound.
- Arm Tapping
This activity is aimed at helping students master irregular words through multi-sensory review.
To begin this activity, have a stack of cards that contain the words your students are studying. One-by-one, state the word and hold the card in front of you with your non-dominant hand. Make sure the card is at the eye-level of your students as they need to be focused on seeing the words.
Always have students arm tap left to right using their dominant hand. Right-handed students place their right hand on their left shoulder. Left-handed students place their left hand on their right wrist. Say each letter of the word while you tap down your arm using your flat hand. When students have tapped out each letter, state the whole word again while sweeping left to right (shoulder to wrist or wrist to shoulder). Think of it as underlining the word.
- Blending Boards
Blending boards are used for students to practice segmenting sounds and blending the sounds into syllables. This helps prepare students for decoding multisyllabic words. Our IMSE blending boards can hold up to three large card stacks that feature individual letters, as well as blends and digraphs.
These are placed in CVC (consonant vowel consonant) order on the board. The teacher places a hand over each card while students state each sound. Then the teacher sweeps a hand over all of the letters while students state the word or syllable.
If students struggle with the CVC pattern, try using the VC pattern. Starting with a continuant sound versus a stopped sound will also help struggling students.