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Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Using a multisensory approach can transform your reading and spelling lessons–for both you and your child. Read on to discover exactly what the multisensory approach is and how you can use it. And don’t miss the free printable activities at the end of this post!

Three Main Pathways to the Brain

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Learning begins with your senses. We can think of our senses as pathways to the brain. When teaching reading and spelling, the three main senses we can involve are sight, hearing, and touch.

  • Sight (the visual pathway)
  • Hearing (the auditory pathway)
  • Touch (the kinesthetic pathway)

It’s not as practical to involve the other two main senses (taste and smell), so for the purposes of teaching reading and spelling, we’ll just focus on these three.

But how do you do that? Aren’t reading and spelling visual skills? You look at the word and read it, right?

It is true that with most curriculum, spelling and reading are taught primarily through the visual pathway, ignoring the other major pathways to the brain. But not only is it possible to activate the auditory and kinesthetic pathways to the brain, doing so is extremely beneficial for most learners. Here’s how that works.

Multisensory Learning Is Powerful!

Think of your eyes, ears, and hands as information receptors for your brain.

Your senses gather information and send it to your brain for processing. Then your brain decides whether to pay attention to the information. If it does, the information is stored in your short-term memory for further processing. The more information receptors you involve, the better the chance that the information will be retained by the brain.

Interestingly, when children are taught using all three pathways to the brain—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—they learn more than when they are taught through only one pathway.1 The more senses we involve, the more learning occurs. So even if your child tends to prefer visual learning, it is still important to teach through all three pathways.

By the way, when you use multisensory teaching, it isn’t necessary to figure out whether your child has a particular learning preference. That’s because the best way to teach is to involve multiple pathways to the brain rather than target just one pathway.

Engage All Three Pathways Simultaneously

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Multisensory teaching is a big improvement over teaching through a single pathway to the brain, but the real power comes when you combine all three pathways at the same time. Here at All About Learning Press, we call this Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction—the SMI method.

SMI is a special subset of multisensory teaching. Instead of involving one pathway at a time, SMI activates two or three pathways to the brain simultaneously.

SMI is powerful because, as neuroscientists say, “brain neurons that fire together, wire together.”2 When we teach using multiple senses simultaneously, the neurons in the respective parts of the brain fire at the same time and wire together to create neural networks. These neural networks allow the brain to store and retrieve information much more effectively and efficiently. Isn’t that exciting?

And when we say that All About Reading and All About Spelling are multisensory programs, it is specifically this highly effective approach that we are referring to.

How the Multisensory Approach Is Used in Our Programs

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Here’s an example of how the SMI method is used in All About Spelling.

When a new phonogram is introduced (for example, phonogram DGE), the teacher dictates the sound “/j/, three-letter /j/.” Then the student writes the letter or letter combination as he repeats the sound.

This simple activity simultaneously engages the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways to the brain:

  • Visual: the child sees the phonogram written down
  • Auditory: the child hears the phonogram sound and repeats it as she writes the letters that make up that phonogram
  • Kinesthetic: the child retains the muscle memory of writing the letter (hand) and saying the sound (jaw, tongue, and voice box)

The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways are all engaged, and the information becomes neurologically linked together. This will allow information to be retrieved more easily than if only one pathway had been engaged.

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Here’s an example of how the SMI method is used in All About Reading.

When blending, the child touches one letter tile at a time, saying the sound as she touches the tile.

This simple activity simultaneously engages all three pathways: visual (seeing the phonogram), auditory (saying the sound), and kinesthetic (touching one tile for each sound). The activity also reinforces the skills of directionality, phonics, and blending, and leads to long-term retention.

Every single lesson in both programs contains multisensory activities.

Ready to Try Multisensory Activities with Your Kids?

Here’s a roundup of five blog posts that feature some of our favorite multisensory activities for reading and spelling. Enjoy!

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Compound Words are most effectively practiced with visual and kinesthetic activities.

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Contractions are a lot more interesting with an activity that engages multiple senses.

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Solve Letter Reversals quickly and effectively by activating all three pathways to the brain simultaneously.

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Word Flippers engage all three pathways while working on decoding skills and automaticity.

Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling

Word Trees reinforce Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes, activating visual and kinesthetic pathways.

Additional Help for Your Child’s Memory

To learn more techniques that help strengthen your child’s memory and achieve learning that really sticks, download my free e-book, Help Your Child’s Memory.

Pages from "Help Your Child's Memory" e-book

You will discover…

  • Why information goes right over your child’s head … and what to do about it
  • How the “Funnel Concept” can improve your teaching and result in long-term learning
  • Schemas—what they are and how they help improve memory
  • What “Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction” is and why it is such a powerful teaching method
  • Six things you can do today to improve your child’s working memory

Do you use multisensory teaching with your children?

___________________________________
1. Farkus, R.D. (2003). Effects of traditional versus learning-styles instructional methods on middle school students. The Journal of Educational Research, 97(1), 42-51.

2. Sousa, D.A. (2017). How the brain learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a Sage Publishing Company.

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Margarita

says:

This was an excellent read. I suspect my son has dyslexia and this information helps me help him. I’ve been all over the internet trying to find new ways to teach him and this was such an eye opener.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Margarita! We also have a Dyslexia Resources page I think you will find even more helpful.

If you have questions or need anything, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Alana

says:

This has really helped my daughter to read!! She is a tactile learner and does bot memorize sight words well. What an amazing program this has been for us. She has no finished all levels, and is a BEAUTIFUL reader. Without this program I’m convinced she wouldn’t be reading. Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so excited to hear that All About Reading’s multisensory approach has been so helpful for your daughter, Alana! Thank you for sharing!

YaadStyle Homeschooling

says:

I wished that I had learnt this earlier in my life but here is to my new start. Thank you again for all this valuable information.

Katie

says:

This multi sensory program has made all the difference for my daughter who was struggling and hated reading. She really enjoys this program. Thank you so much!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that All About Reading is helping your daughter enjoy learning to read, Katie! That is so important!

Tania

says:

The multi-sensory approach has made all the difference for my child!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So great to hear, Tania!

Glenda W.

says:

Awesome Program!!! This program worked so well, so easily! I Highly Recommend AAR to everyone whether their children have struggles to read, or not! We had tried multiple others once we began homeschooling. The school tried something but never acknowledged he was dyslexic, despite failing Kindergarten standards twice for not learning letters the first year, and beginning reading the second year. When placed in 1st & 2nd grade, he did not improve. I had decided to homeschool him for 3rd grade! Fortunately, something good came of COVID. I began schooling him and was able to repeat 2nd grade with the state’s blessings. Last year, 3rd grade, I began with AAR and he began to sound out simple 3 letter words!!!! This year, 4th grade, he tries to read everything in his environment!!! He’s still learning…. But is actually reading multi-syllable words…. Not fluently, YET! He enjoys reading books with me and his Mom! We will start AAS this year, as well. I am grateful to AAR for guiding my grandson, who is severely dyslexic, to conquer the world of reading. What a boost to his self-esteem! We all enjoyed the fun, games & sensory learning activities!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, Glenda, this is so wonderful to hear! It’s exciting to read that All About Reading was able to help your grandson have such great success with reading! Thank you for sharing his story.

Elizabeth Nerland

says:

my dyslexic child struggles (among other things) with keeping b and d straight – we used the multi sensory approach recommended and found lots of different materials to make a b and d from to build a poster. He spent quite a bit of time feeling all the different materials I had gathered and finally selected the “right” material for each letter. He has made so much progress – and it was also a very engaging exercise giving him some ownership over his learning. As he would say, “it was a win, win, winnie!” :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that your child is having such success with multisensory methods to help him master b and d, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing the details too!

Mary M

says:

This makes SO much sense, thank you for sharing!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Mary!

Tania

says:

This is SO important!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We agree, Tania!

Stephanie Mestdagh

says:

Love this program. It helped my son tremendously!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Stephanie! I’m so pleased it’s been so helpful for your son.

Christine

says:

The multi-sensory approach of AAR and AAS has made a big difference in my child’s reading and spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Christine! It’s wonderful that the multisensory approach is having a good impact on your child’s learning!

Amy Beth

says:

The multi sensory approach is one of the big reasons I love your programs.

Laura

says:

Multi sensory approach to spelling and reading has been a game changer for our family.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Laura!

Amanda Snyder

says:

This approach seems the best for myself and my child. I love how “hands” on it is. Makes learning so much more fun,

Jennifer

says:

AAS is the only spelling curriculum that worked for BOTH my older two boys – one with an auditory processing deficit, and one with Dyslexia. The use of the multi-sensory approach helped them develop strategies to work around their respective difficulties. I can’t wait to use AAS again, and now AAR, too, as I go through learning to read and spell with my younger two kiddos.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing how All About Spelling’s approach has been helpful for your boys, Jennifer! It’s wonderful to hear!

ET

says:

I love this three-way approach to reading. I think that my little one will really enjoy working with the tiles!

Bethany

says:

I have two children who are learning how to read from this curriculum.

Shellee

says:

Thank you! I’ve learned so much about learning from you <3

Jen

says:

One of our super fun lessons took place on a swing in our basement, cards being flung after reading them correctly. Kiddos were happy!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That does sound like a super fun activity, Jen!

McKayla Dippold

says:

Wow! Needed this post today! Been struggling to get the letters and sounds to stick. Definitely need to include more senses!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, McKayla! However, if you need additional ideas or have concerns, please let us know. We’re happy to help!

Brittney

says:

I can’t wait to use this curriculum! The tip on b and d is genius!

Abby

says:

The multi sensory approach has been a game changer for my daughter.

Kim Jones

says:

Such great tips! I’ll be sure to use some when we start school next month!

Mz

says:

Love the bed tool to help differentiate b and d

Sara

says:

This article has some very useful information!

Kristy

says:

What a great way to help children in the best way for them!

Kristy

says:

What great ideas for helping children in the best way for them!

Kristi

says:

We’ve been homeschooling 5 years now and AAS/AAR is a must in our household! Can’t wait to use it with my son for the first time this year!

Michele

says:

Yes! We love kinesthetic learning. Want to do this more with spelling and handwriting this year!

Luz Tijerina-Garduno

says:

I am so thankful for all of this information.

Juliana Dancer

says:

Thank you so much for this curriculum! It takes all the guess work out of providing quality multisensory teaching