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!
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.
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.
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.
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. This is called 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?
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:
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.
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.
Here’s a roundup of five blog posts that feature some of our favorite multisensory activities for reading and spelling. Enjoy!
Compound Words are most effectively practiced with visual and kinesthetic activities.
Contractions are a lot more interesting with an activity that engages multiple senses.
Solve Letter Reversals quickly and effectively by activating all three pathways to the brain simultaneously.
Word Flippers engage all three pathways while working on decoding skills and automaticity.
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.
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.