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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 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. 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?

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.

multisensory teaching pinterest graphic

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Jennefer P.

says:

I love this post and will be sharing this with a few of my friends to help them understand the connection of the senses, even in spelling. I’ve seen a big difference in my sons when we started using the tiles with this program, and can’t recommend it enough!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing our blog post, Jennefer! Multisensory learning can make a big difference in so many subject areas!

Mardie

says:

Thank you! I found a lot of new ideas. I have been teaching for 40 years and I am still passionate about teaching,

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for your passion, Mardie!

Marivi

says:

This is like ORTON GILLINGHAM METHOD!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Very observant, Marivi! All About Reading and All About Spelling are based upon the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Tossia

says:

I’ve been looking for a site that has compound words that I could make some resources from. This is a great list. Thank you for sharing this with me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Tossia!

Jay

says:

I’m interested in new approaches

Sally Anderson

says:

Good afternoon, I have a 11 year old grandson going onto the 6th grade and still reads at a very low grade level. I watched your video on the for types of reader and he is a guesser. Do you have any suggestion where I should begin? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sally,
I’m sorry to hear your grandson is having difficulties with reading. You would begin with our All About Reading placement tests. These will help you decide which level to begin with. Then, as you work through the level, stress the importance of reading with the blending procedure. Our blog post Break the “Word Guessing” Habit discusses it and includes a free printable.

If he places into All About Reading level 2 or higher, also consider beginning All About Spelling as well. The approach supports reading, especially in building up a student’s ability to break down difficult words syllables for easier reading.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Amanda

says:

Loved watching your intro video! We’re excited to get this ordered. This approach is going to help so much!

rachel

says:

Thanks, I’m looking forward to putting this into practice

Sally Cherney

says:

This makes sense whether teaching a class of 30 or at home with a few students. Every child learns differently. I look forward to trying it out with my “last” 2 homeschooled children who happen to be boys which seems to add another dimension as far multisensory goes because they learn deeper and faster with short hands, eyes on lessons.

Tineke

says:

I hope to have the opportunity to see this multi sensory approach in action.

Laura Bailey

says:

All About Reading is helping my struggling readers!

Nancy Jones

says:

Thank you for the information. I have a student who is “stuck” on having to always use the alphabet to figure how to write the letter and doesn’t know the names of the letters when shown cards of them. We are continuing to use the 3 modalities to help him.

Barb Howe

says:

I love the multisensory method All About Spelling uses to teach learners. They retain information so much more easily by uses several of their senses. I love the methods so much that my lead teacher Rebecca Watkins and I created a Donors Choose project to get the entire curriculum to use with our adults who are learning to read and spell.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Such a great and worthy goal, Barb! I hope you meet your goal quickly.

Sherry

says:

This is one reason that us program can easily be adapted to a classroom setting. And why it works so well for families that have kids with different learning styles. We really love AAS and AAR!

Phoebe Cunningham

says:

This simultaneous multi sensory approach takes the stress off needing to know my child’s dominant learning style.

Nikki Ebbett

says:

Thanks for the freebie!

Tracy

says:

How do you op out of receiving emails every time a follow up comment is left?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tracy,
There should be an “unsubscribe” option near the bottom of the email. You can stop receiving the emails for this post through that. For future comments, there is an option with a checkbox under the comment box that says, “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.” If you uncheck that box, you won’t receive emails for follow-up comments.

Please let me know if you need further help with this.

Floriana

says:

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge to benefit a child’s learning experience: it has been invaluable to me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Floriana. Please let me know if you have any questions or need further information.

Mrs M

says:

The multi sensory approach is vital to the learning process of all ages. It is easy to forget how simple it can be to include tasks that are inviting to all senses.

Cassandra Bernard

says:

This program is starting out to be really wonderful my five-year-old was struggling with memorizing site words and we were getting nowhere. I’m just a few weeks her interest has peaked and she is really taking off I can’t wait to see more progress in the future thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great to hear that All About Reading is helping your child take off, Cassandra!

Amanda King

says:

I absolutely agree! MultiSensory learning really helps.

Tara

says:

This is why your program works for us! Thank you for the extra downloads, too!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Tara. It’s great to hear that the program is working for you.

Kirsty Gallant

says:

Send weekly e-newsletter

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristy,
I signed you up for our e-newsletter. If you haven’t received the welcome email, please let me know.

Ruth

says:

Thank you!

Amie Lech

says:

My youngest LOVE kinesthetic spelling. We used to do it a lot but lately have just been writing the words three times and in sentences. Time to bring back the writing in flour and dirt and body letters! Thank you for sharing!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Amie. Take a look at our 10 Salt Trays for Fun Writing Practice blog post too. It has instructions for making colored and scented writing trays for an extra fun experience!

Nan

says:

What great ideas! I have a son who learns by seeing, but then I have another son who learns using his hands. It’s wonderful to see how to teach both and have both successful at the same time.

Jaclynn

says:

Love this! Would love to get more resources for my twins before they head of to kindergarten.

Zara P.

says:

I loved the ideas in this blog. I will definitely try some of the activities with my students.

Misty Miller

says:

We’ve been using all about spelling since we started homeschooling but my boys were too old for the reading program! This year we will have a kinder and preschooler and I’m so excited to start the all about reading program with them! The spelling program really helped our dyslexic child improve his reading through spelling!!!! Love it!!!

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