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What is multisensory instruction?

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • With multisensory instruction, kids use more than one sense at a time.

  • Many reading programs for struggling readers use multisensory teaching methods.

  • Multisensory instruction gives kids more than one way to make connections and learn concepts.

Multisensory instruction is a way of teaching that engages more than one sense at a time.

When kids learn, they often rely on sight to look at text and pictures and to read information. Many kids also rely on hearing to listen to what the teacher is saying.

Multisensory teaching isn’t limited to reading and listening. Instead, it tries to use all the senses. Not every lesson will use all five senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, and movement). But in most multisensory lessons, kids engage with the material in more than one way.

For example, say a class is studying apples. Kids might have the chance to visually examine, touch, smell, and taste apples — instead of just reading and listening to their teacher speak about how they grow. Then they might hold a halved apple and count the number of seeds inside, one by one.

That’s multisensory teaching. It conveys information through things like touch and movement — called tactile and kinesthetic elements — as well as sight and hearing.

Dive deeper

The benefits of multisensory instruction

All kids can benefit from multisensory lessons. If kids learn something using more than one sense, the information is more likely to stick. The result is better memory of the skill.

But multisensory learning can be particularly helpful for kids who learn and think differently. For example, kids who struggle with visual or auditory processing may have a hard time learning through only reading or listening.

Using multiple senses gives all kids more ways to connect with what they’re learning. This type of hands-on learning makes it easier for kids to:

  • Collect information

  • Make connections between new information and what they already know

  • Understand and work through problems

  • Use nonverbal problem-solving skills

Overall, multisensory instruction takes into account that different kids learn in different ways. Learn more about how to tap into kids’ strengths

How reading programs use multisensory instruction

Many programs designed to help struggling readers include a multisensory approach (on top of other components). The creators of the Orton–Gillingham approach pioneered this way of teaching. Programs that use Orton–Gillingham ideas use sight, sound, movement, and touch to help kids connect language to words.

For example, one of the techniques the Wilson Reading System uses is a “sound-tapping” system. Kids tap out each sound of a word with their fingers and thumbs to help them break the words down.

The Barton Reading Program materials include color-coded letter tiles that help students connect sounds to letters.

Get ideas for multisensory reading techniques to try in school or at home. And learn more about multisensory reading programs:

How multisensory instruction works in all subjects

Multisensory instruction isn’t just for teaching reading. Some grade school math programs use manipulatives (small objects like interlocking cubes or shape blocks) to help kids do math.

Science labs are multisensory learning experiences, too. Kids do experiments, write down the steps, and report their findings.

Even songs and chants that teach things like the days of the week or the names of the states are examples of multisensory learning.

Multisensory instruction aligns with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. Classrooms designed using UDL principles give kids many ways to engage in learning. UDL offers different options for kids to meet learning goals and to show what they’ve learned. Multisensory instruction does this, too. It makes it easier for kids to work in the way that they learn best in different subjects.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom