Multisensory instruction isn’t just for reading. It can also help kids who have trouble with math. The use of sight, touch, hearing, and movement can make it easier to understand what the numbers and symbols represent. Here are 10 multisensory techniques for teaching math.
Visualizing With Beads or Cereal
Using beads, dried beans, or cereal as manipulatives is a great way to have kids represent math operations. For instance, kids might solve for a total number by adding more beads. Or they might find out how much is left after subtracting some. Kids can also group together different amounts of the items for multiplication and division.
By moving these items around and seeing how the quantities change, kids have a concrete way of understanding how these math operations work. Manipulatives can also help kids develop number sense and understand amounts.
Building With Colored Cubes and Tiles
Using these items to build shapes allows kids to test formulas for measuring things. It gives them a concrete idea of the properties in the figures they create. Tiles and cubes also work great when teaching number patterns and operations.
For instance, a teacher might stack items in groups of 2, 4, 6, and 8, and then ask the student to complete the next three stacks in the pattern (adding two each time). The teacher then helps the student make the connection between the items and the numbers they represent.
Drawing Math Problems
Drawing math problems is a good next step after working with hands-on materials like beads or colored tiles. It’s a way for kids to show their thinking—and it takes them one step closer to writing number sentences with numerals and symbols.
For instance, a teacher might ask students to solve the multiplication problem 4 × 6 by drawing 6 groups of 4 apples. Or kids can color in 4 rows of 6 square units on graph paper. When they’re finished, they’ll see 4 groups of 6, or 24 square units colored in.
Tapping Out Numbers
The act of tapping out numbers can help kids connect symbols to actual amounts, and “feel” the value. This is especially useful for working with multiples.
For instance, the teacher might ask students to list multiples of 4. They begin tapping sets of 4, counting as they go. Every fourth number gets a louder tap and is written down. (“1, 2, 3, 4! 5, 6, 7, 8! 9, 10, 11, 12!”) In the end, students have a list they can use to answer multiplication and division problems.
Making Musical Connections
There are many ways to connect math and music. Kids can use songs to help memorize algorithms or math rules, for instance. And playing musical notes can help kids learn grouping or fractional parts.
A teacher might play one note on a keyboard, for instance, and hold it for a short time. This is the “whole note.” Students then repeat it. Next, the teacher might ask, “How many quarter notes make a whole note?” After some discussion, the teacher or a student can play four short notes that total the same length as the whole note.
Putting Movement Into Math
Working movement into math practice and instruction is an engaging way to help students retain what they’ve learned. There are many ways to do this. For instance, kids can demonstrate angles by rotating their body while standing in a hula-hoop.
Here’s a common classroom example. A teacher writes numbers on the outside of a large ball. (These could be whole numbers, fractions, or decimals) The ball is passed around the room, and when a student catches it, she has to do a math operation with the two numbers her hands land on.
One way to introduce kids to regrouping and place value is to have them bundle Popsicle sticks together in groups of 10. (You can also use coffee stirrers or sticks.)
Students might be asked to solve 45 – 9 using sticks. By collecting 4 bundles of ten and 5 single (or “ones”) sticks, they can see how each place in the number 45 holds value. Then, to subtract 9, they need to break apart one of the bundles to make 15 individual sticks. After taking 9 out, this leaves 3 bundles and 6 sticks remaining, or 36.
Building With Base 10 Blocks
These blocks come in different sizes that represent 1000s (a “cube”), 100s (a “flat”), 10s (a “long”), and 1s (a “unit). Kids can form numbers with them to identify place value. (They can also use them to perform operations, show regrouping, and find patterns.)
For example, a teacher might give students the number 145, and ask them to “build” it using the blocks. The students would need to select one 100-block, four 10-blocks, and five 1-blocks. The teacher might then ask, “Which digit has the greatest value: 1, 4, or 5?”
Creating a Hundreds Chart
A hundreds chart can help kids with math issues see number relationships. For example, a student might get a black-and-white 100s grid (a large square broken into 100 smaller square units). He might be asked to shade in 1/4 of the whole thing. Then he’d have to find the number of square units that were colored in (25). The connection is that 1/4 is the same as 25 out of 100, or 25 percent.
Using Pizza Slices
Cutting a pizza into slices is a great way to help teach fractions. A teacher may make several pizzas out of construction paper, then cut them into slices of different sizes. This way kids can “see” fractions like 1/8 or 1/4 by selecting slices of pizza. Using different colors for different size slices lets kids match equivalent fractions like two-eights and one-fourth. Kids can also combine slices to make a “whole” pizza pie!
For more ways to help your child with math, download our free graphic organizers.