Instructional strategies

8 Multisensory Techniques for Teaching Math

By Brendan R. Hodnett

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Multisensory instruction isn’t just for reading. It can also help kids with math issues, like dyscalculia. The use of sight, touch, hearing and movement can make it easier to understand what the numbers and symbols represent. Here are eight multisensory techniques for teaching math.

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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.

Colored Cubes
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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.

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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 Numbers
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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.

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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.

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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, he has to do a math operation with the two numbers his hands land on.

Base-Ten Blocks
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Building With Base Ten 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 a student the number 145, and ask him to “build” it using the blocks. The student 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?”

Graphic Organizers
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Create 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 ¼ of the whole thing. Then he’d have to find the number of square units that were colored in (25). The connection is that ¼ is the same as 25 out of 100, or 25 percent.

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About the Author

Portrait of Brendan Hodnett

Brendan R. Hodnett is a special education teacher in Middletown, New Jersey.

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