Teachers use multi-sensory methods to teach English

What are you doing to stimulate the senses?

When I was at school, the most exciting part of some lessons was when the teacher used coloured chalk. Times, fortunately have changed.

Multi-sensory instruction uses teaching methods that stimulate more than one sense simultaneously. This type of approach is known to enhance the ability to learn in that students using multiple senses are better able to memorise and recall material on a long and short-term basis.

If EFL / ESL teachers incorporate multi-sensory tasks using visual, auditory and kinesthetic-tactile senses into their instruction, English language students will be able to experience a lesson using multiple neural pathways that can best activate their brains and engage them more deeply in the subject matter.

Teachers! Strengthen pathways

The more neural pathways created and the more they are deepened by practice, the easier English language students will be able to retrieve the material later on.

Tracks in the snow represent information processing and  neural pathways

Think of a road covered in snow. The more cars travel down that road, the easier it is to find the way and navigate. Taking this into consideration, in lesson planning teachers can check if their activities will stimulate more than one of the following senses at a time:

  • sound / auditory
  • sight / visual
  • touch / practical / tactile
  • kinaesthetic / movement
Pupils learning English through reading and writing and drawing

No time to deal with sensory channels?

Although already overloaded ESL EFL teachers might think they don’t have time to deal with sensory channels and memory lanes, adapting lessons does not have to be too time consuming. It’s possible that English teachers are already being eclectic without realising it. For example, a simple memory card game that is made by the students covers most of the required elements.

The students are given a list of 10 target vocabulary items. They write the words on cards. They draw pictures that represent the words on other cards, or depending on the level of the class they can write the translation of the word or definition. All the cards are placed face down. The student flips a card and flips another to try to find its matching pair. The table below gives an example of some of the actions and sensory channels used.

Wring words on the cards Visual / Tactile / Kinaesthetic
Drawing pictures that represent the wordsVisual / Tactile / Kinaesthetic
Flipping and picking up the cardsVisual / Tactile / Kinaesthetic
Saying and repeating the wordsAuditory / Verbal
Matching the words to the pictures Visual / Tactile / Kinaesthetic

Do your lessons satisfy these five conditions?

Our goal as English language teachers is to ensure the subject matter we are teaching settles permanently, consolidates into our ESL / EFL students’ memories. Besides multi-sensory considerations long-term memories are created through:

  • providing material that is meaningful and relevant to the class level and age group
  • using appropriate topics that trigger emotional reactions
  • linking subject matter to past experiences and previous learning
  • enough rehearsal and recycling ensuring greater depth of information processing
  • using different memory systems to consolidate and retrieve information

To aid deeper information processing and later retrieval, English language teachers need to use a combination of multi-sensory teaching methods to introduce and later rehearse and recycle material. In addition, teachers can use the above five conditions as a guideline to help them plan long-term memory friendly lessons. Look in the free resources for the Memory Matters Toolkit to help you.

Free Resources

If you are interested in finding out more about how to quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students and check if your lessons are ‘memory friendly’, join other teachers and professionals and check out any supporting free resources.

Other posts in this series

Teachers: Here’s What You Should Know About ‘Poor Memory’

Teachers: Use Unbelievably Easy Methods to Gain Interest and Grab Attention

Is Information Overload Stopping Students From Learning?

Attention! Do Your Teaching Methods Pass The Long-Term Memory Check List?

References and Further Reading

Tom Berger. How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long September 23, 2020

Birsh, Judith R. What Is Multisensory Structured Lanuage? Perspectives on Language and Literacy. Vol. 45, No. 2 , Spring 2019.

Judith R. Birsh Ed.D. (Editor), Suzanne Carreker M.Ed. Ph.D. (Editor)Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills 4th Edition, 2018

Michelle Cox. The Effects of Multi-sensory Instruction Techniques on Memory and Learning

Orton Gillingham Online Academy Three Reasons Why Multisensory Learning is Food for the Brain

Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Disclaimer: Content on this site is for educational purposes. If you re-use any content please include original source and copyright information.

4 thoughts on “Teachers: Are Your Teaching Methods Stimulating the Senses?

  1. Greetings!
    I found your article extremely useful and I am kindly asking if you have any suggestions about connecting memory with imagination.

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for taking interest and commenting. Could you be more specific? Do you mean within language learning?

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