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Multisensory Teaching

The Effect on Reading and Spelling.

Studies from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development have shown that for children with difficulties learning to spell, a multisensory teaching method is the most effective way for these students to learn.

Multisensory teaching means the teacher must tap into all learning modalities – see it (visual), hear it (auditory) and feel or move it (tactile and/or kinesthetic). Using a multisensory approach can transform your reading and spelling lessons–for both you and your child.

Three Main Pathways to the Brain


Learning begins with your senses. We can think of our senses as pathways to the brain. When teaching reading and spelling, the three primary senses we can involve are sight, hearing, and touch.

  • Sight (the visual pathway)
  • Hearing (the auditory pathway)
  • Touch (the kinesthetic pathway)

What is the relationship between multisensory learning and literacy?

Typically in the classroom, children use the senses of sight and hearing. They see the words they’re reading, and they listen to their teacher talking. However, children who experience difficulties with literacy may also have difficulty processing information when it’s only presented verbally and visually. By activating the auditory and kinesthetic pathways to the brain, we can help these children learn and retain the critical information to learn how to read and spell.

Why Multisensory Learning?

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Let’s break it down…

Your eyes, ears, and hands (senses) are gathering all sorts of information and then sends it to your brain for processing.

Your brain then 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 senses you involve, the better the chance that the brain will retain the information.

It is then not surprising that when children are taught using all three pathways to the brain—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—they learn better than when they are taught through only one pathway.(1) The more senses we involve, the more learning occurs. So even if a child tends to prefer visual learning, it is still important to teach through all three pathways.

When applying multisensory teaching, it isn’t necessary to determine whether a child has a particular learning preference. The best way to teach and learn is to involve multiple pathways to the brain rather than target just one pathway.

Engage All Three Pathways Simultaneously

The SMI (Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction) method combines all three pathways at the same time —and that is when the magic happens!

Multisensory teaching involves 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.

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Engage All Three Pathways Simultaneously

This simple activity simultaneously engages the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile pathways to the brain:

  • Visual: the child sees the word written down.
  • Auditory: the child hears the word and sounds and repeats it as she writes the letters that make up that word as well as when they use the word in a sentence.
  • Kinesthetic: the child retains the muscle memory of writing or building the word (hand) and saying the sound (jaw, tongue, and voice box) as they repeat it in a sentence to give it meaning.

The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways are all engaged, and the information becomes neurologically linked together. This will allow information to be retrieved more quickly than if only one pathway had been engaged.

When a sound or a word is learned (for example, cat), The child sees the word and says the word. The student then writes or builds the word, and he repeats the word by using it in a sentence to give it meaning.

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.

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