Multi-Sensory Language

Multi-sensory teaching is one important aspect of instructing students with dyslexia that is used by clinically trained teachers. Effective instruction for students with dyslexia is also explicit, direct, cumulative, intensive, and focused on the structure of language. Multi-sensory learning involves the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways simultaneously to enhance memory and learning of written language.

Links are consistently made between the visual (language we see), auditory (language we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (language symbols we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell. Teachers who use this approach help students perceive the speech sounds in words (phonemes) by looking in the mirror when they speak or exaggerating the movements of their mouths.

Students learn to link speech sounds (phonemes) to letters or letter patterns by saying sounds for letters they see, or writing letters for sounds they hear. As students learn a new letter or pattern (such as s or th), they may repeat five to seven words that are dictated by the teacher and contain the sound of the new letter or pattern; the students discover the sound that is the same in all the words.

Next, they may look at the words written on a piece of paper or the chalkboard and discover the new letter or pattern. Finally, they carefully trace, copy, and write the letter(s) while saying the corresponding sound. The sound may be dictated by the teacher, and the letter name(s) given by the student. Students then read and spell words, phrases, and sentences using these patterns to build their reading fluency. Teachers and their students rely on all three pathways for learning rather than focusing on a “whole word memory method,” a “tracing method,” or a “phonetic method” alone.

The principle of combining movement with speech and reading is applied at other levels of language learning as well. Students may learn hand gestures to help them memorize the definition of a noun. Students may manipulate word cards to create sentences or classify the words in sentences by physically moving them into categories. They might move sentences around to make paragraphs. The elements of a story may be taught with reference to a three-dimensional, tactile aid. In all, the hand, body, and/or movement are used to support comprehension or production of language.

Related Readings:

Birsh, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Henry, M. K. (2003). Unlocking literacy: Effective decoding and spelling instruction. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Carreker, S., & Birsh, J. R. (2005). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills: Activity book. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2007). Learning disabilities: From identification to intervention. New York: The Guilford Press.

Schupack, H., & Wilson, B., (1997). The “R” book, reading, writing & spelling: The multisensory structured language approach. Baltimore: The International Dyslexia Association.

Shaywitz, S. E. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.