Understanding Multi-Sensory Instruction

According to research, multi-sensory instruction should be utilized in the classroom. All children need to learn the same skills to become proficient readers.

Multi-sensory instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham, typically refers to visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic pathways (VATK).

According to the research of Dr. Samuel Orton, strengths or preferences will vary from student to student but using more than one method will help students better retain information.


3 Components of Multi-Sensory Instruction

Multi-sensory instruction can be broken down into these three components:

  • Visual Learning
  • Auditory Learning
  • Tactile/Kinesthetic Learning

The most critical aspect of multi-sensory instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham, is having students use more than one of their senses. The most effective strategy for children with difficulties learning to read has proven to be using multi-sensory techniques.

However, multi-sensory instruction is not just for students that have learning disabilities. According to The Ladder of Reading (Nancy Young, 2017), only 40% of learners can learn to read effortlessly or with relative ease and comprehensive instruction. That leaves 60% of all learners to benefit from instruction like Orton-Gillingham.

Orton-Gillingham helps you to tap into your students’ sensory learning pathways. That’s why multi-sensory learning and explicit instruction are the most concrete methods for teaching a new concept.


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Visual Learning

When we think about the visual component, we think about the sense of sight. Students should see visuals that represent the meaning of what is being taught.

Showing written-out directions is an example of a visual modality. Teachers can provide students with handouts, a slideshow, or other visual aids to help them follow along during a lesson.

Other visual aids include:

  • Charts
  • Flashcards
  • Graphs
  • Diagrams
  • Lists
  • Maps 
  • Pictures
  • Visual cues 
  • Written summaries


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Auditory Learning

When we think about the auditory component, we think about the sense of hearing. Students should hear the explanation of directions out loud. 

Lesson plans should include social elements like:

  • Paired reading
  • Group work
  • Experiments
  • Projects
  • Performances
  • Oral reports
  • Lectures
  • Mnemonic devices

Rhymes, beats, or songs can reinforce information. Providing recordings of lessons can also be beneficial, so students can go back and listen to the lesson more than once.


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Kinesthetic/Tactile Learning

When we think about the tactile and kinesthetic components, we think about the sense of movement and touch. Tactile instruction incorporates using hands to do something, such as manipulating objects representing a concept. Kinesthetic instruction involves moving to focus and learn.

The main difference between the two strategies is tactile components focus on fine motor movements while kinesthetic components focus on whole-body movements. So, while arm tapping would be a kinesthetic strategy, finger tapping is a tactile strategy.

Methods that support kinesthetic and tactile instruction include:

  • Providing hands-on tools
  • Giving breaks to allow students to move around
  • Using the outdoors
  • Teaching concepts through games and projects

Even if you’ve already taught a lesson using auditory and visual elements, it can be highly beneficial to reinforce that information through dance, play, or other activities.


Additional Activities for Multi-Sensory Instruction

Phonogram Review: Review sound-symbol correspondence with a rapid phonogram card drill

Simultaneous Oral Spelling: Repeat words, sound or spell words out using finger tapping, write words while saying letters, and read the completed word

Reading Words: Read a series of words and sentences that use the new pattern, as well as review words targeting skills that need particular practice


Everyone Benefits From Multi-Sensory Instruction

Our brains have developed to learn and grow in a multi-sensory environment. When teachers and educators introduce new material using multisensory learning, like Orton-Gillingham, they effectively cater to a more expansive audience of learners. 

Multi-sensory instruction is used to teach all students effectively, especially those with learning differences. By using multiple senses, all learners have more ways to connect with what’s being taught.