Nurturing Reading Skills Using Multisensory Activities

Daphne Heflin
Daphne Heflin
Elementary school principal; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration
Two young students playing with clay at a table in a classroom.

Many skills are essential to reading independently. Such skills are in the following areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Children must know letter-sound relationships, how to encode and decode, understand word meaning, call words at a conversational rate, and remember and process the information to determine the meaning and ultimately understand the text. That’s reading, and reading is complex.

Reading Skills Essential for Students to Master

There are essential reading skills within each component of reading. For example, in the phonemic awareness category, crucial skills include segmenting and blending sounds. These skills mean breaking apart and putting together sounds in words.

In the phonics category, important skills include encoding and decoding. Encoding means breaking words into individual sounds and letters and writing the letters that represent the unique sounds. Decoding means breaking words into individual sounds then putting the sounds together to call the words.

Vocabulary skills include using context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words. Context clues involve the use of affixes and root words, explicitly stated definitions, synonyms and antonyms surrounding the unknown word, and other words in proximity to the unfamiliar word.

Fluency means reading with the proper rate and intonation, and fluency leads to comprehension.

Comprehension skills include asking and answering questions, summarizing, retelling, determining main ideas and details, and more.

The examples of high impact reading skills within each reading component are not all-inclusive. Many skills are required for students to become fluent readers. These skills take practice and the employment of instructional strategies that meet the needs of various learners. Students can practice skills through multisensory activities to improve in reading.

What are Multisensory Activities?

Multisensory activities engage students in using more than one of their senses at a time. These activities require students to use various combinations of touch, sight, movement, and hearing to interact and connect with content or practice skills.

How Do Multisensory Activities Foster Reading Skills?

Our senses transmit information to our brains. In learning, children practice skills and concepts. As children use more than one sense during their practice, data is sent to the brain and creates adaptations, new connections, or new pathways in the brain to improve students’ reading abilities and skills. According to (2019), “A 2018 study using fMRI technology, which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, found that children with the strongest literacy skills had more interactivity between different regions in their brain. This suggests that reading is a whole-brain skill and that future developments in literacy instruction should use a multisensory approach.” What are multisensory activities to use in a multisensory approach?

Multisensory Classroom Activities to Try

Writing in Sand or Shave Cream

Skills in the phonics category can be practiced using sand or shave cream. For example, the teacher spreads sand or shaving cream on a tray, and students use their fingers to write letters in the sand or shave cream. As students write letters, the teacher models the audible letter sounds; then, as students write the letters again, the students make the sounds. In this activity, students’ brains are stimulated through touch, movement, sound, and sight.

Modeling with Play Dough or Clay

Many ways to practice phonemic awareness skills exist. One way is to create models of objects that begin with or end with given letter sounds. Students can also make models that represent words after blending letter sounds together to make that word. In such activities, students use their senses of hearing, movement, touch, and sight.

Read, Build, Say

A multisensory activity that is also multifunctional is to have students read-build-say vocabulary words or decodable words. This exercise enhances students’ phonics, vocabulary, and fluency skills. In this activity, students read a word, build the word using tactile objects such as letter magnets or tiles, and then say the word. Students then create and verbalize a sentence using the word in the correct context. This activity increases word recognition, word usage, and sentence construction and improves reading skills through sight, touch, movement, and hearing.

Using multisensory activities affords all types of learners opportunities to connect with what they are learning. The sensory input and repeated practice enhance memory and promote skill development in students who learn differently.

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