To become proficient readers, all children need to learn certain skills. According to studies from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, using multisensory techniques—activities that engage readers’ visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile senses and abilities—has proven to be the most effective strategy for children who have difficulties learning to read.
This is because, when a lesson utilizes all four learning pathways, it capitalizes on students’ strengths and bolsters their weaknesses, meaning educators have a much better chance of helping their students grasp a concept on initial instruction.
When students learn how to read, they must identify written symbols or letters and their proper formation while matching each to its corresponding sound(s). This is a complex task.
But the following four activities, exploring multimodal approaches to teaching letter and sound correspondence, can help teachers reach all readers as they work to practice proper letter formation.
Letter Formation with a Plastic Screen
For beginning learners, correct letter (or grapheme) formation is essential. In this activity, you will need a plastic screen, a piece of paper, and a crayon.
On the paper, create dotted templates of letters for students to trace. Place the screen under the paper, and trace the letters three times using your crayon. At the same time, invite students to verbalize the sound(s) that the letters represent (for example, “b says/spells /b/”).
The waxy bumps on the plastic screen will create a tactile sensation as students trace the letters with their finger, engaging multiple senses. To further extend this activity, you might put the letter pages together to form an alphabet book for additional practice.
Writing in Sand/Shaving Cream
Another technique that incorporates visual, auditory, and tactile pathways to reinforce letter-sound correspondence involves cookie sheets, plastic trays, tables, paper plates, and sand or shaving cream.
In this activity, the teacher calls out a known sound; the student repeats the sound and then uses their pointer finger to write the letter that makes that sound while verbalizing the letter name and sound (for example, “/b/ b says /b/”). By using their fingers to write, readers are accessing thousands of nerve endings that transfer patterns to the brain.
For a similar but less messy approach, air writing offers a solution, reinforcing students’ letter/sound correspondence through muscle memory.
When air writing, have students stand and air-write with their dominant arm. To promote large-muscle movement, you can invite them to lead with their shoulder, using their body to “write” while visualizing each letter in a specific color.
As students air write, ask them to verbalize the letter name and sound to engage multiple learning pathways.
Forming Letters with Play-Doh
Once students are familiar with proper letter formation, using Play-Doh, clay, or a similar substance for extra practice can reinforce students’ formation and letter/sound correspondence.
Invite students to draw large letters on a piece of paper. Then, put the paper in a sheet protector or laminate it. Students can use the paper as a guide, forming clay letters atop their written letters while stating the letter sounds.
As students get more comfortable with correct letter formation, you can then remove the paper so they can form letters on their own.
Carrying Students’ Learning Forward
There are many additional ways to incorporate multimodal letter formation and letter/sound correspondence instruction in the classroom. For example, you might ask students to use their finger or arm to write letters on the carpet or to draw letters on a desk with water and a paintbrush.
Multimodal lessons should, at root, incorporate the simultaneous use of students’ visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic pathways to input learning by sight, sound, and writing. These lessons should be fun and engaging while teaching students the structure of the English language for reading and writing.
And as a bonus, they’re pretty fun for teachers to engage in, too.