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The Value of a Multisensory Reading Approach for Teaching Strugglers to Read

By Sarah Major, Child-1st Publications
Several years back, I was working in an inner city school as a support person for seven kindergarten classrooms who were piloting a multisensory reading program. By Thanksgiving, the students had progressed very far because the program engaged multiple senses at once and thus reached students with a variety of learning strengths. As a support person at the school, I worked with small groups of children identified by their teachers as most at risk.

One particular day, I had a handful of kids to work with in my room. They had followed me there meekly and were sitting in little chairs staring at me blankly. The kindergarten teachers had introduced 8 sounds and were in the process of teaching how to blend those sounds into words. The skill I'd planned on practicing with the children involved sounding out words that used these first 8 sounds, but my hopes were not high as we sat there sizing each other up. You know how you can tell if someone is "with you" by looking at their eyes? Well, these children were NOT with me; in fact I saw no evidence of active thought at all.

But I forged ahead valiantly. "Let's go up to the whiteboard," I chirped. "You can see that each of you have a set of little flags." Blank stares. I helped each child find the whiteboard that covered one long wall in my room, but my hopes had plummeted, and I started casting about in my head for what to do in place of this exercise.

I had printed the letters A, T, F, C, S, O, M and P with a marker on sticky notes, one set for each child. I instructed the students to listen to each word I said and then sound it with me. "CAT," I said deliberately. "C – A – T." Blank stares. Desperately I said, "Find the flags that have these sounds and put them in front of you on the whiteboard. "C-A-T," I sounded once again.

Just when I thought nothing was going to happen, the children turned slowly to face their flags and began sounding softly and pulling down the flags and arranging them to look like this:


WOW! I asked the children to put the flags back and we tried the next word: "The next word is PAT." Sound it with me. "P-A-T," we said carefully. "Now, sound it with me again and find each flag." And they did.

I was so excited! We did several more words and the cherry on the sundae was when they spelled STOP using four of their sounds! What was so gratifying to all of us was that these were children from families with a long history of special needs. What made the difference? The multisensory approach to teaching reading.

Some elements that made the program truly multisensory and worked for these children include the following:

  • From the very beginning, we taught letter sounds, not letter names. This made sure that children were not confused with too many facts before understanding the process of reading.
  • We taught only 8 sounds at first. This allowed children to understand the process of reading while only having to manage a few facts.
  • We taught each of the eight letters using illustrated stories that tied the sound of the letter with the shape.
  • Each time the children learned a letter sound, they also practiced shaping the letter with a full body motion as they made the sound of the letter.
  • Each time the children learned a letter sound and shape, they closed their eyes until they could visualize the letter in their imagination. Then upon opening their eyes, they formed that letter on their whiteboards while repeating the letter sound they were drawing.
  • After each lesson, the children went to independent centers where they had time to deepen the lesson by drawing what they heard in the story.
  • Throughout the day, while in line or as they entered the classroom in the morning, teachers would say a sound and children made the body motion while repeating the letter sound.
  • Next, the teacher would say a word, the class would sound together as their body spelled the word.
  • Once children had learned to make a word using their 8 sounds, we showed a stylized version of the word with embedded images so that they could easily understand that the word could be recognized on sight, that it was made of sounds they knew, and that it communicated meaning.
  • We used concrete materials as children learned to manipulate the sounds to make words. (See our flag activity above).
  • We had the children read books containing text that used only the 8 sounds and a few sight words for reading practice.
By the time the children were very fluent with reading and manipulating the sounds of those first 8 letters, we were able to add the remaining letter sounds and sight words with ease. Using a truly multisensory program made all the difference in the world for these struggling readers!

Child1st Publications, LLC offers Multisensory Phonics and Multisensory Reading Instruction Programs and Products. For Learners with Dyslexia, Aspergers, Autism, Reading Comprehension Problems, Visual Learners, and other Right Brain Learners, we provide a path to reading success using explicit phonics instruction. Buy their products online from theChild1st website or call them at: 800-881-0912.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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