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Active and multisensory approaches
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Consolidating learning

What do we mean by 'multisensory'?

Different teachers understand the term in different ways. For some it simply means adding sound to text; for some it means ensuring that all four modes are covered (listening, reading, speaking, writing); for others it means organising learning in any way that will extend opportunities for students to learn in ways that suit them best.

Simply telling students about language is not enough (passive learning). In order to learn, students must engage with the language in some way (active learning). Without active engagement, without processing the language in some way, information cannot be transferred into long term memory from which it can be recalled and used. It is likely to remain temporarily in working memory and then forgotten.

Processing language

In order to learn, to 'take in' new information, we all use one or more of the bodily senses that enable us to channel the new knowledge to our brain. These channels of communication work more effectively for some people than for others. Storage of that information can vary too. Some people's brains absorb new material very easily, others need lots of repetition in order for new learning to be permanently absorbed. Once there, it need to be exercised regularly if the knowledge is not to 'degrade' and eventually be lost. (In other words, if you don't use it, you lose it.)

Maximising learning

In order to give everyone the maximum chance of learning and remembering what we are trying to teach, we need to present the new material in as many ways as possible, not just one, and to provide multiple opportunities for engaging with the new language and linking it to what has already been learned.

This doesn't mean stopping what you are doing, far from it. If what you are already doing works for some students then you need to retain it. For the benefit of others who are struggling, however, it is useful to explore how the material you are already using can be enhanced so that it provides other opportunities for other modes of learning.



eyes e.g. text, pictures, tv/video, board or screen, observing activity and immediate environment, colour
e.g. sound files, tv/video, live voices
e.g. taste, speech
nose e.g. smells, scents
e.g. touch sensations: texture, heat, cold
movement e.g. writing, gesticulating, role playing, language games

Information and experiences entering by any of these channels causes pathways to be laid down in the brain and linked to information and experiences already there. Combining channels enhances links and thereby the chances of knowledge being retained.

NOTE Some students work better alone, some learn better through interacting with others. Both need to be catered for.


Choose one or more of the following tasks:

TASK A - brainstorming

1. In groups, list ways of presenting any given chunk of language and opportunities you might provide for learning it. Try to cover activities for all the senses.

TIPS: Perhaps imagine a list of new vocabulary you want students to learn. At this stage, don't worry about age level or any specific language. You may want to begin with the usual four modes (listening, reading speaking writing) and then break those down into individual types of activities.

2. At the end of an agreed time, display your list for other groups to see.

3. Back in your own group, add to your list any ideas you might have missed.

4. Discuss one or more of the following points:

a) How many items have been collected?
b) Are some senses easier to accommodate than others?
c) Are some senses more important than others, for language learning? If so, can the remaining senses be used to enhance the primary ones?
d) What are the implications for students who have sensory, physical or learning disabilities?
e) Are there any ideas you can use to enhance your teaching?


TASK B – how are you doing? room for improvement?

By yourself, with a sheet of paper divided into three columns:

1. Think about the next lesson you have planned. In the first column, make a list of the activities that will be involved. Alongside each activity, in column 2, note which sensory channels it will employ.

2. When you have completed the two columns, review the list of sensory channels employed. Use the third column to jot down any ideas you might have about how to enhance each activity in the light of what has been discussed previously.

With a colleague:

3. Share your notes and discuss further possible enhancements.

4. Discuss practical implications for class organisation, preparation, etc.




A list of items generated by previous groups who have tackled Task A

A proforma for use in Task B