Post 7: Using Multi-Sensory Materials

If you are working with a student who is struggling to learn, retain and quickly recall letters and letter combinations, multi-sensory materials can help.

Here’s one way to do it. I make my own multi-sensory boards out of fluorescent light covers (they come in 2 foot by 4 foot sheets – you can buy them at Home Depot or Lowes for around $15 per sheet). Using a hot knife, you cut the sheet into 5 inch by 9 inch rectangles. I then cover the edges with coloured duct tape for safety, and for student appeal. Here’s what they look like:

Its easy to use these boards to help students learn letters. First, print out a copy of the alphabet cards at the bottom of this post (alternatively, you can write your own letters large on recipe cards). Because the boards are transparent, students can see the letters through the boards when they are placed behind. Have the student do the following simultaneously:

  • trace the letter
  • say the letter name, a key word associated with that letter, then the sound

The most important part is that it is simultaneous. If a student traces a letter while they are saying it, while they are seeing it, and while they are hearing themselves say it, they are using multiple sensory pathways to the brain at the same time. If you have a set of alphabet associations that are used at school, you can use those keywords for learning letters (e.g. “a” “apple”). Otherwise, students can come up with their own keyword for each letter. If you child loves snails, they might pick “snail” as a key word to remember the sound for the letter “s”, etc. A key word is a good idea for students who have a hard time remembering the sounds alone.

This technique can also be used with letter combinations as well (e.g., vowel teams, prefixes/suffixes, etc.) Students say the name of the letters, a key word, then, the sound(s) made by the combination.

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