Thursday, January 15, 2015

Engage the Senses for a Total Learning Experience

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

We experience the world through our senses—through sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile impressions. The more fully we engage our senses, the more we experience and the more we learn.

We recommend that teachers use multiple sensory learning activities whenever possible to help students better understand and integrate the use of cognitive assets in their studies and in their lives. Encourage students to create graphics to illustrate these cognitive assets by drawing the concepts on which they are based and creating posters.

Our use of the brain car graphic, which underscores the importance of driving our own learning, is a popular example of how graphics can make a lesson memorable. Similarly, using a model of a brain can help effectively teach the concept of metacognition.

Incorporating movement and music into direct instruction on these cognitive assets can  help students begin to make meaning of concepts that tend to be quite abstract. Also, consider tactile learning experiences, such as letting younger children playing at sand and water tables or letting older children take a nature hike enabling them to rub their hands over tree bark or rock formations.

Here are a few other ideas for helping students learn through their senses, adapted from our book 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning:

  • Use the HEAR Strategy with your students. HEAR stands for Halt (hold up a "stop sign" to indicate that you are getting ready to listen); Engage (turn your right ear forward for full-body listening); Anticipate (stretch out your arms to increase your capacity to listen); and Replay (roll your hands forward in a circular motion and reply what you've heard in your head to ensure that you have truly listened).
  • Try the Big Gestures Strategy. Tell your students a story using big gestures. Have them break into groups to put together their own stories and practice acting it out—first with small gestures and then with bigger gestures. Have them tell their stories to the entire group using big gestures.
  • Use the Power of Sensory Language. Tell a story using descriptive language that invokes feelings and makes the story memorable. For instance, a story about attending a baseball game could evoke all of the senses—the smell of the popcorn, the taste of a delicious ballpark frank, the sight of the pitcher as he carefully goes into his windup, the crack of the bat against the ball, the feeling of excitement as your team scores the winning run, the stadium erupts into cheers, and you ecstatically high-five other fans. The key is to experience life, and learning, with every sense you can.

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