By VASILIKI LISMANI (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EFL Teacher, Bed., MA (Special Education)
Multisensory teaching provides a variety of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile stimuli to encourage and develop memory and learning and offers techniques that can be applied to teach spelling and pronunciation, reading and grammar to L2 dyslexic students; however, all students find multisensory activities interesting since “multisensory teaching techniques and strategies stimulate learning by engaging students on multiple levels” (http://www.lexiconreadingcenter.org/). They encourage students to use some or all their senses therefore they promote a more flexible, meaningful and why not playful classroom setting.
The following is an example of a multisensory activity used for 4 (9-10 year – old) girls taught in a group. One of them is dyslexic.
The grammatical structure
The activity was designed to present the Past Simple. The tense has a number of difficulties concerning its formation: the use of the suffix –ed for regular verbs in affirmative and its spelling rules, the irregular verbs and an auxiliary verb (did) for questions and negative sentences and all the alterations in the main verb.
In order to make lesson more meaningful, we decided to introduce the multisensory approach using cards (Lego blocks and colored stickers can be used as well but maybe it is more complicated to prepare and implement). The task itself took 20 – 25 minutes but you can have shorter versions of it if you divide it into parts (to present or revise affirmative, negative, question or regular / irregular verbs separately). The activity does not target to introduce new vocabulary so, very common verbs were used; even in the case of irregular ones most of them had been seen before.
Whether it is the first time the tense is presented, or not, it is necessary to give the basic rules of formation to ease the frustration and anxiety that every new material adds to students. Then, we move on working with colorful cards.
1. Ask them to put the white cards with personal pronouns / names in the correct order (revision of personal subject pronouns for the dyslexic learner) and then combine them with (regular) verbs (the light green cards). There is no “trap” here. Almost every pronoun/name matches with the verbs regarding meaning but this part promotes students autonomy and make them feel more active. (e.g my girls wanted Marina and Jim to travel but yours can imagine them study or dance).
2. Children were asked to put the right –ed suffixes thinking of all the spelling variations (-ed, -d, -ied, double letter-ed). Even if they have not been taught Past Simple again, some spelling rules can be induced from their previous knowledge of other tenses. Then, repeat the verb with the suffix and encourage students to listen to the different pronunciations of –ed (/id/, /d/, /t/) but do not emphasize too much because at this point could be rather confusing.
3. Then, it is time to refer to irregular verbs and introduce some very popular ones. After explaining how these verbs work, encourage them to find their past simple form. The verbs have been chosen in a way so as the past simple forms sound a bit familiar to the original (drink – drank, swim – swam) with the exception of go.
4. Before moving on to the Question and Negative forms, ask students to color a picture of a happy yet hungry dinosaur!! It is a fun 5 - minute break for them but they also prepare a “tool” for the rest of the lesson. As soon as they finish, tell them the story of a hungry dinosaur, the Did - saurus, which lived millions of years ago and liked eating suffixes and verbs, therefore the verbs were left in their original forms (apparently, the use of a hungry dinosaur and not a bear gives them a hint to remember the use of the Past Simple as well.)
With the “help” of this friendly dinosaur it is easy to explain how did functions and practice it with colorful cards: students place did right before the white cards and they remove either the suffixes or the irregular forms of the verbs to “feed the dinosaur”!!!
The same procedure is applied for the negative sentences with the students opening a gap to make place for did not.
Reflection and outcomes
The lesson can be originally planned for a mainstream setting including dyslexic students as well: the multisensory activity combines all kind of stimuli (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) for the dyslexic learner but at the same time all of them are equally engaged to the task making the lesson more inclusive. The small cumulative steps help the dyslexic student to revise older knowledge and at the same time to assimilate new material more naturally and effectively. Of course, the activity can be done as a whole or in several parts and each part as explicitly as necessary. The story about the Did - saurus no doubt catches their attention! In the case of my students, when the lesson finished, we stuck the picture of our new friend on the wall. Surprisingly, ever since the girls make a mistake with the formation of question or negative forms I don’t have to refer to the rules at all; I just point to the dinosaur and they come up with the correct formation!
Some of my colleagues might ask why bother to organize and make such an activity when the majority of us use IWBs which offer a great range of even more exciting applications. I cannot but agree with the usefulness of the IWBs in our class; obviously, they have promoted and developed our practice in many ways. However, I think that the preparation and application of such an activity offers some extra benefits. To start with, teachers have the chance to create their own material considering the specific needs of their students. Therefore, their students are thrilled with the idea that their teacher has actually spent time preparing something for them only; this makes them feel special and worthy!! Moreover, since we talk about the importance of multisensory experiences to enhance learning, tactile and kinesthetic stimuli are much more active when children actually touch the paperboard and do all the necessary changes to form question or negative.
In an era when our children are used to doing everything with the use of technology, they still enjoy handcrafts and games, colorful cardboards and pens, scissors etc. So, why not ask them to make their own cards for another grammatical structure (e.g. word order). It is far more engaging and fun!!!
Related books sites
Kormos, J. and Smith, A. M. (2012). Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.