Teaching kinesthetic learners how to read

Have you ever taught a student who acts like this? 

  • Changing positions frequently—sitting on a folded leg, kneeling on a chair, or wriggling her shoulders?
  • Responding to a question with gestures—thumbs up, a face showing precise emotions, drawing a picture in the air?
  • Reading out loud when he should be reading silently?
  • Miming a situation or a reaction?

These students might be kinesthetic learners, people who need to engage their whole bodies to learn optimally.  Some are hyperactive,  tempermentally unable to sit still.  Some are dyslexic, unable to read or to learn to read the usual way.  Some are autistic, non verbal or preferring repetitive motions or intensely focused on one activity.  Some are artistic, preferring to draw in almost every situation.  Some are actors, dramatizing their responses.  child making letter T with his body

The younger the child, the more apt he is to be a kinesthetic learner.  Males tend to be kinesthetic learners longer than females.  Children with highly focused hobbies or interests—assembling Legos for hours at a time, enjoying sports practice several times a week, wanting everything Spiderman, drawing and coloring every day—are probably kinesthetic learners.

The problem for kinesthetic learners is that most classrooms are made for the auditory learner, the person who sits still and listens to the teacher, the person who reads silently to learn, not for the person who roams, fidgets, mumbles, acts out, or plays games to learn.

Child sitting with legs outstretched, forming the letter L

So what hands-on activities will help your beginning reader to learn the alphabet and easy words?

  • Ask the child to act out the letter shapes, that is, form the letters with her body.
  • Allow nonverbal responses—pointing, gesturing, showing facial emotion, performing.
  • Use games—letter tiles, for example—that offer the child the opportunity to pick up, arrange, and invent. Or hold letter “bees” in  which the children form teams and the you hold up letters or words for a team member to identify.
  • Teach using puppet shows—two characters debating what a given letter is, or how to hold a book, or if “fun” rhymes with “fan.”
  • Let groups of students create an ABC book . The artist in the group might draw and color pictures while other students might cut out pictures from magazines and paste them.
  • After you have read a story to students, ask some to act out the story to test comprehension. Let other students join in.
  • Create an alphabet from Play Doh or Legos or pipe cleaners.
  • Create word family books with drawings or cut-and-pasted pictures.
  • Take a scavenger walk in the neighborhood to see shapes of letters in tree branches, sidewalk cracks, clouds or roof lines.

dhild running with book in hands

You might think, these activities take time and slow down the learning process.  Yes, they do take time, and yes, they do slow down the initial learning process.  But since this kind of learning sticks, you need to do less reteaching and may gain time in the long run.  Just as importantly, students who are reprimanded for not sitting still or for being unable to leave a task they like are praised for their learning.  These students become leaders, helping other children who are not as kinesthetically gifted.

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