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Sensory Learning

Originally appears in the Summer 2013 issue

WHAT TRANSFORMS THE DULL monotony of textbook passages into living, breathing lessons your students will remember? Whether you’re striving to meet a core science standard in a middle school classroom, or are leading an informal education program for Kindergarteners, sensory learning techniques can transform the most abstract ideas into concrete lessons your students will retain.

For example, have you ever been tasked with teaching a unit on the life cycle of an amphibian? Did you feel that you really piqued their curiosity as you drew their attention to
the standard five-stage life cycle chart? What if you changed your strategy and had them feel “salamander eggs” (tapioca in water), hear the different calls of local frogs and toads, and see a demonstration showing the permeability of their skins? The latter examples would provide strong, lasting tactile memories to reinforce the life cycle concepts.

Sensory learning is simply delivering instruction in a way that engages more than one sense at a time. By taking the time to incorporate sensory learning strategies, you can help your students gain a host of benefits; including greater student involvement, higher recruitment of the brain’s pathways, and increased learning and retention. What’s more students at any grade level can benefit from sensory learning techniques.

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Jessica Pierson is a Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer and a naturalist who lives in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. She is excited to begin her new career as a horticulture instructor this fall.