Sensory learning – what’s the point?

Today I had the privilege and honor to work with one of my mentors and to work with young people who want to be teachers. The workshop was the usual stuff but it made me think about the points of sensory teaching. Here are some conclusions.


The first and the most important point is hidden within Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Although the theory could be considered as outdated by many it’s still the main key to many things such as understanding diversity in the classroom, learner types…

Recent research into brain activity while learning a foreign language has proven that about 80 % of your brain is active while learning a foreign language. The key to success of learning a foreign language is not hidden in the percentage of your brain activity,but in how you are able to recall the information. Just remember Krashen’s theory of i + 1. All this fails if your senses are not focused on the activity but on other things. I remember sitting in Elbasan and listening to a plenary. I know who was the speaker and the topic and that’s it. I can’t remember the content, I can, however recall the fact that the room was rather cold and that I needed to go the toilet. On the other hand our body is designed to understand positive impulses much better than negative ones. We all remember our first kiss, our first break up… It is far from saying that more emotional situation is better learning out come it will have, but it’s something to have in mind with more demanding teaching content.

We cannot over look Zhang’s research into how meditation relaxes brain waves. In her study she is talking about mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSRs) which she refers to as a volume knob. The theory behind it lies in mindfulness based cognitive therapy.

Here is an example of what Zhang has in mind:

“Imagine the simple task of backing a car out of the driveway. In order to reach the street safely, you must hold your destination in mind while steering and ignoring distractions from every modality: news on the radio, children playing at the end of the block, an itch on your foot, the glare of the sun in your eyes. Most people filter out these distractions subconsciously — but should irrelevant stimuli distract you, backing out can become a difficult ordeal.”

Although Zhang uses adults as example, think about ADHD learners and any other learners who cannot focus. They (especially if they are really young) cannot achieve to filter out irrelevant stimuli so the teacher has to do it for them. Giving them an option of movement can save an argument or two.\r\n\r\n


The idea of sensory learning in practice is simple. The teacher has to understand why he or she is doing it. Today’s knowledge can help us to understand our mind better and there are still loads of things to discover, some of them will never be explored. The question for the teacher in any case should be the same: what’s the educational value behind my approach? Neuroscience can help you out a lot, but if you don’t know your students – nothing will work. Observe your students. Are they good in music or do they prefer to look out of the window. Interpersonal students work differently as intrapersonal students. My personal challenge are scientist and engineers. They like to have everything “boxed” and are not keen on the “exceptions chapter in grammar”.

The challenge is on. Go and observe. Try to think about the sense your students can use in the classroom and how. Maybe you will have a lesson on the floor or you might do something with the air in the class: remember one thing: it’s the experience you are aiming at.

Some ideas for sensory learning:

– use Kinetic sand

– smells: fruity smells change the mood of the students

– cook vegetables and pasta and teach your students body parts

– allow students to touch things

– facial mimics with tastes: choose students and make a small learning group. Put something over their eyes. The next step depends on how you like your students 🙂 You can either tell them what you put in their mount and they pretend how it tastes like or you might actually put edible things in their mount and surprise them (lemon, salt…)

– light: why not use color lightbulbs in your classroom?

– color