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MultiSensory LearningDr. Seuss may have written Horton Hears A Who!, but Orton-Gillingham wants us to not only hear, but also see and touch the who!

Multisensory teaching uses more than one of the child’s senses to teach the material. In traditional teaching environments, sight and hearing is employed. In a multisensory classroom, a teacher also uses kinesthetics to teach. This involves touching or handling an object or movement of some kind.

The multisensory approach to reading instruction was originally developed by Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator Anna Gillingham in the early 1930’s to teach students with dyslexia.

The action-oriented instruction includes reading, handwriting, and written expression taught cumulatively. The method is language-based and success-oriented, meaning that the child is not allowed to fail. The teaching is done in a sequential format and a child does not move onto the next step until he has successfully completed the previous one.


The Slingerland Approach

Beth Slingerland, a dyslexia educator, adapted the Orton-Gillingham methodology for the classroom and this has become known as the Slingerland Approach. The Slingerland Approach combines multisensory teaching strategies into every area of a classroom lesson. (2) My daughter was fortunate to attend a private school from 1st through 3rd grades that employed this teaching approach. She also saw a tutor for that period of time that was also trained in Slingerland. By using this multisensory approach, the skills being taught were reinforced by different senses which helped maximize my daughter’s learning and retention.

Many children with various isms will benefit from a multisensory approach. Realistically, this approach is ideal for all children whether they have isms or not.

Insights from an Orton-Gillingham Tutor

I had the pleasure of gathering additional insights from Dora Cheung, E.C.E., M. Educ Admin. & certified Orton-Gillingham (OG) Tutor. Cheung is also a qualified Early Childhood Educator and has been teaching for over fifteen years. Cheung specializes in tutoring elementary aged students with learning disabilities and ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

Empower Students

Cheung shares, “OG tutoring encourages the use of a multisensory teaching method because it empowers students with learning disabilities to learn using as many of their senses as necessary to help make the links to understand the concepts.  Teaching concepts in a multisensory way helps students to understand the concepts faster and to remember them for a longer period of time.

Think about it: If a teacher just gave me an essay on how the brain works and told me to read it, I would be confused. But if the teacher showed me with diagrams or gave me a figurine and explained it to me part by part, then I would understand and remember it more easily.  This way of learning would have allowed me to not only use my visual/auditory pathway, but also my kinesthetic/tactile (touch/feel) pathway to learn.”

Effectiveness of Multisensory Learning

Learning concepts through multiple senses is extremely effective.  Cheung elaborates, We are all different kinds of learners and some of us learn better visually, while others learn better auditorily. But by presenting any concept to a student in several different ways, you are creating many pathways for the student to use to recall the information. As a result, the student will be able to recall and understand a concept more successfully than if it had just been presented in the traditional verbal and auditory way.”

Multisensory Activities

There is a multitude of multisensory activities available to educators.  Cheung shares a few examples:

  • To provide a hands-on experience, you can allow children to play with manipulatives to incorporate the kinesthetic/tactile and sight senses.
  • When teaching sight words or sounds, let children trace sandpaper words or letters and ask them to spell the words verbally.
  • When I tutor math, students are always asked to ‘build it, write it, say it’…being multisensory is the key.

Create a Successful Learning Environment

Some educators may think that multisensory teaching strategies might be confusing for the students.  Cheung rebuts, “I see it as a positive.  I am promoting different learning strategies to create successful learning environments for all types of students. How can that be harmful? I think this learning strategy works especially well in a large classroom environment because you are incorporating all the different learning styles of all the different students and no one is left behind. The children with learning differences will especially use this multisensory learning strategy to help cope with their learning differences.”

Check out Dora Cheung at Orton Gillingham Tutor and discover her top benefits to OG Tutoring.  Visit Cheung’s blog to discover many useful multisensory activities that you can implement in the classroom.


(1) “Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.” Orton-Gillingham. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2015.

(2) The Slingerland Approach.Achieve Reading. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2015.