Learning Modalities - What are they and how can I use them in my classroom?

Your students are diverse. They come from different backgrounds and see the world through different lenses. It only makes sense that they learn in different ways, too.

In fact, there are four main learning style categories that most students fall into. The learning styles include visual learners, auditory learners, students who learn best through reading and writing, and kinesthetic learners. The learning styles include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and through reading and writing.

Many students have one, two, or even three dominant learning styles through which they feel most comfortable learning. This doesn’t mean that they can’t learn in other ways, but when learning challenging content, the dominant styles will work best for students. 

Let’s take a closer look at the four different learning styles.

Visual Learners - What you see sticks

Visual learners learn well through charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and other interesting layouts. You may find these students leaning toward graphic novels during reading time or using strategies such as drawing pictures to solve math problems. 

There are many ways to support visual learners in your classroom. For example, your classroom decor can include visually pleasing posters and charts. Students can use these items for processes as they learn throughout the year.

For younger students, especially those who aren’t able to read and write, visual learning is a way to build fluency. Students become familiar with “reading” illustrations, flow charts, and diagrams that are filled with images. They’re learning to examine things from left to right and finding clues about the material through images. 

For older students, visual learning strategies help them understand the main takeaways. Instead of three pages of notes, students can create a one page visual that conveys the same ideas. 

Here are some strategies to use in your classroom:

  • Make complex processes into lists or flow charts

  • Draw things to show your ideas

  • Replace words with symbols that represent the same thing

  • Use different fonts, sizes, colors, highlighting, and underlining in texts that you create

Through graphics, visual learners are most easily able to process information.

Auditory Learners - Listen and Learn

Auditory learners enjoy soaking up information by listening and talking. These are the students who want to hear you explain an idea and go back over it with you out loud.

Going over pros and cons, having classroom debates, working in groups, and discussing  others’ ideas are in the wheelhouse of the auditory learner. 

Here are some ideas that will work for auditory learners of all ages:

  • Explain things by talking - make sure to have structure in your explanation

  • Have students repeat back or summarize what has been said

  • Set up group discussions and argue your case

  • Listen to podcasts 

  • Read aloud with students and practice using inflection and changes in voice when appropriate

  • Tell other students or the teacher about what they’re learning

While auditory learners absorb information by listening, they also process by discussing. Listening to other points of view and ideas and sharing thoughts aloud are trademarks of auditory learners.

Reading and Writing - Words, Words, Words 

As you may have guessed, this category of learners prefers to read and write in order to learn. Although schools are making headway in teaching using all modalities, many traditional settings focus on reading and writing as the main avenue for learning. 

You might find your students silently reading or writing out  processes for how they came to a conclusion. These are the students who will be able to read the directions in a math textbook and get it. 

Another quality you may notice in this type of learner is that they tend to challenge rules because of the wording. 

Here are some strategies you can use for your students who enjoy reading and writing:

  • Use lists to order things into categories

  • Assure that titles and headings are clear and explain what follows

  • Use bullet points and numbered paragraphs

  • Introduce challenging vocabulary

  • Include clear, written directions and definitions

  • Have students rewrite in their own words

  • Whenever possible, include text in activities

Students typically have plenty of opportunities to read and write during the school day. Those who prefer this mode of instruction pair well with auditory learners so they can read together, discuss ideas, and come up with a written response.

Kinesthetic Learners - Keep it Real

Kinesthetic learners enjoy hands-on activities. They like to learn and put what they’ve learned into action. 

Using the five senses while learning resonates with kinesthetic learners. They prefer application over theory, and they want to see real life examples. Autobiographies and documentaries are appealing to kinesthetic learners because they’re real life stories.

Kinesthetic learners also like to be part of a team and work in environments where they can apply their ideas. This involves practical problem solving, lab settings, field trips, and interviews. They enjoy learning by trial and error.

Here are some ideas to cater to your kinesthetic learners:

  • Incorporate the five senses into your activities

  • Watch videos and look at photos of real things

  • Take notice of examples that apply to real life situations

  • Share personal experiences

  • Let students practice what they are learning in real world situations

  • Include movement in your lessons

  • Search for reality the standards you teach

Kinesthetic learners are less likely to be engaged in activities if they don’t see the relevance. It’s important to bring things back to the here and now and give students real life applications for what they’re learning.

Do Learning Styles Tie Together?

Yes! All of the learning styles mentioned above go hand in hand. While students may have one or more dominant learning styles, it’s important that they’re practicing using each modality.

Because the world is diverse, our learners need to learn in diverse ways. Knowing your students' learning styles is helpful because you know their strengths. If they aren’t able to understand something, you can present it in the mode that they’re most comfortable with. 

As teachers, we need to be teaching for all types of learners. This includes the visual learner, the auditory learner, the learner who prefers reading and writing, the kinesthetic learner, AND the learner who fall into multiple learning styles.

When you are building solid relationships with your students and teaching for all modalities, you are sure to be the reason that students feel seen and valued – and you can snag the perfect Be the Reason teacher t-shirt here. 

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