How to Meet the Needs of Many Types of Learners at One Time

February 03, 2016 0 Comments

How to Meet the Needs of Many Types of Learners at One Time

Or, teach once and reach them all.


One of the biggest challenges for teachers is to find ways to meet the needs of the many types of learners in their classrooms day after day. For several years I experimented by trying various strategies, all while watching the kids to see what helped them, and some things began to stand out that seemed to work very well in reaching a lot of different types of learners. Using multiple strategies at one time was astonishing—children who had been failing for years suddenly had the lights go on. And this was not because the material was dumbed down to their level, but instead because the vehicles that carried the information to the brain were different.

It took me several years of refining before I developed an approach to teaching many kinds of learners at one time that assured that they would all learn. Below  the various elements that are included in the design of Child1st materials are written out for you, and following are short descriptors of each of those elements.

Global Whole/Graphic Map:

Many children are global learners who learn by seeing where the detail they are being taught fits into the big picture. For example, if you teach a child 2+5=7, he'll likely be distracted by trying to recall where else he saw numbers that add up to 7 and so not remember that detailed equation. If you tell a global learner that one strategy for reaching non-traditional learners is to embed the learning within the global whole, she will immediately begin wondering what the other strategies are that are good to use. If you tell a global child that LAUGH is pronounced L-A-F, and that TAUGHT is pronounced T-O-T, a flurry of question will be unleashed in his mind, all of which will prevent him from remembering what you told him. What a global learner needs to see is the whole picture. “Where does this fit in the whole?” “What other words are spelled with the AUGH sounding like O?” “What other number pairs add up to 7?” and so forth. The strategy then, should be to show the global whole from within a diagram or chart, and then having done that, teach a detail at a time if need be.


From the very beginning, we need to provide immediate writing practice for what we teach a child a SnapWords™ image such as the one at the right, talk about what it says and what the image conveys in terms of story or situation, and then be sure he understands what the word means. The very next thing to do is ask him to study the word, then close his eyes and “see” it in his imagination. When he says he can see it, have him open his eyes and draw or write what he saw in his mind. This practice is very simple, but will do a number of things. It will teach the child to rely on his strong visual sense, teach him to rely heavily on the pictures his brain snaps when he sees something, and give him a chance to use other senses to deepen learning when he draws or writes what he saw. The cycle of learning is complete when the child has drawn or written what he learned. Finally, this approach is very important as a means of showing you what the child really grasped. Many children can seem super attentive, when in reality they are staring at you but dreaming of something else.


Whenever we liken a new piece of learning to something tangible and known, we are utilizing a very powerful tool that will help a child remember the new learning. For example, we can tell a child that M is Mmmm or we can say “M is Mmmmountain.” The shape of the known object reflects the shape of the letter M and also carries with it the sound of M. If you add to this a visual of M being mountain, you have tripled the learning potential for the child. Other metaphors: “Your circulatory system is a huge system of roads and highways…” “You brain is a very complicated computer.”


Color is a powerful aid to learning, sorting, and remembering. When used thoughtfully, color coding can make learning easy. One caution, however: if your coloring system gets super complicated (such as a distinct color for every sound) the child will be forced to try and memorize a color coding system before he can use it. This is going to be counter-productive! But if you use a color to highlight a target sound spelling, the different color will make the target letters/sound pop visually and the child’s brain will snap a picture of the lesson. 


I cannot say too much about the teaching power of gesture. Many children can learn only when moving, and gestures that reflect the detail being learned are also hugely important. I have personally seen children who unconsciously made slight hand motions as they were reading—either motions for letters, or body motions for sight words they had learned using gestures. It became clear to me that while the gestures were vital for carrying information into the brain, they were also utilized to retrieve the learning!


Music makes a wonderful clothesline to clip learning pieces to! Can you see it? No detail will get lost if you have tied it to words in a song! Collaborate with your child in coming up with a tune to accompany some lesson they are learning. Music will make it easy to learn and recall the information.


Acting out learning is another form of gesturing, but is definitely whole body and brain! When you are teaching the science concepts of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, have the children act out the movement of the water. It will be unforgettable! If you are teaching prepositions, have the children act out where they are in relation to their chair or a table. For learning fractions, act out the action in the math equation using real, concrete objects and a table or desk.


The use of rhyme or jingles will help children learn and remember details. For example, in our Alphabet Teaching Card for the letter A, we have the visual of A (anthill with ants crawling up and down it) and also have a jingle that ties the shape of the letter to both long and short sounds of A. “Amy’s ants on an anthill, actually.”


Marching in a line to learn odd and even numbers is so great. If you are learning to count by 2’s for instance, march in a line, counting out loud. Each time you get to an even number, lean over to the side dramatically so that children subconsciously relate the deep bend with the even numbers. Rhythm can be linked to gesture if you clap or stomp in rhythm. If you are learning your 5’s table, use each hand to represent a 5. So if you say “4 x 5 is (slap both hands together twice to represent the four 5’s) 20” you will combine rhythm and gesture. The learning will be absorbed by the child’s body.


Story is one of my all time favorite tools. Once you let go of your inhibitions (mildly), you can really get imaginative with the stories you make up on the spot to explain learning concepts. For instance, see our previous blog posts about the story that explains inch, foot, and yard, and the story that explains contractions. Also, Alphabet Tales is a book of stories that explains how letters came to have their shape and sound. Once children hear a story and learning is embedded in it, they will not forget!


Visuals are incredible in their ability to transfer learning to the brain in an instant. Everything we create at Child1st utilizes visuals for sure. When right-brained learners, visual learners, active learners, and children who struggle see a learning concept embedded in an image, their brains will usually snap a photo of it, and it is there… forever in memory.

All of Child1st products utilize as many of these elements in their design as possible. In this way, we can be sure to not neglect any learner! Go check the materials out and help your children love learning!