Tips for Engaging Multiple Learning Styles

Have you ever had one of those days when you just can’t get a catchy or annoying song out of your head?  Or was there ever a time you watched a scary movie and couldn’t get a certain image out of your head?  These are examples of how your memory can retain things by sound or sight.  Now, think about how hard it was for you to tie your shoes once upon a time.  Chances are, that’s not a great struggle for you anymore!  Your brain has learned muscle (kinesthetic) memory for tying shoelaces.

Most people have a preferred learning method.  Personally, I’m a visual learner.  If you show me a picture, I will remember what you say so much more easily than if you just talk to me.  My default Scripture memory method is to try to picture the words in my mind.

I had a friend growing up who was primarily an auditory learner.  He struggled with spelling because you don’t hear spelling; you see it.  He learned best by listening to someone teaching while doodling.

If you have taught for any length of time, you know that some kids just seem like they’re always moving.  While they need to learn to obey and sit still like all other kids, keep in mind that they may learn best through movement because they’re kinesthetic learners.

So what does this mean for your teaching?

It means that you need to use a variety of methods to engage the children in your class. When I first started teaching, I primarily sought to involve children through visual media, like flashcards or PowerPoint.  I still have to work to diversify my teaching style, because I naturally assume that everyone learns like I do!  My wife is more of an auditory learner, and she tends to use fewer visual elements in her teaching; instead, she relies on her voice inflections and physical movement.

Can you identify a pattern in your teaching?  Do you need to diversify?  If so, here are some ways that you can expand your repertoire.

Engaging Visual Learners

Visual learners love vivid colors and pictures.  Find some good Bible illustrations, either in a picture Bible, or online.  Use PowerPoint to display the pictures, or print them out and hold them up at key points as you teach.

For abstract concepts, try magazine pictures. You might try a physical object that will visualize what you’re teaching.  I’ll never forget a sermon in which the pastor used a baby’s ring-toss toy to show how different character qualities built on one another.  Because I’m a visual learner, the image of him stacking those rings on top of each other is stuck in my brain.

Engaging Auditory Learners

Have students repeat key words or phrases in your lesson, so that they can hear themselves saying parts of your story or lesson. Use an appropriate song to reinforce what you’ve just taught, or even interrupt your lesson to sing it (this is also a great way to pull your class back if you’re losing them).

If you want to get really fancy, you can insert sound effects into a PowerPoint presentation. I once sat in a seminar in which the presenter inserted screaming monkey sound effects for each new point of her presentation (it tied into her presentation, of course).  It was a really effective tool for catching the attention of the audience (mostly high-schoolers), and helped the group to track with her main points.

Have your students close their eyes and just listen to a portion of the story.  For example, as you’re teaching the story of the tower of Babel, you could have the children close their eyes and bang the floor with their hands or feet to simulate the sound of thousands of people leaving Babel (this will also help kinesthetic learners).  Earlier in the story, you could have children listen to the sound of two bricks grinding together as you talk about building the tower.

Engaging Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners love movement and touch.  They’re “hands-on” learners.  In teaching the tower of Babel, you could let them feel some bricks, or let them build the tower out of play-doh.  When my wife was teaching the story of Noah, she had the children build houses and other objects out of Legos®; then they took them outside onto some steps and dumped two huge pots of water down on them to simulate flooding the earth.

Perhaps the simplest way to engage kinesthetic learners in your lesson is to have them perform the actions from the story as you teach it (this works best with younger children). If someone rides a horse in the story, have them stand up and pretend to ride a horse. If someone is hauling a heavy weight, have your students pretend to do it as well.

You will probably find yourself gravitating to one teaching style more than the others. That’s okay!  But be aware of your weak areas and try to strengthen them.  This Sunday, how could you incorporate elements into your lesson that will engage each of the three learning styles above?

Scott Allison
Scott is a pastoral intern at Faith Church. He and his wife Courtney work in Children's Ministries at the church.