Using the Senses/Identifying Learning Styles
Leslie Rapparlie’s new book Writing and Experiential Eduction: Practical Activities and Lesson Plans to Enrich Learning offers great advice for educators looking to use experiential techniques in their classroom. Here is an example of one of the easy-to-use and engaging activities that is great for initiating reflection on using the senses and differing learning styles.
• Five notably different objects (detailed in Instructor Preparation)
• Print outs or cards with pictures of a body part that represents each of the five senses
A space large enough to have five stations far enough apart so a student cannot see what is happening at another station
• To help students use and identify each individual sense
• To show how observation assists in learning and thinking
• To assist students in understanding a personal learning style and its application
No Student Preparation Needed
Set the five objects and their corresponding body part card in stations far enough apart so students do not have a clear idea what is happening at each station but close enough so you can speak and students at all stations will hear you. If you are working with a large group, you may need multiples of the objects at each station. Each object and station should target a specific sense. Examples of objects that are specific to each sense are:
Sight—colorful scarf, sculpture, painting, photographs, postcards, magazine advertisements
Sound—A quietly playing radio, an instrument such as a drum or xylophone or have students close their eyes and listen to natural noises
Touch—An object with texture (a fleece ball, rock, shell or flowers) in a box with a opening on the side large enough for a hand to fit through but small enough not to see inside
Taste—Candy (M&Ms, Starburst, mints) in a box where a student can reach in but not see inside. You can ask students to close their eyes in order to more easily focus on taste.
Smell—Put something fragrant (potpourri, flowers, herbs, peaches or other fruit) in a box with an opening on the top big enough for a student to stick a nose in, but small enough to not be able to see inside.
• Divide the class into five groups and mention that the activity is about using the senses.
• The sense each student will be using will be depicted by a body part card set at each station. Let students know that there may be a note asking them to close their eyes after they have examined the picture with the sense on it. This will help them focus on the sense that is involved.
• Tell the group that they will have five to ten minutes at each station and each student, after exploring the station, should take notes on the experience as it relates to the sense. If the station has a blindfold, the student should write without removing the blindfold, even if it is not neat.
• Then, walk the class to where the stations are set up and put one group at each station.
• Time for five or ten minutes (your choice) then ask for the groups to rotate clockwise. Repeat until each group has been at each of the five stations.
Once the class has completed each station and is gathered together again, ask the students to switch their notes with a partner. The partner should notice which sense has the most detailed notes. He should star that sense and circle the sense with the second best set of descriptions then hand the paper back to the original student. A double-entry journal could also be used here, with the first student’s notes in the first column and the second student responding in the second column.
Sense will often tell students how they learn best. For example, if visual description was the most refined or developed, these are students who like to see things written or watch demonstrations to learn. If sound descriptions were really developed, then that student learns best through lecture. There will be students who have equally strong descriptions for visual and sound, so perhaps they learn best by not only hearing a lesson, but by also seeing it written or demonstrated. Some students, though, will have an extremely difficult time describing sounds but an easy time describing touch. These are often hands-on learners that may struggle in lecture-based classrooms.
General discussion, free writing, timed writing or double-entry journals can be used to consider the difficulties of using the different senses and what each student thinks about his or her individual results. Of course this activity is not scientific or a true measure of learning styles, like Meyers-Briggs or other assessment tools which are better suited for a concrete result. Instead, this activity assists students in thinking about their learning style before embarking on a larger learning experience. Explain to students that they may need to ask for something to be demonstrated if they know that it helps them learn. Invite them to take charge of getting the most out of their future learning experiences.
Alterations for Other Disciplines/Experiences:
This activity would be useful to a program integrating creative writing or art, as well as therapeutic settings. Students in these disciplines can benefit from careful attention to the senses.