Picture this Planet: Engaging Senses, Enabling Students


With paper, rock, and a football galaxy, Wanda demonstrates visual and sensory activities for engaging students. Today’s students live in an immersion of media. From glossy picture books to digital media, they have grown accustomed to learning visually. Wanda reminds us of the importance of engaging all of our students’ senses in the learning experience—and offers examples from her own classes.

One of the challenges that teachers face is engaging our students with the content. Especially because of the influences of technology amongst our students, students struggle to create pictures of what they’re reading in their minds. Therefore, the task of the teacher is to lead them to be able to picture things in their mind. This can be done in various ways.

One way I like to do is to draw pictures of our content as much as possible. This is a science lesson that was talking about the different shapes of galaxies. So, we took chalk and on black paper, since the sky is black, we wrote the definition of galaxy and then drew the different shapes.

(To class) Scientists look at these galaxies and they say, “When we look at them, they actually have a couple different shapes.” They put them into four different categories of shapes. So as we read, think about what kind of shape. How would I describe that kind of shape?

It’s fun for students to use chalk on black paper, so getting all their senses engaged, seeing, hearing and doing, is something to focus on as a teacher.

Another project that I do to help students visualize is we put the solar system onto a black paper again and it gives them the concept of how the size and the spacing of the planets are. They can’t fathom the big numbers we read about. So, this brings it to a little bit of understanding.

(To class) You may come to see that there’s a reason that we live on earth and it’s not just by chance that humans live on earth.

In science class, do as many demonstrations as possible.

One thing we learned was that space has no air friction.

(To class) Let’s try to grab a picture, an idea of what friction … What’s this air friction like?

Since that was a difficult concept to grasp, I did a demonstration of how we experience air friction on earth by dropping a paper and a rock and comparing their speeds of drop.

(To class) So, what is it about the fact that when I did paper, it was much slower than the rock? So if I get a rock this size, would it do the same thing it did?

(Class) No.

(To class) What slows an object down is the… Air friction.

For math, I like to have students drawing pictures as they’re reading story problems to help them understand what they’re reading. For reading or other text, I ask students to describe what they’re reading, what they’re picturing in their mind. One way to have more students engaged with your reading at a time is to have them draw on a paper what they’re reading or have them turn and tell.

Another thing we can do is teach students how to read a textbook by using the headers and also how to read a paragraph and understand what’s in it by using the topic sentences to figure out what the paragraph was talking about.

As teachers, we should engage as many senses as possible to help our students learn.

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