Updated On: August 18, 2021

Any parent or teacher can tell you that not all children learn in the same way. The popular VARK modalities hold that there are four styles of learning: Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic. While these are not meant to be watertight categories, they are helpful as guidelines for working with different students. What teachers often see is that there is some overlap in these four learning styles and that students may benefit from learning aids in more than one mode.

Tactile learning, or kinesthetic learning, is the preference for learning from one’s own physical experience. According to ThoughtCo, these students are hands-on learners who may have difficulty sitting still. They prefer to move around while listening or talking and are often the type of people who “talk” with their hands. A tactile learner does well with 3-D materials and wants to do the work rather than listen to how it is done. As a result, tactile learners may be mistakenly classified as having a behavior problem or a learning disorder.

In discussing teaching approaches that meet the needs of kinesthetic learners, the Kinesthetic Learning Strategies website states that these types of learners have “a strong drive to explore material through doing and to move periodically. For both of these reasons, they can thrive in classes that involve activity.”

Tactile Learning and Literacy

Students learning to read and write may benefit from activities that allow them to form and shape letters and words without pencils and paper. Using Play-Doh to make letters and words is one way, and using fingers or a stick to write in dirt or sand is another. Magnetic letters and a white board give students an easy way to make corrections as they learn to spell. Using blocks will appeal to children who like to build things. Keep sidewalk chalk handy for outdoor learning activities. There is no shortage of everyday items that can be used to help tactile learners with spelling and letter formation.

According to Education Week, “Movement throughout the day helps students to re-energize their bodies and their brains, helping them to focus and concentrate better. Research has shown that movement during the school day benefits academic performance and improves behavior. Movement in lessons will also help your students to retain the content more.”

Building in small breaks throughout learning activities helps students let off steam and rejuvenate, according to Teachnology.com. When possible, taking a walk outside can not only provide a break, but also offer opportunities to learn. When studying a play, for example, kinesthetic learners may learn much more through acting than by trying to read and absorb. This can also be effective with stories and books as well.

Drawing pictures, sketches, and diagrams can help tactile learners express what they are learning better than writing a traditional book report.

One mom who was a reading teacher homeschooled her four children using a number of kinesthetic activities that help teach reading to younger students. Her list includes creating scavenger hunts to find objects that spell words and matching picture cards with word cards on a chart or work surface. Also on her list is the use of puppets to re-enact a story.

Using Technology With Tactile Learners

Educational technology allows the tactile and kinesthetic student to be creative. These learning activities can be interactive as well as hands on. TechDaily outlined some ways that technology can be used to aid learning for the tactile/kinesthetic student. Some interactive educational apps include movement and use of hands, such as the Touch and Write Phonics app. Interactive simulations allow students to engage in games and activities where they take ownership of their learning and can direct the scenarios. Screens allow students to manipulate words and images, keeping them engaged through activity and touch.

Creating a Culture of Literacy

For students to see themselves as readers, they must be able to see themselves in texts. The International Literacy Association says, “Culturally relevant and inclusive texts are essential — or nothing else matters.” Choosing texts that students can relate to is imperative. Regardless of which style of learning is best, students must be able to see literacy as necessary and valuable in their lives.

To help students with reading difficulties see the importance of reading and writing, all teaching staff need to be literacy role models, not just the language arts teachers. If it looks like it’s worthwhile and students are surrounded by adults who are passionate about literacy, they’ll be inspired to follow suit.

Working With Students Who Have Reading Difficulties

Barry University offers a Master of Science in Reading online program for teachers who want to work with students with reading difficulties. It’s an accelerated program consisting of 30 credit hours that students can complete in as few as 18 months. Graduates of the M.S. in Reading program will be able to apply knowledge of reading research to improve literacy instruction.

Learn more about Barry University’s Master of Science in Reading online program.


Education Week: Eight Ways to Use Movement in Teaching and Learning

Kinesthetic Learning Strategies: Activities to Help Tactile Learners

Vark-Learn.com – The VARK Modalities

ThoughtCo: Make the Most of Your Tactile Learning Style

Teachnology.com: What Is Kinesthetic Learning?

This Reading Mama: Kinesthetic Activities for Teaching Reading

TechDaily: Kinesthetic and Tactile Learners: Hand-On Experience with Technology

International Literacy Association: The Engaging Classroom