Importance of Multisensory Phonics

I can't express enough how important is the direct instruction of phonics in a multisensory way.  There are MANY phonics programs on the market, many of which are very good.  Each has its own sequence in the presentation of phonemes and its own style of presenting and rehearsing the rules.  Some use cards; some use charts; some use a game format; some have cute songs or gimicks.  I have found over the years, that which program is used is basically a personal preference of the teacher's manual and the pace at which the phonemes are presented and practiced.

Multisensory instruction is using as many senses simultaneously as possible, when taking in information and when asking a student to perform a task.  If you would like to know more about multisensory instruction, click back to that topic in the Teaching and Project Ideas section.

Before a student can be encouraged to "read faster" to build fluency or to determine vocabulary development and comprehension in literature or a textbook, the student MUST be proficient and automatic at decoding words.  This comes mainly from thorough and correct phonics instruction.

I often use materials that I have developed myself over the years, and someday, Wisdom Seekers may offer those materials.  One program I like, but is not carried by Wisdom Seekers is the Wilson Reading System.  This phonics program progresses students to multi-syllable words quickly and assures success.  It uses a graphing element to monitor mastery of skills.  I use this program with a bit older students, usually 4th grade and up, although it was designed to be used with illiterate adolescents and adults.  Other programs worth checking into are:  the Sonday System, Language ToolKit, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics, Sing, Spell, Read, and Write, Writing Road to Reading, and Hooked on Phonics.

For students with learning disabilities or dyslexia, I can't emphasize enough the importance of multisensory phonics instruction.  If you need more information or resources, e-mail us at or call 1-406-7710069.

Types of memory

Memory can be classified in various ways. 

The simplest and most commonly referred-to classification is related to duration.  Short-term memory is usually defined as lasting 20 seconds and somewhat longer if information is "chunked" or rehearsed.  Long-term memory is encoded information which is stored in various parts of the brain and has the potential to stay vital for a lifetime.

Another classification of memory is based on the manner of encoding and retrieving the information.  For teaching purposes, this is a more relevant and useful classification in planning learning experiences.  Memories can be Explicit or Implicit.  Explicit memory is formed by purposeful activities and through effort, such as study or directly instructed lessons.  Implicit memory is gained automatically through experiences, practice, and reflexes.

Teachers can enhance learning by making the most of activities and experiences that will organize information in such a way that students' brains are able to process information and store memories constantly without being overwhelmed.  Other factors, including diet, sleep, exercise, hormones, physical condition, and mental condition can affect memory storage. 

To learn more about memory and the recent research on this topic, check out the book Great Memory in the Special Education section of our catalog.


ALL students need encouragement about their successes and admonishment to keep going when it's been a tough day.  Here are some ideas for encouraging students.  Keep checking back as new ideas will be added occasionally.

*  For younger children, stickers and stars on the top of papers are a nice decoration and encouragement.  The stickers and stars will carry more meaning of used in conjunction with mastery levels.  A star or stamp for 90% correct and a sticker for 100% (or whatever criteria is used).

*  Use a stenographer's notebook to keep a running diaglogue with your child regarding attitude, behavior, work quality, work production.  Writing encouragement can be EXTREMELY powerful because it is there to keep.

*  When giving praise, keep your words separated from emotional expressions of love.  Love your child for who he is.  Praise your child for the work accomplished or effort put forth.  Examples:

     I can see you are concentrating hard.

     Your handwriting is touching the lines today.

     You were very accurate in math facts today.

     Your paper is organized neatly.  See how you lined the words up between the margins and you started on the top line.

     Your reading was smooth and accurate today.  It was a pleasure to listen to you read.

*  On those tough days when it is like pulling teeth to finish work or emotions are raw, pray for strength to make it through the day, take a deep breath, get away alone for a few minutes, and ask yourself what is really the most important thing to accomplish.  Whatever pops in your mind is what you should concentrate on.  It may mean ending academic school early to do extra physical education so your child can move.  It may mean changing subjects for awhile and returning to the problem area when things are calm again.  It may mean making your child sit at the table until the work is done, with an incentive for finishing by a certain time.  It may mean excusing the child from the assignment for today, but taking advantage of a more focused day to "catch up."

No matter how a school day is going, remember– tomorrow is a fresh day with a clean slate to start all over again.  If it has been a tough day, tomorrow will be better.

By the way, on those really tough days, sometimes parents and teachers need encouragement too.  If you ever need someone to pray for you or offer a listening ear or words of encouragement, feel free to e-mail or call.  We'll be happy to pray for you and get back with you if you request it.

Classroom/Instructional Arrangment

I have been asked in the past to assist new teachers in arranging their classrooms for optimal learning and behavior mananagement. 

In a regular classroom, consideration of the needs of individual students with special needs can help both those students and others in the class learn more optimally.  While seating arrangement recommendations for students with ADD/ADHD, CAPD, or other Communication Disorders or Behavioral Issues often focus on seating up front and slightly to one side, there are classrooms where seating a student along one side, away from a window or door, or in the back of the room can allow the child to focus or be less distracted and distractible.

The first consideration in a special education resource room is a clear visual pathway to all parts of the room in order to monitor student activities.  The second consideration is what activity "stations" are next to each other.  If all instruction is in small groups with no independent workers, then dividers work fine to provide teachers with instructional areas.  If one teacher alone or with paraprofessionals will be teaching while some students are working independently, have headphones for computers and planning movement of students in the room throughout the day can greatly reduce "unstructured" movement, thus eliminating much off-task time or behavior problems.  Using cueing systems for asking questions can also reduce unnecessary interruptions to instruction.

For homeschoolers, providing several work areas according to the activity can make work time more productive and give necessary transition "space" for students who have need for movement or benefit from changing position within the structure provided.  Many homeschoolers use the kitchen or dining room table to do all school work.  Those who provide more project-oriented curriculum use a "rec room" or family room, shed, outdoors, or other more open space for working more freely.  Some homeschoolers set up a "classroom" within their home so that all school work is done in that space.  I have known some homeschool parents who sit with their children for 2 to 4 hours straight through and get all their academic work done in one sitting, so they are done for the day.  Others provide short incremental sessions throughout the day.  No matter what arrangement you choose, for students who have special needs, consideration for attention, alertness, and learning styles helps to make homeschooling more successful.

If you will be planning the physical arrangement of your instructional space and need assistance, call for a consultation appointment.  We will be happy to provide feedback and suggestions to make your situation more effective.

Importance of movement

Our brains are activated when we move.  Moving energizes the muscles and nerves in the whole body, but it also stimulates the brain to be alert.  When having students move, cardiovascular exercise is not necessary.  The following ideas are great for beginning lessons with movement:

* A 5-minute walk in fresh air

* Slow stretching exercises

* "Brain Gym" type of movements where the student is given exercises that cross mid-lines of the body to stimulate simultaneous processing of both hemispheres of the brain, as well as intercommunication among various parts of the brain

* Throughout a lesson, having students alter postural position, such as: stand up, sit down, jump or hop, march, turn around, or move to another area of the room

* Give students opportunity to work in various seating positions, such as: hard chair at a desk or table, soft chair or sofa, lying on the floor, and curling up in a beanbag chair or on pillows

For other ideas on how movement affects learning, check in the Teacher Resources section of the catalog for the book entitled "Learning with the Body in Mind."  "Brain Gym," a resource manual for midline exercises is also listed in the Teacher Resources section.

What’s the difference between pattern blocks, attribute blocks, tangrams, and pentominoes.

Pattern Blocks, Attribute Blocks, Tangrams, and Pentominoes are popular manipulatives that teach reasoning, logic, planning, visual/spatial skills, geometric concepts, and other mathematical concepts.  I've often been asked if you need all of these materials and what is the purpose of each one.  This will be a short description of each and their intentional use; however, there are many support materials, such as reproducible books of worksheets and cards for each of these manipulatives that can help teachers better utilize them for varying ages.

PATTERN BLOCKS come in six shapes and six colors–yellow hexagons, orange squares, green triangles, red trapezoids, blue parallelograms, and tan rhombuses.  Pattern blocks are used to teach geometric shapes and their relationships.  They can be used to make linear patterns that allow students to extend, copy, or vary the provided guide.  They fit together to make large triangles or hexagons.  I find these are the best manipulative for beginning math geometric concepts because of their simplicity and versatility.

ATTRIBUTE BLOCKS come in five shapes, three colors, and two thicknesses and sizes.  The shapes are rectangle, square, circle, triangle, and hexagon.  Each of these shapes comes in red, yellow, and blue.  They also are thick and thin, as well as large and small.  By combining four attributes, students can learn shapes, classification (sorting) skills, congruent vs. similar, fractions, proportions, patterns, comparison/contrast, patterning, and many other mathematical concepts and thinking skills.  I have found attribute blocks to be the most versatile manipulative, although not as popular as pattern blocks.  Attribute blocks can be used with very young students through middle school.  Additional support materials add to the flexibility of attribute blocks.

TANGRAMS are geometric puzzles that include 2 large triangles, 1 medium triangle, 2 small triangles, 1 square, and 1 parallelogram.  Together these shapes form a large square.  Tangrams are most useful for elementary students through adults in building spatial sense.  Each puzzle comes in 1 color, although classroom sets can include a variety of colors.  Again, many support materials make tangrams more interesting to use.  I find that tangrams can be quite difficult for students who have difficulty with visual/spatial skills.  Often these students benefit from pattern blocks and simpler activities before advancing to tangrams.

PENTOMINOES are 12-piece puzzles that are scored in 1-inch sections.  They combine to fit together to form a rectangle and are used to help students visualize area and perimeter, as well as other math concepts.  Pentominoes now come in 3-D pieces with two-tone coloration to provide visual clues to puzzles.  The 3-D pentominoes are similar to color cubes.

Finally, does a math teacher need all of these materials?  The answer is–that depends.  If you are in a tutorial situation, working with 1 or a small group of students, I would suggest attribute blocks because of the versatility in both concept building activities and age-range of usefulness.  Pattern blocks are my personal favorite because they are a fun way to build visual/spatial skills and teach strategic thinking.  For older students, I would skip the pattern blocks and use tangrams–they tend to be more challenging and are less expensive.  If you are teaching in a classroom, I would recommend having all of these manipulatives on hand due to the variety of students' needs and the demands of manipulative-based curricula. 

I hope these descriptions and suggestions have been helpful in selecting appropriate manipulative materials for your students.  If you have further questions, please feel free to e-mail or call us, and we'll be happy to post more information or help you individually.

Concentration or memory skills

I have found that the card game "Concentration" or "Memory" is both fun AND highly effective when students must associate two pieces of information or memorize vocabulary.  Have the student write a word on 1 business-sized card and the definition on another.  Between 10 and 20 words are about right for most students.  Turn the cards over and play!!

Teaching Syllable rules

There are 7 syllable types.  I use the anacronym CLOVER for the 6 main rules.

*Compound Words (which are usually the first multisyllable words introduced to young readers, although the component words are actually a combination of 2 of the other 6 types.  Examples are:  cup/cake, rain/coat, pop/corn.

*C–cvc/–Closed syllables have a short vowel with 1 to 3 consonants following it.   "When a vowel is closed by a consonant door, it says its short sound."  Examples are:  rob/in, nap/kin, kit/ten, hun/dred.

*L–/cLE–Consonant LE syllables are found at the end of a word and are divided before the consonant that comes before the LE.  I use a silly phrase that helps students remember this rule: "-le in little BEFORE the BEFORE."  Examples are:  no/ble, jun/gle, mar/ble

*O–cv/–Open syllables have a vowel hanging open at the end of a syllable.  The vowel usually has a long sound.  "When a vowel is left open, it says its own name."  Examples are: mo/ment, va/ca/tion.

*V–cvvc/ or cv/vc–Double vowels can be a usual digraph, such as ea, ai, or oa, which is not divided and the first vowel has a long sound.  Double vowels that are not a usual combination, such as ia or eu, can be divided between the two vowels to make a multisyllable word, such as dial or museum.

*E–cvce–Silent e syllables can come in the middle of a word, but are usually found at the end of a word.  Of ten the vowel preceding the silent e has a long sound, although no English word ends with the letter v, so a silent e that follows the “v” may or may not affect the preceding vowel.  Examples are:  in/vite, home/sick, in/ten/sive.

*R–cvr–R-controlled syllables have a vowel followed by an r and can be found in any syllable of a word.  While ar and or have distinctive sounds, any vowel followed by an r can be pronounced /ur/.  Examples are:  car/pet, fur/ther/more, thir/sty.

I usually take a lesson or two to introduce the concept of syllable division and give an overview of the syllable types.  Then I teach in-depth and have students practice each rule until mastered and automatic, both in reading and spelling.  I usually use the following sequence for the in-depth practice–Compounds; Closed; Introduce or review common suffixes, such as -ed, -ing, -tion, -ness, -ment; Silent e; Open; Consonant-LE; R-Controlled; and Double Vowels.

I have used several workbook and curricular series when teaching these rules.  I enjoy using Megawords with students grade 4 and up.  Explode the Code Book 4 is great for younger students who still need larger space for writing.  These items can be found in our catalog in the Phonics or Vocabulary sections.  I also use the Wilson Reading System with some of my students.  If you are interested in information about this program, contact us by e-mail at  or phone at 1-406-771-0069.

Guided Discussion.

Incorporate theme learning into play time using "guided discussion" rather than worksheets or difficult projects.  Present toys that reinforce theme units.


Transportation–Have toys that represent various forms of transportation.  As the child pulls a toy out of the storage box or bucket, name the item and give a sentence description, such as, "That's a helicopter.  Helicopters fly in the air."  Later, sort the transportation toys by how they move, what they move, how fast they go, etc.

Creation–Provide toys of plants, animals, and people.  Play together to put them in the sequence of the days of creation.