Have you heard of multi-sensory storytelling? It's a fun way to support engagement and interactions with the story you're reading, as well as vocabulary development!
Sensory Experiences and Vocabulary
"The cross-study results are clear: a greater number of sensory experiences support early lexical acquisition and recognition" (Seidl et al., 2023).
Seidl et al. wanted to know whether and how the acquisition and understanding of words may be influenced by the number of sensory experiences associated with linked objects.
They conducted three experiments and found:
Children acquire words earlier in development when they are linked with objects that provide sensory experiences
Children recognized words more easily when they had more senses linked with their meaning (e.g. lemons have a taste, you can touch them, you can smell them, they make a squirting sound, looks yellow vs the sky can only be seen)
Toddler's learned new words more easily when they got to touch objects as opposed to just seeing them
Cool, right? So now that we know multi-sensory experiences support vocabulary development, let's take a look at how we can integrate that knowledge with storytelling!
A sensory story is a story with simple lines of text that usually have an accompanying sensory experience. An effective story includes elements that target a variety of the students' senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell).
Sensory stories were originally created to support students with profound and multiple learning disabilities. They can also be "effective in individual or group treatment and with clients of all ages (from preschoolers to adults) with a wide range of disabilities" (Patterson, 2016).
Practical Ideas for Multi-sensory Storytelling
Creating sensory stories does involve creativity and imagination, and most busy SLP's don't have time to create their own sensory stories. Don't worry - here are some practical ideas that you can use to increase sensory experiences for your students.
Grab a shoebox or container of similar size to get started. You can label them by theme or by specific book. One advantage of using themes, is that your sensory materials can possibly be used across a variety of books. For example, if you're doing a beach/ocean theme, you could get a spray bottle with water, jar of sand, seashells, beach toys, fish dog treats (for the smell!), and smooth cloth to represent the skin of dolphins, seals, sharks, etc. These objects can then be paired with stories like Commotion in the Ocean, Day at the Beach, Pete at the Beach, etc.
Here are some ideas for the story 🍁 We're Going on a Leaf Hunt:
Fall colored paper (colorful leaves)
One short lego block tower and one tall one (tall mountain)
Dim the lights and turn a flashlight on (dark forest)
Spray bottle with water (wet waterfall)
Ice (cold lake)
Stuffed animal (soft fur of the skunk)
Fall essential oils
Pumpkin pie spice
Sandwich or piece of bread and apple slices (picnic under the read oak tree)
Happy reading! 💛
Ganz, K. (2022). Using Sensory Stories to Engage Young Students in Sessions and the Classroom. The ASHA LeaderLive. Link
Patterson, K. (2016). Sensory Stories for People With Multiple Disabilities. The ASHA LeaderLive. https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.MIW.21082016.34
Seidl, A. H., Indarjit, M., & Borovsky, A. (2023). Touch to learn: Multisensory input supports word learning and processing. Developmental Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.13419 [open access]