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Identifying children’s different learning styles

5 June, 2012

Visual learners may also benefit from using flow-maps to explain different processes.

Specific learning styles can vary from one child to another. Learning styles are broadly split into three categories, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic, and each requires a different teaching approach.

Schools attempt to incorporate all three elements in lessons, such as using an interactive whiteboard with sound to cater to the first two learning styles, and creating a number of practical hands-on activities for kinaesthetic learners.

There are a number of ways that parents can work to accommodate their child’s natural learning styles and, in turn, serve to make learning more accessible to their children.

Identifying learning styles
Original research on learning styles by Dr Richard Bandler and Dr John Grinder in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming identified the following characteristics of different learners:

  • Those who prefer a visual learning style will look at the teacher’s face intently, like looking at wall displays, books etc. They will often recognise words by sight, use lists to organise their thoughts and recall information by remembering how it was set out on a page.
  • Those who prefer an auditory learning style like the teacher to provide verbal instruction, like dialogues, discussions and plays, solve problems by talking about them and use rhythm and sound as memory aids.
  • Those who prefer a kinaesthetic learning style: learn best when they are involved or active, find it difficult to sit still for long periods and use movement as a memory aid.

Visual learners
Children who have this learning style will thrive if they are given regular opportunities to present their work pictorially. As an example, they may use a mind-map to share what they have learned about a topic in History or Geography. Children will also benefit from drawing diagrams in class, such as creating labelled pictures of experiment outcomes in science or diagrams of mechanisms in technology.

Visual learners may also benefit from using flow-maps to explain different processes and using different colours to highlight their work.

Auditory learners
This type of learner will be happiest communicating their ideas verbally. In class or at home, they may benefit from engaging in debates on a number of topics or discussing their ideas in small group work or as part of the lesson introduction.

Auditory learners may also feel more at ease expressing their ideas into a tape recorder or flip-cam.

Children who have this predominant learning style will also enjoy teaching that is linked to anecdotes/jokes.

Kinaesthetic learners
Children with this learning style will enjoy working in groups and will also enjoy a range of hands on or practical activities. As an example, they may enjoy acting out a story before they begin the process of writing their story down.

Kinaesthetic learners can also be supported by allowing them to use models and objects to describe their ideas. In numeracy, for example, they may want to hold a 3D or 2D shape when describing its properties.

This type of learner may also benefit from educational activities that involve physical activity and movement. PE or games can be utilised to make cross-curricular links with subjects such as science by discussing how physical activity helps the body to function.

Kinaesthetic learners will also enjoy reading books with strong plots.

Additional learning styles
In addition to the styles listed above, McCarthy (1980) also developed four additional learning styles: innovative, analytical, common sense learners and dynamic learners.

  • Innovative learners have a strong sense of social justice and want their work to have meaning and reflect their values. They enjoy social interaction and like to cooperate with others.
  • Analytical learners like learning activities that are based on facts and always take time to reflect on their learning activities. Children with this learning style also want the work they do to contribute to helping the world in some shape or form.
  • Common sense learners are very practical and are eager to set things in motion. They enjoy activities or learning that has a practical application. These learners are also kinaesthetic.
  • Dynamic learners: children whose predominant learning style is dynamic will use their gut instincts to guide their actions. They are also adept at bringing together information from a variety of sources. These learners are naturally inquisitive and curious and look for the hidden meaning behind concepts.

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