How to Use the Fernald Multisensory Approach to Teach Spelling

Students who struggle to spell will benefit from the multisensory approach.
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Grace Fernald was a special educator who worked with struggling learners. She pioneered a new, multisensory approach to teaching spelling called the VAKT technique, which stands for visual-auditory-kinesthetic-tactile. It presents new words to students through all their senses, making it easier for them to understand and remember. Fernald's approach requires individual attention, but it is effective in improving spelling and reading, and it helps struggling learners to keep up with their classmates.

Choose no more than three words to teach a child every day. Write the words onto the strips of white printer paper with a pen. Write the words as big as you can.

Show the words to the child. Place each word in front of the child so that the student can get a good visual idea of what each word looks like.

Say each word out loud so that the student gets an auditory example of the word. Get the student to physically trace the word with a finger, as though writing it, while pronouncing the word. This is the kinesthetic and tactile portion of the Fernald method. Have the student repeat this step up to six times, or until able to trace out the word without the strip of paper.

Turn the paper over. Have the student choose a marker. Give the student an index card. Have the student write the word. If correct, the student gets to file the card in the index card box. The words in the box should be organized in alphabetical order.

Reinforce each word by getting the student to use it in sentences. The child must then type the words on a computer or read it in a book. Some students have trouble identifying typed words when they have learned the cursive versions.

  • Each child needs personal attention during this process. Teaching a group of children will diminish the effectiveness of the process.
  • If the student makes a mistake, go back to the beginning for that word only and repeat the steps until the student has mastered the word.
  • Spend some time each day going back and reviewing past words from their index cards.

Nicole Fotheringham has been a writer since 1997. She was born in South Africa and began as a reporter for the "Natal Mercury" and "Cape Argus" newspapers. Fotheringham has a master's degree in English literature from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.