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Multisensory Word Mapping

Research has demonstrated that rote memorization of sight words is both ineffective and inefficient. Instead, orthographic mapping has been shown to be significantly more successful in enabling students to retain words in their long-term memory for rapid recall during reading. While rote memorization requires between 5 and 500 exposures to a word, orthographic mapping necessitates only one to four mappings. Utilizing a systematic and intentional approach to teaching word mapping including multisensory word mapping, will give students the best support to develop strong decoding skills and letter-sound connections. But what does that look like in a real classroom for mapping sight words practice? Let me give you a quick peek into mine.

A student using multisensory orthographic word mapping

Multisensory Learning

It’s important to understand that kindergarten learning cannot solely rely on paper and pencil activities. For young students, it’s crucial to engage multiple senses (listening, speaking, reading, and kinesthetic movement) in the learning process. By incorporating multisensory techniques such as tracing, illustrating, chanting sounds, and moving manipulatives, young learners can process information in a variety of ways.

Multisensory Mapping Word Activities

Incorporating a multisensory approach into mapping words can be done during whole-group instruction, small-group, or independent literacy centers. Here are a few examples of what I do in my own class as an example.

Mapping Words Whole Group

I always introduce a new word during whole group instruction time, modeling first and then mapping together. Students grab a folder that has a mapping map, a dry eraser folder, and manipulatives inside. You can find out more about how this looks in my classroom and grab a free mapping mat by checking out my blog post HERE.

Lock and Load

After we map out a new word, we proceed to Lock and Load it. We conduct this activity standing or sitting down. I prefer to have my students stand so they can get some additional movement in while completing it. To begin, I say the target word and then they repeat it while performing the ‘load’ action by bringing their up-stretched fist down to a bent position by their side. This action locks in the word.

Whole group sight word mapping

Next we load the letters by tapping them along our arm. So for instance. if the target word is ‘said,’ students lock the word ‘said.’ Then we tap the sound out on their arm. There are three sounds in said: /s/ /e/ /d/. Next, we spell and tap it on our arm, it goes one tap for ‘s’, one tap for ‘ai’, and a final tap for ‘d.’

Whole group sight word mapping

Small Group Mapping

At the start of the academic year, I find it helpful to employ printable mapping worksheets when working with students. These particular worksheets are beneficial in that they cater to multisensory learning. I also like that they utilize a handwriting font similar to that of Handwriting Without Tears. This font provides extra support for students with fine motor difficulties who really need it.

Multisensory orthographic word mapping

They work like this:

  1. I say the target word.
  2. We tap out the sounds.
  3. Then we discuss and write the letters that go with the sounds we hear in the word. In this case, we know that the sound /s/ is made by ‘s’ and we know that the ending sound /d/ is made by the sound ‘d.’ However, the middle sound /e/ is not made by the letter ‘e.’ It is made by ‘ai.’ This does not follow the letter-sound rules we have learned so far, so this is the part we need to learn by heart.
  4. Next, we insert a bumpy board (plastic mesh canvas) behind the sheet and use a crayon to trace the letters in the word three times. The font used for tracing is similar to Handwriting Without Tears. It features a starting dot to guide letter formation and an easier-to-follow outline. This assists users in knowing where to begin their letters and improves their overall tracing experience. I have students identify the letters as they write them. After writing the letters, the board is removed and the writer traces them once again with their finger. In order to remember the tricky part of the word, a heart is marked above that particular portion.(You can either have them draw a heart or I like to use these little heart stickers.)
  5. Next, students will use their best handwriting to write the word three times on the lines provided. They can draw a heart above the tricky part if there is one.
  6. Finally, we use the word in a sentence and write it. At the beginning of the year, I provide the sentence. As the year progresses, we take turns coming up with words and eventually, they come up with their own.

I appreciate that this resource allows students to become so proficient with it that they can eventually use it as an independent center activity. To ensure its functionality, I simply attach miniature button recorders. (You can get them by clicking HERE.) This way, when students visit, they can retrieve a folder and its corresponding colored button recorder. The recording will identify the word they need to map out. If you’d like to know more about this activity, click HERE.

Self-Correcting Mapping Sight Word Practice

Independent literacy centers are another opportunity for students to gain valuable mapping sight word practice. You can offer students activities like this spin and map resource.

Mapping sight words practice spinner activity

Or there are self-correcting mapping cards like this one that I like to offer students. These ‘ball word mapping mats make it easy for students to practice what they have already learned about words using manipulatives to segment the sounds.

Self-correcting word mapping sight words practice activity

Or even a write-the-room activity where students travel the room to find hidden word cards. They map the cards and write the word on their response sheet before moving on to the next hidden card.

Write the room word mapping sight words parctice activity.

If You’d Like to Learn More

If you would like to learn more about any of the activities above, just click on any of the pictures above. For more information and a free sample, go ahead and click on the picture below.


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Do you need help incorporating multisensory learning with mapping high-frequency words? Look no further! The Science of Reading advocates for the use of Orthographic Mapping to develop fluent readers. This approach connects the sounds in words with their corresponding spellings, making them easier to recognize and remember in the long run. To ensure the best results, a multisensory approach should be used, allowing students to process the information in different ways. Check out a bunch of ideas to help.

Marsha Moffit McGuire

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