As a teacher, you will understand that every child is different. We all are. While this individuality can enrich lessons and subjects by encouraging debate and differences of opinion, it can pose some challenges.
One of the biggest challenges that teachers face is catering to these individual needs simultaneously and delivering lesson plans that support the development of each and every child. Achieving this, though, involves understanding the learning styles of your students and how to harness learning style theory to present ideas in ways that will appeal to and engage the whole class.
To help you decipher the individual learning styles of your students, we have put together this ultimate guide. In it, we’ll look at the different learning styles and offer tips on how to leverage the specific learning style of a student to help improve the effectiveness of your teaching.
What is a learning style?
Learning styles are methods of studying and understanding new information. Typically, they are preferential, based on the individual and how they best interact with and retain information.
As theorised by Neil Fleming, there are four main types of learning styles. Known as the VARK model. This includes visual learning, auditory learning, reading/writing learning, and kinesthetic learning.
The importance of identifying learning styles
By identifying how your students learn, you can use this to determine which study techniques will appeal to the types of learners they are. Here’s what each segment of the VARK model means and how it might look in practice.
The four types of learning styles
1. Visual learners
Visual learners react best to the use of images, maps or graphs when they’re presented with and trying to understand new information.
2. Auditory learners
Auditory learners prefer understanding and digesting new information through speaking and listening exercises. This could be through lectures or discussions or by reading aloud.
3. Reading/writing learners
Some of your students may learn best through reading or writing, i.e. by taking notes or reading from textbooks – these are reading/writing learners. People who fall into this category may find it easier to write essays.
4. Kinesthetic learners
A kinesthetic learner will prefer a hands-on approach to learning. One example of kinesthetic learning would be undertaking experiments in a science lab to ascertain how two elements react with each other.
How to help children identify their learning style
To help you plan lessons effectively and cater to the types of learners in your class, you should work with your students to ascertain what their preferred style is.
The best way to understand how your students learn is by observing things and giving them different tasks based on the VARK model. Although this can be time-consuming, especially with 30+ children in a class, it is a valuable exercise in understanding the learning styles of your students.
To better understand which of the VARK learning styles applies to everyone you teach, you could ask students to choose how they work. To do this, you could give your class a project, paying attention to how each of them chooses to work. You could even give your students examples of different ways to present the project that fit into each area of the VARK model.
Alternatively, to help children identify which types of learners they are, you can organise lessons that benefit each individual learning style. This will enable you to see how learners respond to the teaching techniques you use. This could include the following activities based on the VARK model:
1. How to identify visual learners
To identify visual learners, you should use increase the use of visual cues in your teaching and see how students react. This could include projecting information onto interactive whiteboards or another type of screen. Additionally, you could also encourage students to draw pictures or introduce diagrams and provide handouts to help give visual cues that learners follow when you’re giving a talk or lecture.
Another way to identify students who prefer visual learning could be how they respond to your lessons. A visual learner may make highlighted lists or colour-coded mind maps to help them remember things and understand more complex topics.
2. How to identify auditory learners
An auditory learner will respond best to listening and talking exercises, so it’s likely they will be the most vocal people in your class, whether they are asking questions or reading aloud.
To identify auditory learners, make sure your lesson plans allow time for group discussions about topics of interest. You could ask students to explain what they have learned at the end of the lesson, too, to encourage any auditory learners to voice their opinions.
3. How to identify reading/writing learners
Reading/writing learners will engage best with the written word and may be seen making lists or notes when you’re speaking to your class.
The majority of schools already cater to reading/writing learners, especially tasks that involve working from textbooks. Paying attention to the children that respond best to these tasks will help you find out who fits into the reading/writing model.
4. How to identify kinesthetic learners
As kinesthetic learners engage better with tasks that involve them experiencing and doing things, you may choose to implement tasks that involve, for example, acting out a scene from a book.
Activities like these force students to put what they have learned into practice and move around, which can help kinesthetic learners understand information more readily and approach complex problem-solving more effectively.
The benefits of understanding learning styles
Paying attention needs of the individuals in your class will help you accommodate different types of learners. Ultimately, understanding the four learning styles can help your students to achieve more. Other benefits of understanding how students learn include the following:
- Reducing potential frustrations or stress about taking on new information
- Allowing learners to work to their own strengths
- Helping learners develop skills to use in later life
- Increasing a student’s self-confidence and promoting the social aspect of school
- Encouraging learners to be curious when problem-solving
- Preventing students from disrupting other learners by becoming disengaged with a lesson
As well as taking some time to consider your student’s types of learning styles, you should think about your own. Having the ability to understand your personal style and plan CPD tasks accordingly will benefit your personal development.
To continue reinforcing your skills, explore the Promethean blog, which includes 12 tips on encouraging active learning in the classroom and strategies to encourage student engagement.
How to plan lessons for each learning style
Once you have identified which students fall into which part of the VARK model, it’s time to plan lessons that complement them and play to their strengths.
How to plan lessons for visual learners
Students with a visual learning style prefer to see pictures, diagrams, demonstrations and displays, etc. To cater to visual learners, consider including the following in your lesson plans:
- Using maps, flow charts or graphs to organise material and data
- Highlighting or colour-coding relevant information
- Flashcards and whiteboards
- Writing information on slips of paper and asking learners to move them into a proper sequence
How to plan lessons for auditory learners
Auditory learners will absorb information better by listening to others and consolidate what they have learnt by talking about it. With this in mind, your lesson plans should incorporate the following strategies to benefit auditory learners:
- Encourage discussion and debate around the ideas at the heart of a lesson
- Ask students to tell you what they have learnt at the end of a lesson or school day
- Put information into a song or rhyme to help students memorise it
- Ask learners to read sections of books aloud
How to plan lessons for reading/writing learners
To benefit learners who prefer to learn via the written word, your lesson plans could feature the following:
- Asking learners to pick out important information from various texts
- Reading from textbooks and summarising
- Note-taking tasks and quiet study time
How to plan lessons for kinesthetic learners
Kinesthetic learners like physical, hands-on activities. They prefer to engage with tasks by moving around, building things and generally being active rather than sitting still. To aid kinesthetic learners, you could plan lessons that include the following activities:
- Practical lessons, like playing with building blocks during maths
- Going on walks around the school grounds during science lessons – investigating where animals live etc.
- Making things in design & technology classes
- Interactive whiteboard games and other activities that encourage kids to come up to the board
A lesson plan for all types of learning styles
Now you know how to cater to each VARK learning style and the types of activities you can organise, here’s how you could plan an English lesson that engages all learners separately.
- 0-15 minutes (reading/writing): Read a passage from a storybook.
- 15-30 minutes (auditory): Discuss with the class what they have read, what it means and what could happen next.
- 30-45 minutes (kinesthetic): Organise students into group discussions about what they think could happen next, creating a short scene about what they have discussed
- 45-60 minutes (visual): The groups present their scenes to the rest of the class, demonstrating what could happen next in the story
This is only an example of one subject, but there are lots of different activities that can be planned depending on the VARK learning styles you want to cater to.
Having an awareness of each specific learning style will help you to incorporate the appropriate activities into future lesson plans. To help you put into practice what you have read in this guide, you could review old lesson plans to see how they could be changed to engage the different types of learners in your class.
Using technology to appeal to different learning styles
One of the most obvious ways technology can enrich the curriculum is as a visual aid, enabling learners to use computers, laptops or interactive whiteboards during classroom activities.
The ActivPanel 9 interactive display, for example, can be used for playing educational games that involve touching the screen – engaging kinesthetic learners who like to be active and hands-on.
To help auditory learners, you may choose to use talks from guest speakers who specialise in specific topics or play music to engage their memories and help them remember things through songs.
As technology is such an integral part of teaching, it’s most likely already included in your lesson plans – helping you appeal to multiple learning styles. Online activities often feature a combination of video, audio and interactive activities, which will be beneficial for kinesthetic, auditory and visual learners. In addition to this, asking kids to type essays, complete quizzes and revise using technology is great for reading/writing learners.
As well as engaging each unique learning style, there are several other key benefits to using technology in the classroom – these are:
- It’s more immersive – educational tools are typically more immersive than reading from a textbook. These tools use vibrant colours, exciting visuals and engaging stories to interest and immerse students.
- It doesn’t feel like learning – using technology helps to create fun scenarios and make the learning process more enjoyable. Education technology companies will often gamify lessons to make them feel less like being at school.
- It prepares students for adult life – the majority of jobs will use one form of technology or another, and introducing tech at a younger age helps equip kids for future work.
- It’s personalised – technology is much more customisable and accessible than having to create a lesson plan for 30 students in a class. These systems can also store data and log progress – making it easy to tailor experiences to individual students.
To help you deliver exciting and engaging lessons, we worked with teachers just like you to create ActivInspire. The software leverages tried and tested activities and appeals to different learning styles, helping students grasp concepts, solve problems and apply their learning while having fun along the way.
Different types of learners will take in information in different ways. These differences should be embraced – so you, as teachers, can create engaging lesson plans catered to everyone.
When you’re identifying student’s learning styles, remember to:
- Work with your class
- Give your pupils different tasks based on the four types of learning styles
- Ask pupils how they want to work
- Plan lessons that cater to each segment of VARK
To plan lessons that suit different styles, you should:
- Embrace technology, like interactive whiteboards
- Ensure each strand of VARK is catered to
- Review old lesson plans to see what you could do differently
Remember that as well as being good for teachers’ professional development, the benefits of being aware of how students learn include:
- Increasing awareness of how people learn
- Encouraging you to plan a variety of lessons
- Helping pupils develop skills for later life
- Reducing stress and frustration
- Boosting self-confidence
To help you give your students the best school experience and education possible, our blog features a number of guides to help you understand and engage with your cohort.
Explore our 9 top tips for engaging shy and quiet students, 10 tips on how to monitor student engagement and 10 reasons for a lack of student engagement in the classroom for advice on how to connect with the learners in your class.
As we have established in this guide, identifying and connecting with students’ different styles of learning is a fantastic way of enriching your lessons. Following on from this, why not explore our experiential learning ideas for each subject to see how you can continue to create immersive lesson plans for kids?
Frequently asked questions about learning styles
Do adults have a learning style?
Everyone has a learning style, even adults. All learners will favour one of the VARK learning styles. With this being said, adults’ memories are different to kids’, so the way knowledge is retained will vary.
Can you have more than one learning style?
Yes, although there are four styles of learning, they can be intertwined. Auditory and visual learners, for example, will both respond well to things like YouTube videos and role-playing.
Additional research around Neil Fleming’s learning style theory has been done that suggests that human beings have a range of intelligence – essentially meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the different types of learning styles.
For most learners, the problem they are solving will have an impact on how they learn. For example, not all learners will require visual aids explaining how to set up a new kitchen appliance; most will be comfortable using the written instructions.
How do I know my learning style?
There are a lot of questionnaires and quizzes online that can help people determine which types of learners they are. These quizzes will include questions like ‘What kind of book would you find most interesting: a book with a lot of pictures, a book with a lot of words and not many pictures, or a book with puzzles in it?’
These questionnaires follow a similar pattern to Fleming’s original 16-question format, which explored learners’ different learning preferences in a range of situations and settings.