#25 – Understanding Different Learning Styles (Tips For Large Group Teaching)
Welcome to a continuing series of tips on working with large groups of children. I hope that you will find these tips useful and be able to implement them in your dealings with large groups of kids. If you do, please leave a comment and let us know. For a complete list of posts in this series, please see the index page. So, without further introduction, here is today’s installment.
There are essentially three different types of learners – auditory, visual and kinesthetic. The different types of learners are defined principally based on how the best take in and process information. As teachers in Children’s Ministry, we must understand each of these types of learners, including their strengths and weaknesses, so that we can design our lessons to meet the needs of all three types of learners. Every lesson that we prepare should include elements that appeal to each of the different types.
Auditory learners represent about 30% of the population. Auditory learners learn best by listening to the spoken word. In many respects, these kids are a teacher’s dream in many respects. Stand in front of them and present your lesson and they will take it all in. It no surprise then that most traditional education techniques are geared towards auditory learners. These learners learn best by hearing either others or themselves. They tend to like talking and often talk to themselves. They also process information by asking questions and giving feedback on what they do and do not understand. They are more apt to remember names than faces. They tend to enjoy music, and often learn well by converting things to song. Bible verses might be easier for this type of learner to retain if they are put to song or if you have them repeat verses and information back to you. This type of learner may be easily distracted by sounds so you might not want to overload your lesson with background sound. The auditory learner should be engaged in conversations about spiritual things and provided plenty of opportunities to share their own stories and experiences. This may include interview them as part of the lesson or having them answer questions during the course of the lesson.
About 60% of people are visual learners. Visual learners learn best by what they see. They learn much more from written or video material than spoken material. They think in terms of pictures and benefit from seeing the facial expressions of their teachers. Pictures and videos and skits work best with these kids in terms of retention. They like books with pictures and illustrations. During an oral lesson, these kids may seem distracted and may daydream. They tend to remember faces rather than names. Ideas for helping them learn include having them draw a picture of what they have been taught and writing out questions and answers so that they can see them visually. The visual learner will react well to pictures, posters and lots of different colors in your classroom. If you are relating a Bible story such as the Mary and Joseph’s trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, point out the places on a map so the visual learner can “see the story.” Incorporate visual questions into your lesson like, “What do you think the expression on Mary’s face was when the angel Gabriel visited her?” Anything you can do to help visual learns process your lesson in terms of pictures will help them to retain the lesson.
Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They represent only about 10% of the population. Kinesthetic learners enjoy hands-on and experimental learning. They have trouble sitting still for any length of time. They have a tendency to be very impulsive and will try all kinds of different things. These kids need to move around. Invite them to become part of the lesson, and they will retain much more than if you just speak to them or show them pictures. Use hand gestures to help them retain Bible verses. Anything that gets these kids moving will help them to learn. Games are a great teaching tactic for kinesthetic learners. Let kinesthetic learners stand up, clap, stomp and move around as part of your lesson.
There are a couple of things to remember when talking about learning styles especially when it comes to kids. First, just because a child exhibits a tendency towards one learning style, it does not mean that they cannot learn in any other mode. Learning style is merely an indication of a predominant or preferred method of learning. In fact, 30% of children do not have one specific learning style. Secondly, learning styles in kids tend to change with age. For example, children up through kindergarten age or so tend to be much more kinesthetic learners. By second grade, however, many children have developed more visual skills and may exhibit more characteristics of visual learners. It is not until approximately sixth grade that auditory skills are generally strengthened.
So, how do learning methods relate to Children’s Ministry? We must be aware of these learning styles and design our lessons to include something for each of these types of learners. By doing so, we increase the likelihood that more of the children in our ministries will retain and process that we are trying to teach them.
Interestingly, Deuteronomy 6:6-9 provides a biblical example of how to use each of these types of learning to convey biblical truths:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” [Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV]
In these verses, God shows the Israelites how to teach his truths to their kids in three different ways:
- Talk to them – Auditory learners
- Bind them as a sign on your hand – Visual/Kinesthetic learners
- Write them – Visual/Kinesthetic learners
God recognized the need to teach to different learning styles, and we should do the same in our Children’s Ministries.