Characteristics and strategies

Individuals of all ages tend to learn better when presented with new information in a way that makes sense to their brain and nervous system. Here is some information to help learners of different abilities. Appreciating and accommodating these differences whenever possible can reduce a great deal of stress for everyone concerned—teachers, parents, and kids.

Verbal Ability

Strong Verbal

  • Strong verbal skills
  • Can communicate even under stress
  • Like to talk about what they’re learning, may be chatty
  • May be overreactive to noise, touch, visual input (difficulty paying attention)
  • May be comfortable doing oral presentations (especially if high extrovert)
  • Typically left-brain, right-hand dominant

Verbal/Communications Limited

  • May need more time to think, respond
  • May be able to demonstrate understanding in other ways (beside talking, especially if expected to respond quickly or in front of a lot of people)
  • May do better in one-on-one conversations than in front of the class or on the spot
  • May be right-brain, left-hand dominant (stronger kinesthetically); or more may be left-brain, left-hand dominant or right-brain, right-hand dominant (may also be kinesthetically limited)

Visual Ability

Strong Visual

  • Can take in and understand visual input, even under stress
  • May notice visual dimensions of an experience (ex: scenery, lighting, faces)
  • Receive info by looking, watching, reading, or being shown  (may be auditory limited)
  • May do fine with 2-dimensional visual input (written or drawn) but may sometimes need a demonstration (3-dimensional) for better understanding of process (for example, certain lab procedures; measuring, cooking, knitting)
  • Need eye contact, need to see speaker
  • Do well with maps, charts, diagrams
  • Left-brain, right-eye dominant

Visually Limited

  • Can overload in a visually “busy” environment
  • May look away from teacher or close eyes to concentrate
  • Keep maps, charts, and diagrams simple
  • Provide verbal directions (often stronger in auditory channels)
  • Right-brain, right-eye dominant or left-brain, left-eye dominant

Auditory Ability

Strong Auditory

  • Can take in and understand auditory input, even under stress
  • May notice auditory dimensions of an experience (ex: dialogue, music, sound, tone)
  • Receive info by listening or being told (may be visually limited)
  • May process with self-talk, inner voice
  • May need to look away (shut out visual distractions) or not look at speaker
  • Left-brain, right-ear dominant

Auditory Limited

  • May tune out speaker
  • May close eyes to concentrate, turn dominant ear toward speaker
  • Put directions in writing, make visual info avail, allow to create mental image
  • Right-brain, right-ear dominant or left-brain, left-ear dominant

Kinesthetic Ability

Strong Kinesthetic

  • Would rather touch than look
  • May notice kinesthetic dimensions of an experience (ex: action scenes, textures)
  • Receive info by touch, movement
  • Often described as hyperactive
  • May have difficulty with visual or auditory input if kinesthetic needs are not met (especially if movement is restricted for a long time)
  • Kinesthetic outlets (ex: playing with string, clay, beanbag; chewing gum) can help learner focus on auditory or visual input during non-kinesthetic activities
  • Often right-brain, left-hand dominant

Kinesthetically Limited

  • Fewer kinesthetic demands in traditional classroom, so these learners will generally do OK, although they may have trouble in classes that demand fine- or gross-motor skills without tactile or kinesthetic support (chewing gum; good directions in their preferred modality)
  • Work from their strengths

Keeping modality channels open

  • Minimize stress in environment (weaker channels shut down under threat)
  • Do integration activities to “wake up” different parts of the brain. Cross-crawl (cross-lateral movements) can help increase communication between right and left brain hemispheres, strengthening access for weaker modality.
  • Accommodate more than one modality whenever possible (ex: saying and writing directions)
  • Teach kids to self-regulate (without disturbing anyone else)
  • Provide outlets, various ways of paying attention (options you can live with, options that will not disturb other learners)

 Excerpted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc, 2001)

© 2001, 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related resources:

The Animal School
Children at Risk: Common characteristics and family patterns
Conditions with ADHD “Look-Alike” Symptoms
The “Ideal” Student: The students we were taught to teach
I’m Hyperactive, You’re Hyperactive
Increasing Success for All Students
Literacy: What’s Movement Got to Do with It?
Ways to Reach More Students
Multiple Intelligences
Some Kids (Really Do) Study Better When…
Water and the Body


Book: Becoming a Win-Win Teacher
Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
Book: The Win-Win Classroom

Audio: Practical Strategies for Working Successfully with Difficult Students


The Fragile Learner: Reaching and teaching struggling students, with Hanoch McCarty, with Hanoch McCarty
The Inclusive Teacher: Success with ADD and ADHD students, with Margit Crane
Movement and Learning: A partnering relationship, with Aili Pogust


Creating Emotionally Safe Schools: Is Your School an Emotionally Safe Place?
Dealing with Difficult Students: Practical Strategies for Success with Defiant, Defeated, and other At-Risk Kids
The ‘I-Can’ Classroom: Building for Success and Achievement for ALL Students 
“My Brain Doesn’t Work Like That”: Creating Success with Non-Traditional Learners by Accommodating Learning Differences
The Win-Win Classroom: A Fresh and Positive Look at Classroom Management

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