Tapping Potential with Learning Styles: Kinesthetic Learners

by Dahlia Miller
December 2006

When taking new information in, we all have different strengths. Some people like to see new information (Visual Learners), some like to hear it (Auditory Learners), and some like to touch or move things around to learn (Kinesthetic Learners).

You know those people who jiggle their feet non-stop during an exam; who really seem to be in their element in PE, or art, cooking class, or science labs where learning is demonstrated through doing; who like to move around while talking on the telephone? Those people are likely kinesthetic learners.

Some Clues Revealing Kinesthetic Learners

Do you like to be active?
Do you prefer to do something to understand?
Do you like to run your fingers or hands over materials?
Do you take notes?
Do you often jiggle your pen or play with something you are holding?
Do you move your hands alot - like when you are explaining how to do something or you are giving directions?
Do you feel distracted if you’ve been listening, reading or watching for an extended time?
Do you continually shift things around?
Is it difficult for you to concentrate if you have to sit still for a long time?
When solving problems, do you like to write or draw diagrams?
Do you learn best when you can try something yourself?
Is it helpful for you to do many practice problems to really understand a concept for math or science?

About Kinesthetic Learners

Active, hands-on learning is important to the kinesthetic learner. These learners typically need to touch or do something in order to process new information. Even if new information is understood through seeing or hearing, kinesthetic learners prefer to have something to do – an exercise, a worksheet…before it’ll sink in, be really understood, and stick.

Some kinesthetic learners find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. Their brains are stimulated by physical movement or touch, so being sedentary can set up a situation where the brain stops absorbing information due to lack of physical stimulation. For this reason, kinesthetic students can find the classroom setting challenging. If they are expected to sit, read, watch or listen for long periods of time they can easily find their thoughts and attention drifting.

Those students doodling, tapping their pens or wiggling their feet are most often kinesthetic students. This behaviour (while potentially distracting to other students or to the teacher) can actually help the student to stay focussed.

At the earlier grades, kinesthetic learners can be easier to accommodate in the classroom. Teachers often incorporate “manipulatives” (things like blocks, “power of ten” pieces, or money to teach and practise concepts in math, for example). But as curricula becomes more text and concept-based, as in the higher grades, it is often beyond the scope of the classroom for the teacher to incorporate physical exercises in teaching.

Some subjects can be challenging for kinesthetic learners. Essay writing can pose difficulties because students can feel bogged down in so many words and ideas with nothing (physically) concrete to work with.

Math above the grade four level can also be difficult for kinesthetic students to relate to. If the concepts and formulas are demonstrated as they operate in the real world, this potential problem can be avoided (for example, finding the volume of a cup using a real cup and water as well as the appropriate mathematical equations). Again, if the student is expected merely to work with concepts and formulas as they are presented orally or on paper, this may be quite difficult for the kinesthetic learner.

Reading long excerpts from texts may tire a kinesthetic mind. So many words just sitting there on the page may overwhelm the kinesthetic brain.

Kinesthetic students need to take responsibility for asking that information be presented in a manner that they can relate to. Asking, for example: “Can you show me how this works?” “What should I do here?” “What steps do I need to take to complete this problem?”

“The mind has exactly the same power as the hands: not merely to grasp the world, but to change it.”
Colin Wilson

Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners

  • Study for short (but intense) periods - 50 minutes at max.
  • Sit on a ball rather than a chair when studying at home (this keeps the body constantly in action).
  • Underline or highlight as you read - or at least follow along with your finger.
  • Cover the page below where you are reading if you are reading dense text.
  • Make up actions to memorize new information - perform skits with study partners to remember poetry, history facts, plays, etc.
  • For math or science, do many practice problems to be sure you understand.
  • Try walking or bouncing a basketball, etc. while reciting information.
  • Write brainstormed ideas for essays on individual cards so that you can move them around to decide where to put them in the essay.
  • Create an outline of a chapter as you are reading it - maybe in cartoon form.
  • Write ideas on a gigantic piece of paper or white board with many colours to keep yourself very physical while brainstorming or reviewing notes.
  • Check if it’s possible for assignments to be completed in project form (for example a PowerPoint presentation of an essay rather than a written essay).
  • For spelling practice, try acting out the letters with your body, or drawing them with a chopstick (or your finger) in a pan of rice.
  • Keep a stress ball in your pocket to squeeze during class to help you maintain focus.