Julie Bennett suggests three different techniques that you can use to motivate learners and add further dimensions to your teaching

If you were to shadow one of your classes through a school day, you’d probably be exposed to a wide range of teaching techniques. Some aspects of our colleagues’ teaching can really make a difference to our own lessons. I’ve outlined three different techniques below that can really help to motivate students and get them to approach your subject from an unexpected angle.

1. Metaphors

Figurative language, for instance, doesn’t just belong in the English lesson. Metaphors in particular can be effective and powerful learning tools when used in other subjects. They can:

  • link abstracts to concrete language
  • open the mind to various levels of understanding
  • engage the emotions
  • aid memory for all students by creating associations or links. (This is especially effective for learners with Specific Learning Difficulties and, in particular, those with short-term memory issues.)
  • facilitate implicit learning
  • help learners to make sense of information and issues
  • gain understanding about the ways your learners ‘see things’.

An example of how metaphors can be used in PSHE is given in the poem below.

Does the oyster know?

I wonder does the oyster know, Its irritant, The pearl seed, The cause of all its weeping Bears the qualities we seek, We find, We yearn to own,

A beautiful and precious tear?

I wonder, does the oyster know, That hurt can always end in hope? That sorrow can give birth to grace? Reward is never far away,

And hidden treasure always comes.

I wonder, does the oyster know, Despite the years of pain, Despite the cries that went unheard, There is One who understands?There is One who hears. The One who delicately carved life, Its twists and turns, Its mysterious plan. I wonder does the oyster know….

Its suffering was not wasted.


You can use them as a device to springboard discussion: metaphors allow students to explore their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental way and to clarify these emotions by using revealing images or comparisons.

Ruby’s poem shows one way in which students can use metaphors to make sense of the world around them: they helped her to make sense of suffering. The metaphor used here is that of a pearl created from an irritant inside an oyster’s shell.

Metaphors in the classroom

You can use metaphor to:

  • tell stories and ask the students to discover meaning
  • enhance/stimulate creative writing
  • inspire role-play
  • convey information to students
  • initiate responses and deeper meaning by asking for metaphors from the students themselves.

You can also use other examples of figurative language in this way. Similes, for example, can be used by your students to complete open-ended questions, such as ‘Being dyslexic is like…’

  • ‘…swimming in an ocean – you can sink or swim.’
  • ‘…being locked inside a cage and never getting free.’
  • ‘…seeing things in a different way.’

When teaching the importance of ‘planning before you write’ in exams/essay or story writing, ask your students for similes to complete the sentence: ‘Writing without planning is like …’

  • ‘…putting your trousers on without putting your knickers on first.’
  • ‘…building a house without building the foundations.’
  • ‘…baking a cake without reading the recipe.’
  • ‘…jumping from an aeroplane without a parachute.’
  • ‘…going on a journey without a map.’

This idea can be used for all ages; it just requires a little adaptation according to situations and setting. If you try asking open-ended questions, you will be surprised at the creative responses you get from your students and at the insight that you gain into how your students think.

Of course, you may need to remind your students of the differences between metaphors and similes. A metaphor describes something in terms of another (usually unlikely) object, eg ‘My klove is a red, red rose’. A simile also compares two dissimilar objects but uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’: ‘My love is like a red, red rose’.

2. Human Prefixes and Suffixes

‘Why’, said the Dodo, ‘the best way to explain it is to do it’ LEWIS CAROL

Prefixes and suffixes change the meaning of their root words in a variety of ways. Different prefixes have different meanings (such as ‘re-‘, ‘pre-‘, ‘sub-‘ and ‘un-‘), all of which can be explored with your class.

You can use multi-sensory learning strategies when teaching prefixes and suffixes or any subject-specific terminology. In this example, we use voice, visual representation of words and movement.

Sample activity

Get your students to write out as many words with prefixes as they can think of, placing different parts of words on large sheets of paper, separating out the prefixes and the root words.

Students are given a sheet each to hold up. Ask students to use their voices, for example: say ‘Pre’ in a short, sharp, high pitched voice, say ‘historic’ in a long, deep voice. The person holding the ‘Pre’ then moves next to the corresponding base word ‘historic’ in order to complete a real word. Your students move around the room to make up words with base words, prefixes and / or suffixes. In the example I used with an LEA Learning Support Services recently, we used one prefix ‘pre’ and two base words ‘tend’ and ‘fix’ the person holding ‘pre’ had to run around to the person holding the next base word, ready to say it in time. You can expand this activity to:

  • Include other words from the word pattern:
    • ‘Prefix’
    • ‘Prelude’
    • ‘Preface’
    • ‘Prepaid’
    • ‘Pre-recorded’
  • Consider the meaning of words: Prefix comes from two Latin word parts. ‘Pre’ means ‘before’ and ‘fix’ comes from ‘figere’ ‘to place’. When we consider the meaning and origin of word parts, we help learners to work out the meaning of words by breaking them down into their constituent parts. This also helps them know how to use words correctly.
  • Introduce other prefixes and suffixes to the sessions ie: ‘anti-‘, ‘post-‘, ‘ante-‘, ‘-ment’, ‘-ful’, ‘-ed’, ‘-less’ etc.
  • Work with students in small groups or in whole class activities. It is easy to develop this idea to ensure that everyone takes part. For example, get a group response from the rest of the class by asking them to show thumbs up with a correctly formed ‘prefixed word’ ie ‘post-operative’. You could add funny sounds to accompany the ‘thumbs up’ too.
  • Use a variety of funny voices. Introduce different hats in order to inspire voices. For example: ‘Pre’ is said whilst wearing a frilly purple hat, or a jester’s hat. ‘Dis’ is said whilst wearing a policeman’s helmet, with a serious, stern face and a bend in the knees!

You can adapt this method so that it can be used in a variety of subjects.

Using this ‘Human Prefix’ technique will create a fun lesson that involves interaction, motivates learners, activates body and mind, and utilises multi-sensory learning.

3. Multi-sensory Imagination

When providing activities for your learners,consider what sort of language you are using to evoke a response. To evoke a multi-sensoryresponse, ask multi-sensory questions:

Kinaesthetic imagination: ‘Imagine how thatwould feel? How might you act on this?

Visualisation: ‘Can you imagine what that would look like?

Auditory imagination: ‘Imagine you can hear…what would it sound like?’

You can use these three basic questions in a variety of settings, for example in a geography lesson, you could use this technique as a starting point or review of volcanic eruption. Ask students to collect information from different sources to describe the sensory experience you would have if you were in the presence of a volcanic eruption. Present the sensory experience in class as an audio news report from a volcanologist. The information given should include as many senses as possible.

Smell: Noxious petrol-like fumes, sulphur – rotten eggs – burning trees.

Touch: Singed hair and eyebrows, heat.

Sound: Jets of lava, like heavy rain, explosive volcano, loud crashing explosion, an ‘a’ flow like a bulldozer pushing a heavy load of bricks.

Sight: Colour of lava – bright orange, bright red, brownish red, black.

Most information can be delivered to all age ranges via multi-sensory activities. It can add an extra dimension to:

  • Story telling: it can help students to stand in the character’s shoes, in their comprehension of the story, and can evoke a particularly descriptive or imaginative response.
  • Creative writing: it can help to elicit a creative sensory response and enhance awareness of sensory language.
  • History, Geography or English literature: it can help students to set the scene by recapping the sensory information that they already know. Having asked such questions, you can add aspects of what they don’t know.
  • As an introductory session or a ‘review’ technique.

If you find it difficult to invent alternative ways of presenting material for teaching and revision, ask your learners for ideas and they will, no doubt, come up with a wealth of interesting and exciting methods. Many schools now have a teaching and learning newsletter or a noticeboard in the staffroom as a way of sharing ideas. TEX


1. Volcano World at www.volcanoworld.org and the old Volcano World site which lists all the volcanologist questions and answers at http://volcano.und.edu/vwdocs/ask_a.html

Julie Bennett recently presented a one-day conference on ‘Multi-sensory Learning’ for Lincolnshire Learning Support Service. The day was based on the ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ theme – providing each delegate with a ‘goodie bag’ of gifts which were generously donated by national companies. The goodie bags served the purpose of illustrating that we can facilitate multi-sensory learning with both specially designed resources and with ordinary everyday items. Julie is a freelance consultant and author of the Dyslexia Pocketbook, published by Teachers Pocketbooks ISBN 1 903776 68 6.