Inspired by Proust: A Multi-Sensory Approach to Memorizing Principle Verb Parts in ESL

Submitted by Diane Stonebrink on

Drawing inspiration from French philospher Marcel Proust, who wrote of the connection between involuntary memories & physical stimuli (e.g. smell),  students were given 10 study cards which were color, flavor, & scent-coordinated to facilitate memorization of English principle verb parts (simple, simple past, & past participle forms) in an ESL030 Grammar III course.  For example, verbs that followed the phonetic pattern teach taught taught & buy bought bought were grouped on a brown card scented with chocolate & distributed in a bag with chocolate candy & hot chocolate drink mix; verbs with the pattern bite bit bitten & hide hid hidden were grouped on a red card scented with cinnamon & distributed in a bag with cinnamon gum & tea.  Videos with pronunciation & music were also provided.  Improvements in test scores since the introduction of this "multi-sensory study strategy" & student comments indicate the technique is helpful.

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Assessment of the Month
Average: 4.6 (5 votes)


Peter Turner Thu, 04/30/2015 - 1:44pm

I love this approach, Diane! What a great way to appeal to students' varying learning styles. Just curious as to how much improvement there was.

Diane Stonebrink Thu, 04/30/2015 - 2:15pm

In reply to by Peter Turner

Thanks for the feedback, Pete.  I go into more detail about results in the Word Document file attached to the CATS post.  Here's some information from that attachment:

Improvements in test scores on the present perfect (the chapter studied in the weeks the cards are distributed) since the introduction of this "multi-sensory study strategy" have improved in the last two semesters compared to previous semesters in which I did not give these cards to students:  93.8% (Fall) & 87.4% (Spring) this academic year compared to 81.6, 79.5, 77.4, 84.5, and 83.3 for Fall 2012 – Spring 2014 semesters.  Comments on course evaluations by students indicate the technique is quite memorable and they feel it is helpful.  Many students continue to carry the cards with them after the semester/course is finished and use them in the next level.  When I give them study cards for other grammatical topics, they expectantly hold them up to their noses and then express dismay to find no scent.  The strategy has not worked miracles, but the majority of students have enjoyed it.

Becky Baranowski Thu, 04/30/2015 - 3:02pm

This is very cool......while this may not have been the "cure all", it still added to your class for the better.  I haven't tried multisensory techniques, and it is something I should try.  This may be something my math folks could use with some of the rules in math (like rules of exponents). Thanks for sharing....

Olga Tsoudis Thu, 08/27/2015 - 10:26am

Diane, This is a creative way of teaching students! I am impressed with the study cards and all of the work put into them! I am sure the students will remember this activity in the future and how it helped them learn. Olga

Bronwen Steele Tue, 09/15/2015 - 12:25pm

Wow Diane, chocolate cards, candy and drink! I think you may be on to something. Adding olfactory neural input to learning would help it be memorable.