Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Building Tactile Memories for Learning

In 2011, I was a poster presenter at the Getting in Touch with Literacy conference held in Louisville, Kentucky. I presented on creating tactile memory for understanding.  My information came from a lesson I had used in class for reading comprehension of a story about bird-watching. When the students only read the passage then answered questions, they scored at or below 62%. When I added the sounds of birds into the lesson and they reread and answered questions, they scored 75%. But, when I added an art project where the students filled in a puff-painted outline with sand and we talked about the birds—wow! They did not reread, but went directly to the questions and all scored above 86%! That proved to me that any way we can give them tactual experiences to understand a concept will build a memory for future processing and comparison.

Sugar cane rows with Wikki Stix

Using Tactile Experiences to Promote Concept Development

Having passed this notion on to my colleagues at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI), I thought I would share some ways we have incorporated this idea. One day, Susan Covington the high school English teacher, was talking about sugarcane rows in a field. One of her students didn’t understand the concept of rows, although she knew the terms "parallel" and "vertical" but couldn’t conceive it. After laying Wiki Stix on paper in vertical lines with spaces, the student understood.

Cardinal Directions

Blanche Faulk, our Outreach Director,  and a student made a tissue pathway on poster board to learn cardinal directions for the student who was not grasping that turning while walking followed placement directions. When Ms. Faulk said, “Go four steps north…,” the student glued four pieces of tissue squares going that direction.

Cardinal direction art


Dominoes and the Braille Code

Also, for teaching directions with counting while learning braille contractions, Anna Gayle, the braille teacher, uses a game of dominoes with first graders. The students learn to play with tactile game pieces, count, match, and are quizzed at the same time on the braille code.

Students playing dominoes

Jackson Pollock's Style

Even in an art class, Ms. Gayle was explaining Jackson Pollock’s style of painting. Her Art III student was able to experience the production of how he would have painted. Instead of spattering paint on canvas on the floor, the student donned an apron, went outside, and with paper mounted on cardboard, student spatter painted. She talked about hearing the paint hit the paper and feeling it when it landed on her cheeks!

A girl experiments with the style of artist Jackson Pollock

Painting the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

One time, Sandra Manuel, world history teacher, had her students lie on the floor under the desks, making marks on paper that was taped to the bottom of the desks so they could understand how difficult Michelangelo had it to paint a ceiling.

A student lies on the floor and writes on the underside of a desk above her.


Though these are only a few examples, maybe it will spark an idea for you to try! 

-- Anna C. Gayle TVI (

Collage of building tactile memories


tactile memories

Posted by Karen Marie Johnson

Posted on January 22, 2018
Updated on: February 7, 2018

Previous comments for Building Tactile Memories for Learning

Anna C. Gayle commented on January 25, 2018

Thanks, Karen! You can also try scented stickers. Students have also like the round, felt stickers or circular foam stickers. You might find some thematic foam stickers the child would like.

Karen Marie Johnson commented on January 25, 2018

Fabulous! The tissue paper idea for directions was great. I got the idea to use 3-D stickers for math "pictures" for early math learning. Once I went to real stickers instead of just raised squares, the learning was turned on. Keep sending the ideas. They are very helpful.