sensory activities to improve focus

Many of the students we work with in special education programs struggle to focus and have sensory integration needs. When we combine these 2 things, we can help students have an easier time focusing on learning. Read on for tips on how to implement this approach and help students naturally attend.

sensory activities that improve focus in students blog post image

what are sensory integration needs?

Sensory integration is a term thrown around a lot, but not always well understood. Sensory integration refers to how our bodies interpret and uses the information coming in from the environment. We take in this information from our senses.

According to Sensory Integration Education, “Simply put, this means how we experience, interpret and react to (or ignore) information coming from our senses. Sensory integration is important in all the things that we need to do on a daily basis, such as getting dressed, eating, moving around, socialising, learning and working.”

In the classroom, the main areas we can support are:

  • Tactile – through touch
  • Visual – what we see
  • Vestibular – through balance, movement, and organization
  • Proprioceptive – body position in space
  • Auditory – what we hear

improve attention to task with tactile tasks

There are a variety of easy ways to add tactile sensory activities into your lessons. Here are 3 different ideas:

Use small manipulatives within lessons. Examples of this would be…

  • Sorting colors using Legos
  • Using manipulatives to assist with adding and subtracting
  • Practice patterning while stringing beads

Add a craft element to lessons. Examples of this would be…

  • Math crafts
  • Cut and glue worksheets
  • Coloring or drawing answers

Use playdoh in your lessons. Examples of this would be…

  • Use Playdoh to work on the formation of letters, words, or numbers
  • Make and use balls of Playdoh to practice subtraction
  • Practice fractions using Playdoh

Visual Sensory Activities to implement

Visual sensory activities can be adding or subtracting visual stimuli. For example, it could be putting less problems or words on a worksheet, clearing the work space of extra materials you aren’t using, etc.

Activities you can do to improve sensory integration include:

  • Tracing letters or shapes on the chalkboard or dry erase board
  • Tossing and catching
  • Balloon volleyball

The above activities are easy to include into lesson plans. For example, have a math center where students stand and trace numbers on the board. Another example would be to have students toss their ball into the bucket with the answer.

vestibular activities to improve attention to task

Vestibular input comes from movement and balance activities. Research has long supported adding movement into lesson plans for better learning, so this area may already be part of your lessons.

Examples of lessons with vestibular activities included are:

  • Write the room where students get in different positions to copy or write their answers. Have students write their answer while standing next to the wall, then the next card is on the floor, etc.
  • Reading while sitting in a rocking chair
  • Completing a puzzle, writing, or reading while leaning over a therapy ball or bolster
  • Going through an obstacle course to get the pieces to match or sort

proprioceptive sensory activities to try

Heavy work and deep pressure are the most common ways to address proprioceptive processing. This area is a bit more tricky to integrate into lesson plans, but it’s worth the effort! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Jumping on a trampoline while spelling words, counting, answering questions, etc.
  • Running, skipping, jumping or bear walking across the area to get materials
  • Wheelbarrow walking with a partner to get to different areas of the classroom
  • Chewing thick bubble gum while completing work
  • Having chewy or crunchy snacks while completing their lessons, reading, etc.

auditory activities to improve attention to task

Much like the visual activities section, auditory activities could be adding or subtracting input. I like to begin with removing input. For example, creating a quiet and calming learning environment can be extremely helpful in improving attending skills.

You could also add calming music to help students tune out distracting noises or to help with self-regulation. For example, if you have a student who has a hard time focusing on independent work because he can hear other students, have the student wear headphones with classical music playing.

There is good research on how certain classical music can aide in students with self-regulation. We apply this research into our daily schedule. Click HERE to read how.

Sensory Activities To Improve Focus blog post image


We want our lessons to be engaging. We want our students to easily be able to focus and learn. We want to be able to do it all…. but if we try to add in every single type of sensory activity into our lesson it will be a hot mess!!

Instead, spend some time thinking about each one of your students and which type of sensory activity type they would benefit most from. Start with the type of sensory activity that MOST of your students would benefit from. Start slow and build up.

Set yourself and your students up for success by taking the time to teach your students how to use the materials you are going to integrate into your lessons. Teaching about the expectations beforehand will help the lessons go well.

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