Making a Cognitive Impression with the Power of Airwriting

By Jess Corinne
November 30, 2021

All too often, we hear from caregivers that their learners are unable to “memorize” sight words and math facts. You have probably seen it yourself – time and time again, a learner is unable to recognize a word while they are reading, such as “the” whenever they encounter it in written form. This is because their visual working memory (i.e. their mind’s eye) is weak so they are unable to retain and retrieve information independently. So, let’s explore a technique that, when done correctly, can create a huge impact in one’s ability to see success!

Why Airwrite? 

Airwriting is arguably one of the most effective methods of strengthening one’s imprinting skills. By definition, airwriting is the act of writing letters and numbers in the air. Your mind’s eye is like the imaginary blackboard of your brain – it is responsible for imprinting static information such as letters and numbers so that you can retrieve information instantaneously. Thus, in order for a learner to tap into their working memory as a resource for literacy and mathematics, they must be aware of their ability to imprint, i.e. see, information in their mind’s eye. Sensory exercises such as airwriting can help develop this awareness and are relatively easy to incorporate in any learning plan. It is unfair to expect learners to automatically recognize vowel sounds, word patterns, spelling words and the like without a stable working memory foundation. Airwriting is the agent to creating this strong foundation for learners to stand upon when it comes time to activate their learning potential. 

How to Airwrite

Programs differ slightly on their approach to this invaluable technique. Some use only their pointer finger of their dominant hand, while others take more of a gross movement approach using their entire arm. Either way, it is imperative that educators and caregivers reinforce proper airwriting procedures in order for the learner to reap the full benefits. Make sure that learners are watching their finger and saying the names of each letter or number aloud simultaneously so that they can make the most of the process. If the concept of airwriting itself appears complex for the learner, sprinkle in a little color! Ask learners to pick a color to “write” with in order to increase engagement and to improve their ability to see the shadow effect airwriting leaves behind. You can also start by airwriting on a table, then working your way up to the air (eye level) in order to help learners relate to the meaning and purpose behind airwriting. 

Level Up!

Once your learner has stabilized the act of airwriting, you can incorporate a range of sensory exercises to take the benefits or airwriting to the next level. Sensory exercises is a general term for any exercise that involves at least one of your six senses. In this respect, they are utilized as a way to further spark cognizance of a learner’s ability to see symbols in their mind by asking pinpointed questions about the information they wrote in the air. Sensory exercises can take several forms such as:

  • Ask learners to label the placement of specific letters/numbers. “What letter did you see second? First? Last?
  • Omit or insert a new symbol. “What if we put an ‘e’ at the end of this word?”
  • Manipulate the current pattern. “What if we change the ‘a’ to an ‘o’?”  

Probing learners in this way creates a significant cognitive impression and helps cement the word / algorithm in the learner’s mind’s eye. 

Consistency is Key

Airwriting develops a sensory connection between a learner’s visual, auditory, and kinesthetic systems. There is a multiplicity of ways one can organically incorporate airwriting into their learners’ lives both in and out of the classroom. From weekly spelling lists to multiplication practice, airwriting is a fun way to bolster a learner’s underlying skills and self-confidence at the same time. Regardless of the task itself, framing airwriting as a game does wonders for buy-in and success. Challenge yourself while encouraging learners to airwrite at home, in the car, at school, etc. in order to normalize the act. However you choose to swing it, consistently and repeatedly employing this technique into a learner’s daily lives rewires their brain (thanks, neuroplasticity!) to perceive and anchor information in a profoundly beneficial way. Give it a try and you, too, will see to believe! 

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