Sensory Story Activity

Sense College have developed a Sensory Story Activity to use with learners


Introduce the approach or activity


Sensory stories tell a story or poem using words alongside sensory items. The sensory items not only support the language used to tell the story, but when carefully selected can tell the story in its own right. This means that stories can be equally understood and enjoyed by learners with complex communication needs.

Communicating stories through sensory stimuli brings the story to life. It provides learners with the opportunity to take part in the story telling experience to develop their listening and responding skills. The use of repetition and structure provides opportunity to develop anticipation and memory skills, offering practice in sequencing and turn taking, which are fundamental elements of communication.

The predictable nature of a familiar story can bring comfort and control offering a safe, unpressured opportunity to introduce and prepare learners for a new experience.


My Sensory Scavenger Hunt is a home learning sensory story created for individuals with sensory impairment. The activity can be tailored to the individual’s level of ability, sensory functioning and home environment.

The story is best suited to learners who are developing their sensory awareness and search skills beyond their immediate personal space; those who are building their everyday vocabulary and object recognition, to improve their access to information; and those, but not exclusively, who are mobile or able to manoeuvre around the home in their wheelchair/walker.

The story supports sensory exploration focusing on the features of objects- how does the object feel, smell or sound.

There are two part to the activity. Part one is actively performing the scavenger hunt following the story to seek objects within a room according to the features described. The story can be broken down and isolated to one location of the house where learners search for objects that are smelly, noisy, rough, smooth, and/or have taste. Alternately, the learner searches multiple rooms for fewer object properties which leads to possibilities for sorting and matching objects by criterion.

Part 2 is retelling the events of the scavenger hunt following the same story and using the items already gathered as sensory stimuli. Part one and two can be completed consecutively or on separate occasions depending on the learner’s attention and interest.

To clarify part one is the here and now. It promotes orientation and search skills to enable individual to access sensory information in order to learn about their environment. Part two is communicating and retelling a familiar event. It promotes the idea of using objects to communicate thoughts and ideas.

The repetitive nature and language supports anticipation and should ideally be performed regularly to aid memory skills for progression. Over time this activity can develop and prepare individuals for a widening repertoire of objects of reference which can provide information about events and activities to reduce anxiety and frustration often created by the unknown.

Resource developed for the following learner cohorts

Typically, this cohort may have a severe hearing and/or visual impairment, where one sense doesn’t fully compensate for the loss of the other resulting in significant barriers to accessing information, communication and mobility. This also includes learners with Cortical Visual Impairment and Auditory Processing Disorders.

Top tips and key considerations

Just like everyone, the specific needs of a young person with a sensory impairment is unique to them. Therefore, it is essential to follow an individual’s communication passport and specialist assessments to tailor their activities.

Consider the environment from a sensory perspective – are there sensory distractions? Think about visual clutter, be sure to present visual information against a plain, contrasting background as opposed to patterned wallpaper or carpet which might make it difficult to see key details. Minimise background noise and other known distractions.

Try to avoid objects suddenly appearing in space. Unlike those with vision and hearing a person with a sensory impairment lacks opportunity to learn incidentally via the distant vision and hearing senses. Therefore, they may not make connections that appear visually obviously to someone with sight. Use concrete story themes until language skills allow for more abstract ideas.

Remember the less is more rule. Avoid stimulating more than one sense at a time. Music and lighting can create a therapeutic atmosphere but is unlikely to foster learning for this cohort. Avoid overloading less obvious senses too; olfactory, tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular. Be aware of the individual’s response time. Pause and give time for a response before stepping in.

Avoid stimuli which might provide incorrect clues about what’s going to happen next. Objects and smells often help individuals with sensory loss predict what is going to happen. For example, the smell of a chlorine water on swimwear might signal hydrotherapy and the smell of food might be associated with mealtime. So be cautious not to cause confusion and disappointment.

Tactile learners might prefer a story that involves lots of touch and exploration whereas tactile selective learners might prefer a story where they can take control via choices, imitation or turn taking. This will determine the activity approach.

Refer to specialist assessment, where available, for recommended colours, textures, size and volume of resources. Often the young persons preferred items provide a good starting point for creating resources. For example, if the learner enjoys reflective items add this feature to the items chosen to gain attention.

Don’t try to achieve too much too soon. The communication partner and the activity needs to be clear and predictable. Learning should be an evolving scheme building on prior knowledge and experience. Pushing the individual before they are ready can cause confusion and break trust. Initially keep the story simple. E.g. Part 1, one room using preferred senses and then Part 2 retell.

In the scavenger hunt story, the object cues should be something the individual associates with the room/location of the house. Think about what they always have in that room? For example, when in the lounge they might have their feet up on a cushion. The aim is to work towards creating an Object of Reference over time- this might be a small sample of the matching cushion fabric.

When orienting to different rooms in the home initiate the transition by signing, (choose/use one consistent sign e.g go) to initiate the transition after exploring object clue. This will promote the idea of symbolism for ‘places’ to improve access to information about where the individual is going which is an important aspect for wellbeing. This concept should be easier to establish when using different rooms with familiar, but distinct purposes.

Aim to develop orientation skills using fixed objects within the house to create a mental map. The home is a familiar environment so the individual may already move freely, this is an opportunity to refine those emerging mapping skills to develop skills and confidence in less familiar environments.

Success and confidence is crucial. Ensure the route is clutter free, but try not to move items from where they would typically be kept unless this is a permanent move. Allow time to reach out and explore surroundings. Where an individual is reliant on the assistance use a backwards chaining approach- this is where a task is broken down into steps and help is given during the initial stages, but the individual should complete the final step of the task independently. The reduction in support decreases backward from the final steps rather than to encouraging the individual to complete the first stage then taking over.

Practice good exploration skills, avoid any assumption about what is already known about objects and places. For example, explore room sizes and what the room is made up of. Think about what objects are there, how they look, feel, sound, smell and importantly how objects are used.

What resources are required?

Items found in the home: candle, cushion, cutlery, toothbrush and blanket.

A communication partner

How will you capture evidence of learning?

Capture notes on a reflective log each time this activity is complete. Over time you may be able to see progression e.g. quicker to locate items in the room, faster at identifying objects during retelling. This may lead to steady development within the story. E.g add in a new candle- do they recognise the smell of the one from the previous weeks.