Sensory Group Activity Ideas

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Do you have students who crave or avoid sensory input? Are you considering putting together a sensory group activity for your students? This lesson provides a number of activity ideas you can use or adapt for your classroom.

Sensory Group

Students with special needs can be sensitive to sensory input. They can also crave sensory input. Planning sensory activities for your class can help sensitive students increase their tolerance while providing appropriate stimulation to those who crave it, helping to reduce inappropriate sensory-seeking behaviors.

Putting together sensory group activities, which are activities that address the sensory needs of students by incorporating music, smells, sounds, and so on, can be a rewarding and beneficial addition to a special education classroom. Here are some activity ideas to get you started.

Musical Exercise


  • Soothing music (CDs or MP3s)
  • Music player
  • Exercise mats
  • Open floor space


Stretch and move in a calm fashion.


  • Arrange the furniture so you have enough open floor space to spread exercise mats for each student.
  • Adjust the lighting in the room so the level of light is low - just enough to see, but no harsh overhead light.
  • Play calm, soothing instrumental music or nature sounds in the background.
  • Lead students in a series of slow, calm exercises. You might include:
    • Stretching arms
    • Stretching legs
    • Breathing exercises while laying back on the mats
    • Hand and foot exercises



  • Recipe ingredients
  • Relevant cooking utensils


Engage the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing in the process of creating an edible product.


There are many ways to do a cooking project with your class. Cooking becomes an activity focused on sensory input when you pay attention to the following details:

  • Select a recipe that includes aromatic ingredients. Preparing a pasta salad that includes oregano and basil, pancakes that include cinnamon and allspice, or cookies that include vanilla or mint extract are some options. As you prepare the recipe, pass the ingredients around and encourage students to sniff them and decide whether they like or dislike the smell.
  • Choose novel ingredients and allow students to take small tastes during preparation. Tasting new things builds tolerance to new flavors and broadens students' horizons.
  • Explore the tactile elements of food preparation. Spill a small pile of flour onto the table and encourage students to feel it. Feel the difference between flour and sugar, or the different skins of different fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose recipes that will allow you to use a variety of tools that enhance the kinesthetic experience. Consider using tools like a rolling pin, food mill, whisk, coffee grinder, blender, mixer, electric juicer, hand juicer, garlic press, pastry cutter, potato masher, apple slicer, or meat tenderizer. Give each student a turn to use an interesting tool.
  • Pay attention to the presentation of foods. Prepare a color-coordinated fruit salad or a patterned fruit pizza. Engage students in the visual evaluation of their finished product.

Have fun with your classroom chefs!

Hidden Sound Game


  • A collection of unique noisemakers (like a bell and a pencil sharpener)
  • A partition or way for one student to be temporarily out of sight of the group


Focus on the sense of hearing and discriminate between different sounds.


  • Prepare a collection of diverse sounds. Ideas include a bell, whistle, egg shaker, pencil sharpener, and egg timer.
  • Arrange students in a circle. Put sound-makers behind a partition, shelf, or other visual barrier. One student steps behind the visual barrier and activates one sound. The rest of the students try to guess what the sound is.
    • If you have younger students, you might show them the sound makers beforehand so they know what they are choosing from; for older students, you might make them guess with no hints.

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