Incorporating Physical Movement into Lessons

Think about the last time you persisted through a mentally or physically difficult task. This may have been running a marathon, pulling an all-nighter to grade exams, or figuring out how to motivate your toughest student. Part of the reason you had the grit and energy to accomplish this task was because you associated accomplishing this task with a positive emotion. That emotion could’ve stemmed from the adrenaline that surged through your body as you entered the last leg of the race, the satisfaction you got from seeing your students master tough objectives, or the smile you received from a grateful parent. Happy, positive feelings motivate us all. Similarly, a failure you’ve had in the past might have its root in a lack of positive feeling. Perhaps you did poorly in a college course because a professor said something prejudiced or rude, or you had a rough lesson because of some emotional personal news you received before class.

Students work the same way. In fact, in his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, Robert J. Marzano cautions, “If our emotions are negative in that moment, we are less likely to engage in new activities or challenging tasks.” Every day, as teachers at one of the most rigorous charter systems in the country, we ask our students to engage in difficult work. While we cannot control all the emotions children bring into our classrooms, we can impact their feelings once they enter our doors.

One concrete, fun way to influence the mood of students in your classroom is by raising their level of activity by incorporating movement into your daily lessons. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Movement to Lift Energy: If you have tight transitions and feel comfortable instituting solid routines and procedures, consider adding—
 

  • A “stretch break” that allows students to stand and stretch between parts of the lesson cycle. This physical movement will promote the flow of blood and oxygen to your students’ brains, combating lethargy and helping them focus.
  • A “rehearsal” that asks students to stand and repeat important information aloud in a way that will help them remember a key term or concept.

Movement that Furthers Understanding of Content: Energize your lesson and help students actively process using one of the following strategies—
 

  • Give One, Get One: Pairs of students compare their understanding of specific information. First, students stand and find a partner. Then they work together to review notes on the topic of the current lesson. In doing so, they will compare notes in order to give insight and gain a new perspective. Partners should also be encouraged to generate questions for the teacher to answer.
  • Voting With Your Feet/Human Graph: Students can move to a different part of the room to signify their response to a question or discuss a question, and chart their response. This works best with multiple choice questions (corners of the room) and Yes/No, Agree/Disagree, or True/False questions.
  • Tableau: Ask students to use their bodies, either individually or in groups, to represent abstract or concrete content, or to physically represent the meaning of new vocabulary.

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