Are your students learning more about language on the playground than in your class? If you think a classroom full of students sitting at their desks, engrossed in their assigned reading is a good thing, think again. Studies have shown repeatedly the link between movement and retention of material. Imagine replacing every chair in your room with a treadmill – okay that’s a little extreme, but its closer to what kids actually need than the blissful quiet of yesteryears classes. Getting students up and moving might feel like a recipe for chaos but there are some simple techniques to maintain order AND get your students excited about reading and learning. Take a minute or two, stretch a little, and read on.
Why Movement Matters
I hated history. Growing up, history class was a complete bore. All of those names and dates were a chore to memorize and I knew I’d never need them again. Enter Sr. Julie Vincent, history teacher and lady genius. Sr. Julie, ahead of her time, decided we would never “remember the Alamo” unless we experienced it for ourselves. Imagine 15 seventh grade prep school girls, fresh from elocution lessons scaling their desks and launching attacks on one other. It is the only history lesson I can recall in 20 years of formal education.
Our brains were the recipients of oxygen rich blood, essential for cognition. More than that, the movement bathed our brains in chemicals that excited and engaged them. Sr. Julie had awakened our cerebellums, responsible for processing both movement and learning.
Implemented regularly, these types of lessons have the possibility of physically changing student’s brains. Studies have shown laboratory animals performing movement tasks in enriched environments had increased neuron connections and more capillaries around those neurons. (Greenough & Anderson, 1991) Why would you miss an opportunity to shape your students minds literally?
How to Get Kids in Gear
All of this makes sense, right? So how do we introduce this magical movement into a reading classroom? This is where we get to have some fun. From first grade through high school, you can add physical activity to your lesson plan (and I promise you don’t have to allow a Mexican/Texan battle to do it).
The easiest way to get everyone moving is to begin the lesson with some stretches or jogging in place, then repeat at varying intervals. I’m not a big fan of this method; it gets the blood flowing but leaves a bunch of great opportunities on the table.
Here are a few ways to get started:
Little ones can form a line (conga style) and take a step or hop forward for each syllable in a word while you read aloud.
When reading to the class instruct them to listen carefully for prepositions or verbs (action words). In a predefined order, instruct them to come to the front of the class and demonstrate the word when they catch one. For example, if you read the sentence “Jackson reached for the apples on the shelf above the oranges.” The first student would demonstrate reaching while the second would demonstrate above.
Ask the children to show what a scene would look like using no words. This will help them interpret what is really happening and reinforce their understanding of body language and non-verbal communication.
Use “get up and touch” requests, instead of asking questions to get your students thinking about what they’re reading try asking them to get up and touch things that are relevant to the story. “Get up and touch three things in this room the main character could have used to get out of their situation.”
Older students can use charades, dramatizations, or crafting projects to foster movement and comprehension of materials they have read.
Confidence, Anxiety, & Sitting Still
Getting kids moving has multiple benefits; in addition to those mentioned above you can use movement to help kids remember the order of plot points, become familiar with writing styles and new words, and so much more. Additionally, movement can pull special needs students out of spiraling or cyclical thought patterns, help build confidence in unsure students and reduce anxiety in kids that have a hard time sitting still. What are some of the ways you have implemented movement in your classroom? What has worked best? Have your students come up with any funny or unique interpretations of lessons you didn’t expect?