Digital Age Teaching and Learning

What Everybody Ought to Know About Movement & Reading

What Everybody Ought to Know About Movement & Reading

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?


- Anything used to inspire children to read/write
- Using movement in the classroom to promote health and learning
- Innovative ideas for non traditional learners
- Games as learning tools
- Avoiding teacher burnout
- Incorporating technology while staying connected to individual students  
- The importance of teaching children how to take tests
- Addressing classroom conflict and bullying
- Making the most out of field trips
- Building better teacher to teacher relationships
- Letting kids teach
- Building self esteem and character in students
- Homework assignments that engage 

My interest in reaching out to teachers began when I was working as a nanny. The eldest of my charges hated reading and could not be persuaded to sit down with a book. He was bright and an excellent storyteller but his grades suffered. Over the years we developed various ways of helping him learn material without actually spending much time with books, however, we reached a real hurdle when he was forced to read Hamlet in high school. He tried. but for a non-reader Shakespeare is a tall order. Nothing we did would convince him to sit down and read. I considered the problem and decided to try something new. 

I told him I was watching a new television series and it was really interesting. I began to tell him the plot of Hamlet, only slightly modernized. He was hooked, I brought him to the edge of his seat and when he was desperate to know what happened I told him there was only one way to find out, read the book. We read it together, I needed to interpret some parts for him but he made connections and stayed with it. 

His younger sister attended my biology classes and labs with me when I got my degree from the time she was in 4th grade. She adored science and could not wait to get to her own biology class in high school. The summer before the class she talked often about her excitement. Sadly she got a terrible grade on her first exam. When I checked her paper I found her answer was correct, her teacher simply did not understand the material as well as she did. The teacher knew what the textbook told her and nothing more about the subject, Michaela understood much more and gave a full response, one the teacher had never heard and so marked it incorrect. I reached out to her teacher and explained the situation, instead of being impressed at Michaela’s depth of knowledge and excited to have such a motivated student in her class she became defensive and did not treat Michaela well. This soured the child to the entire field, she dropped the class and never took another elective science course.

This was the beginning of a long road for me of interest in ensuring the educators to whom we entrust our young minds have the tools and dedication to do their best to reach each student. In subsequent years I became a tutor to students from third grade through college seniors. Watching the light turn on in someone’s eyes when they finally. truly grasp something that had previously been a frustrating mystery is addicting, I can't imagine a better feeling. I would love to inspire more educators to chase that moment at every opportunity. 

I will share something completely off topic as I believe I have already shown you my passion for the subject at hand. When I was a senior in college, only 3 months away from receiving my B.S. in Biochemistry with minors in Physics and Psychology, I fell from a retaining wall and broke every bone in both feet. I was told, within an hour of the accident, that I would never walk again. 

After the first surgery to put pins in the foot with lesser damage I spent 3 weeks in a rehab center waiting for the swelling to go down in the other. A very close friend, one of my professors, did not visit. Everyone else did but he stayed away. Finally a few days before my second surgery he appeared at my door, tentative and looking as if he might bolt at any second. 

I coaxed him in and made him laugh as I showed him the trapeze act I'd perfected in order to move from my bed to my wheelchair. He confessed he’d stayed away because he was afraid I'd be too emotionally broken, too sad and he couldn't bear to see me that way. 

I shrugged. He wasn't wrong to assume I'd be dramatic, I’ve been known to throw a fit or two.  What point would there be to any of that? My mind was still in excellent working order, I'd have fantastic parking for the rest of my life and could now roll over the toes of anyone who annoyed me and they wouldn't say a word. 

A year after multiple surgeries I asked my doctor to send me to rehab, I believed I could walk again. He  refused, saying it would only give me false hope. Instead I waited until no one was around and practiced pulling myself up using the kitchen sink. I taught myself to stand, then to walk with crutches, then a cane.

Two years after the surgery I was running on a treadmill an hour a day, losing 100 pounds and in the best shape of my life. 

Life gives you challenges. It's your job to figure out what the lesson is inside those challenges.

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