Integrating Movement Without Turning the Classroom Into a Playground

By Scott Sterling

The First Lady wants us to get kids moving

This month marks the fifth anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to get kids moving and fight childhood obesity. The Let’s Move campaign’s goal is to reduce or eliminate childhood obesity in the nation’s youth. Currently, about a third of the children in the US are considered obese, with minority children leading the way.

Teachers can put themselves on the front lines of this increasingly important situation.

Studies have shown that movement—any movement—will help students retain information. There is quite a bit of research suggesting that case. These studies don’t just measure students who respond specifically to the modality of movement; apparently, every student can benefit from some movement during a lesson.

Many teachers mistake movement in the classroom as an invitation for disorder. The truth is that they just aren’t familiar with many strategies that further a student’s learning. To them, movement in the classroom is the occasional break for jumping jacks.

Here are some ideas to get your students’ blood pumping, no matter the subject area, while still maintaining control of the classroom.

A firm grip on the reins

Control in a movement-based classroom is still possible. In fact, it’s crucial.

First, when introducing a new activity, think about all the things that can go wrong, like injuries or triggering a particular student’s asthma. If you aren’t comfortable with the risks, find another activity.

You need to model what is considered acceptable behavior during the activity. This isn’t the time to give them autonomy; you may not like where their thinking leads. Demonstrate the activity as an introduction and then give some refreshers throughout the course of the lesson or, if you’re going to be using the activity often, throughout the year.

Finally, a lot of teachers employ a return signal like “1,2,3 Eyes on Me” or flicking the lights. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to get one. Make sure this signal has a place in any modeling you do of the activity.

Transition time

If your lessons consist of students doing the same thing for the entire period, you’re doing it wrong. Transitions in the classroom don’t have to consist solely of students taking out one book or switching notebooks.

Consider having them move to different centers around the room (yes, even for older students). Maybe they have to switch from one small group to another.

This approach is the neurotic teacher’s nightmare because seating assignments and desks in rows are no longer used, but the benefits outweigh the detriments. Students have to work with a variety of peers. The movement also serves as a “reset” button for the brain, which is exactly what a transition should be.

Always have a goal

We talked about the jumping jacks example earlier. While there would still be some benefit to that approach, if you’re going to have students moving during a lesson, you need a goal.

Teachers much smarter than me have come up with standards-based movement activities for every possible subject area. Simply run a search on Google or Pinterest to see what they’ve come up with. As they are moving, make sure you remind them why. The memories of movement will give the brain some context in which to store the academic information you’re trying to teach.

Want more tips and insight on increasing student engagement in a standards-based classroom? Check out our award-winning Essentials for Achieving Rigor book series!