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8 Teaching Strategies For Getting Your Class Moving

Jordan Catapano

A popular model for understanding different modalities of learning is Neil Fleming’s VAK (or VARK) model, which stands for Visual, Auditory, (Reading), and Kinesthetic learning. The idea simply asserts that humans pick up information in different ways, and as teachers we ought to be cognizant of incorporating these different methods into our classroom pedagogy and teaching strategies.

An array of research exists to suggest that students do not learn through a single mode, but rather multimodal experiences where information can be encoded in a variety of ways. Typical classrooms often tend to lean more heavily towards visual and auditory experiences (at least mine do); however, it’s equally important to include motion and hands-on learning experiences as well.

A multimodal approach may prove especially helpful for students who do not possess the prerequisite background or aptitude to scaffold to a particular classroom standard. Instead of trying to force students to leap immediately to achieving this standard, allowing them a multimodal opportunity to receive information and provide an initial response may ultimately help them scaffold to the standard more successfully. Specifically, including kinesthetic activities within the classroom learning context may help supplement students’ overall learning, especially if they are later expected to demonstrate their competency with material in a verbal or visual format.

So if you’re looking for a few easy ways to incorporate kinesthetic activity into your classroom, try a few of the following teaching strategies.

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Collaboration Teaching Strategies

Working together allows students to break the formal arrangement of seats in the classroom. They can sit or stand in groups, in the classroom or in the hallway, sharing ideas and interacting with one another. In addition to just getting away from sitting in their desks and staring straight ahead, students can talk, gesture, and manipulate objects. This is the at least a start toward more physically interactive classroom experiences. Most of the following options, in fact, include some form of collaboration between students.

Brain Breaks

One misconception of kinesthetic activities in the classroom is that they don’t relate to learning. After all, how does moving around help a student sit down, focus, and write a paper? Well, for one, taking a brief pause (1-3 minutes) from rigorous mental activity to move their bodies around can actually help students when they return to their task. It increases blood flow, improves mood, and allows the mind to constructively deviate from complex tasks. Try a few of these when you sense your students’ minds are slugging:

  • Teach them a song (with gestures!).
  • Play Simon Says, Four Corners, Heads Up 7-Up, ball toss, or another class game.
  • Do jumping jacks or arm circles (even measure and graph pulse and breathing rates for fun).
  • Check out GoNoodle for short movement activities.
  • Have students take turns leading stretches.

Depict It By Moving

Sometimes our minds absorb information better when we can manipulate or physically interact with a topic. Ask yourself, “Is there a way I can incorporate moving around with this particular lesson or ideas?” Here are a few examples:

  • Grammar: Have students turn punctuation and grammar into sounds and motions. When certain grammatical features come up in an exercise, groups act out their sound and motion instead of just saying something like, “A comma goes there.”
  • Geography: Use masking tape to mark out the boundaries of the U.S., then assign each student a state and have them stand where that state exists.
  • Vocabulary: Turn vocab review into a relay race, asking teams to write the definition, draw a picture, and use the word accurately in a sentence.
  • Literacy: Give small groups of students small plastic bags and ask them to put or create objects that represent characters they’ve recently read about. Then pass the bags around the room and each group must look at the objects and guess which character the other groups are trying to depict.

Discussion With Your Feet

Normally students must raise their hands and wait their turn … but what if everyone shared their thought at the same time, and with their feet? It’s possible when you have students stand in the center of the room and ask them a “Yes or No” question; then students walk to the Yes wall or the No wall depending on what they think. Try variations on this activity, too, such as making an A, B, C, and D wall and giving fun multiple choice options that lead to much more enthusiastic conversations.

Act It Out

Students learn all about writing structures, science processes, history stories, and foreign language vocabulary. Instead of asking them to reproduce their knowledge through a written or spoken method, ask them to act out their understanding. In groups or solo, give students time to create a short performance that demonstrates the topic they’re covering. Bonus points for incorporating songs, music, or dancing into the performance (because those make information even more memorable!).

Change Up the Furniture

When our classrooms host static furniture arrangements, our activity tends to become static as well. Try changing the arrangement of your desks or tables, just to invite a new way of interaction in your room. Or go a step further and switch out your traditional furniture for some of these options:

  • Standing desks where students can stand up and work rather than remain seated.
  • Yoga balls instead of firm seats. Bouncing allowed!
  • Beanbag chairs for comfy reading and working.
  • An open area to pace around for students who want to move as they think or discuss.
  • A white board wall or smart board for students to collaboratively interact and flesh out their ideas.

Make It Artsy

Ditch the paper and pencils for a little while and break out the markers, play dough, Legos, sand, clay, paints, and other creation tools. It might get a little messy, but then again is true learning ever a clean process? Have students play with these materials for group challenges and team building, discussion starters, visualization tools, or other things that connect to your course material.

Use the Tech

We haven’t discussed any technology-related kinesthetic activities yet. Non-tech options are just as good and should be widely utilized, but you don’t have to put technology away to get your students moving. Before committing to a piece of reading, writing, work, or discussion, have students take out their phones or iPads and demonstrate their understandings using apps like Instagram, Vine, Twitter, iMovie, and other favorites. Snapping photos or producing short videos can help students interactively process the information they’re responsible for learning.

As much as we’d like students to simply sit and learn, our minds and bodies just don’t function that way. Incorporating the opportunities for students to move around and learn with their bodies as much as with their minds opens up the door for more successful learning experiences. Although students might not ultimately have to demonstrate a physical task as part of their proficiency for your course, incorporating physical activity helps with the encoding process and makes your content that much stickier and easier to scaffold to. Plus, any of the options listed above leads to fun, memorable experiences that get students both laughing and engaged. So as you’re progressing through your year, consider how getting your students up out of their seats might help them become more successful throughout your year together.

What are some ways you like to get your students moving? Share your thoughts and favorite activities in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.