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Classroom Activities: Discussions With Your Feet

Jordan Catapano

 

Typically we have a class discussion with our hands and our mouths: Students raise their hands and then are given permission to speak. Sometimes certain discussions we have revolve around class polls that ask students to fill out a survey or raise their hands in response to certain questions. And now, we can even present poll-based discussions through cool technology like polleverywhere.com or the Socrative app.

But there’s something I don’t always like about these: They all require students to sit down. If I want students to be more physically involved with the discussion, sometimes I like students to discuss with their feet.

What I want to show you is a simple, fun way to get students up out of their seats and sharing with one another. All students can participate in these types of classroom activities simultaneously, and it gives everyone a chance to see how their responses stack up to the rest of the class.

Classroom Activities: Cross The Line

If you’ve seen the movie “Freedom Writers,” this activity may look familiar to you. It’s a relatively popular classroom activity that allows the tech to be put away and facilitates some kinesthetic interactions. To prepare for it, all you need is to put a line of any easily visible tape – like masking tape – on the floor.

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Next, you need a list of statements that students will either agree with or not. What’s nice about this activity is that it works for almost any content or subject area. You can give statements that assess their background knowledge, test their morals, see their experiences, or assess their opinions. Be creative with the content that you’re currently covering. When making my list of statements, I consider how much time I want to devote to the activity and how much verbal discussion I want to have during or after. I may have lists of anywhere from eight to 30 statements.

When with the students, I take my time to explain how to participate, and especially emphasize how important it is to be both honest and respectful. Since everyone can immediately see everyone else’s responses to the statements, you want your students to feel comfortable knowing that they can respond how they truly think rather than going with the crowd. Once I tell them how to participate, we stand up, move our desks and bags out of the way, and get started.

Students begin on one side of the line. Then I give a statement, and if they agree with the statement, they walk to the other side of the taped line. Here, sometimes I have students share why they agreed or disagreed with my statement; other times I run through my entire list of statements before we share any comments. Then students come back to the first side of the line, and I continue with the next statement.

Here are a few suggestions to make this work especially well:

  1. Have more statements than you think you’ll need. This gives you plenty to choose from when doing the activity.
  2. Prepare discussion questions for when the activity is over. You can even offer a brief reflection period where students can think through or even write down their observations from the activity.
  3. Start with an easy statement or two so students get the hang of it first.
  4. Try to keep talking to a minimum. Discussions during the activity are fun, but need be controlled to maintain focus on observing and thinking. A lot of the fun and meaning happens when students are thinking, moving, and observing.

Fun Variations

I’m always looking for ways to get students out of their seats. Here are a few variations on the Cross the Line activity that might work for you.

Answer the Question: Instead of having students agree or disagree with a statement, put a “YES” sign on one wall and a “NO” sign on the opposite wall. Then ask students a yes-no question and have them move to the right wall. You can even treat the middle of the room as the “maybe” spectrum: have students stand in a spot that shows how much they think yes or no, though don’t completely agree.

Give a Quiz: Try giving your class a quiz with this method. It might not be worth grading, but definitely a fun formative guide. Put “YES” and “NO” or “TRUE” and “FALSE” on your walls, or maybe other answers depending on what your content is. Then allow the students to haggle over which ones they think are the right answers. If you have four walls, maybe you want to ask them multiple-choice questions with “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” as your wall options.

Voice Your Choice Discussion: Post the names of various words related to your content around the room. Then ask your students questions that require them to make a choice of one of the items you’ve posted. For example, after reading stories, I’ll post the names of characters around the room and ask, “Who is the luckiest character? Who is the more moral character? Which character do you relate to the most?” and so on. You can do this for historical events, science terms, morals and values discussions, geographic locations, or anything else you might be currently focusing on.

Race to the Answer: Here you might want to divide your class into teams, have one person from each team stand in the middle, and then see who can race to the wall with the correct answer first. This variation can be the most engaging, if you don’t mind students crashing into walls …

Students Make the Survey: Instead of the teacher creating all the statements or questions, have students do the work. In groups, students could create original statements or questions based on topics they would specifically like to gauge their classmates’ perspectives on.

Last Student Standing: Have everyone start by standing on the line on the floor. Ask students to “Step off the line if …” The student standing on the line the longest has met the most criteria, for better or worse.

Cross the Room: This is something like a very slow race. Instead of using a line, students begin at one end of the room. Then you’ll make a series of statements such as “If you _____________, then take ____ steps forward.” See who agrees with what; even have students move backwards for certain responses, too.

There are endless variations on Cross the Line that students can benefit from. While there are many ways to have a discussion or take a poll, the fact is that students spend lots of time during the day just sitting down or staring at a screen. I like incorporating activities like these where students have an opportunity to walk, observe their classmates, weigh their opinions, and be challenged to think. As long as you ask meaningful questions and allow students an opportunity to figure out something new about themselves and their peers, the activity will be a hit and lead to greater thinking in the days to come.

What are some of your favorite activities to get students on their feet? Any variations on the suggestions above? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, 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.

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