Ten Simple Ways to Get Your Students Moving & Learning - Room 213

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Ten Simple Ways to Get Your Students Moving & Learning

Movement in the classroom: easy ways to get students moving to learn
When I went back to school this year, I spent two full days in meetings.  After a summer of relaxation and moving to the beat of my own wishes, I was required to sit for hours in a hard plastic chair while my well-intentioned principal droned on about the same information that he had written on the text-heavy slide show he was projecting.  Every now and then we got a chance to question and discuss, but for the most part, we sat and listened. And squirmed, and doodled, and tuned out, and wished we were back on the beach.  The next day we went to a PD session.  The screen was bigger and the presenters were far more engaging, but the chair was just as hard.  By mid-morning, I was day dreaming. After each session, many of us wondered about the wisdom of having people who have been off for two months sit still all day.  Ironically, however, many of us repeated the same scenario with our students the next week.
The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time; yet, that is exactly what it does in school.  In  Brain Rules (2008) brain researcher John Medina states that “physical activity is cognitive candy” and that “exercise boosts brain power”.   In fact, study after study points to the same conclusion: learners need to move.  But is this research just about kinesthetic learners?  Definitely not, for we all benefit from moving and stretching.  It gets the blood flowing, it boosts creativity, and it breaks up the monotony of sitting in those hard old seats!
Movement in the classroom: easy ways to get students moving to learn

I’m lucky to teach with some creative and inspiring teachers who use lots of active learning in their classes.  One physics and math teacher has a trunk full of toys and games that get students moving as they learn about the principles of physics. If you walk by his class on the right day, you might even witness students in egg throwing contests.  His most popular game, though, is in his math class, where enthusiastic students play “Sig Fig Says” to learn about significant figures.  Another math teacher has a chin up bar hanging from the ceiling so students can take action breaks, and a biology teacher has exercise  balls for students to sit on so as to better engage their core.  Others have taken students paint-balling to re-enact battles in WWII or the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.   The students in these classes clearly have lots of opportunity to move to learn. But do you have to go to great lengths to get your students’ bodies and brains moving?  Do you have to spend hours thinking up crazy lesson plans and field trips?  No, because there are some very simple ideas that you can use every day.  Here are some of my favourites:
Movement in the classroom: easy ways to get students moving to learn1. At any point: one of the simplest ways to wake them up is to just have a break in the middle of class.  Tell them to stand up and move around for a few minutes.  We’ve all been in long meetings and know full well how welcome a little break to move around would be.
2. When students do group work, tape a piece of chart paper on the wall, so they have to do their work standing up.  They don't need the chart paper either; they can stand around their desks and work at any time.
3. If you’re comfortable letting them leave the room, send them for a walk ‘n talk as they discuss their ideas.  Send them in pairs or small groups for a walk around the school, or outside on the school grounds.  
4. If students need to answer questions on a text: post them on pieces of chart paper that you will tape up in various locations in your room—use the hallway too, if you can.  Students can move around from question to question with their notebooks to answer the questions.  They can do this individually or in groups.
5. If you want to review homework or reading of a text: group students and send them to different parts of the classroom.  Ask them to stay standing as they discuss the homework or the questions you have posed. Then, you can either have a full class discussion while they are sill standing or after they have returned to their seats.
6. If you want students to work on vocabulary building: on the top of several pieces of chart paper, write single words or full sentences that contain basic vocabulary.  Tape up a number of them throughout your classroom and have students circulate around the room, adding synonyms to the page. If the page has a full sentence, they could suggest a change for any word in the sentence. They can’t repeat a word, so as they move around the room, it will get more difficult for them to come up with a synonyms.  When they finish, the can debate the “best” words on the sheets.
7. If you need your students to learn or practice skills: set up learning stations.  Instead of giving them a long handout on how to write an essay or how to include research in their writing, break the process into small steps and have them do an activity at each station.  For example, station one might have an exercise that teaches them how to write a thesis statement, station two might be about transitions, etc.
8. If you’re working on debating skills:  write debatable questions on several pieces of chart paper.  You will need one for each side of the topic. (For example: School uniforms should be mandatory and School uniforms should not be mandatory).  Ask students to choose a topic and stand by the sheet that represents their views.  They can write their reasons on the paper, and then they can take turns having an informal debate.
9. Use discussion stations: either at a group of desks, or using chart paper on the walls, have students discuss issues that could come from the novel they are reading or from current events Give them ten minutes or so at each station and then have them move to the next one. (Along with movement, it's a great way to have them work on speaking skills in a safer environment). Once they've visited each station, you can have a full class discussion.
10. Any time you have students do group work on chart paper, have them do a gallery walk after.  You can find out more about that in this post.

Would you like to try some of these ideas but are worried about classroom management? You can get some advice hereYou can also find many of these ideas for moving to learn in my free product at my TpT store. Just click HERE.
Follow Room 213's board Learning Stations & Centers for Secondary Classes on Pinterest.

Have an awesome new semester with your students.  If you have any great ideas for active learning, please share them in the comments!


  1. How do you get your students moving?

  2. I love these ideas - they are just what I needed! Some things I like to do is to have students stand once they find a particular quote in the book as evidence for a claim. I also like to play games like Scoot and Scatter with task cards. :)

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

    1. I keep hearing about Scoot. I have to check that out.

  3. These are great! Thank you for sharing.

  4. For vocabulary (I'm a Spanish teacher, but it could easily be done with English words as well), I put a word on one index card and the definition in Spanish on another. Half the class gets a vocabulary word, the other half gets the definition or a picture representing that word. They have to find the person whose card is their mate.

    I also do a game I call "Vota con tus pies"or Vote with your feet. I ask an opinion question and use a powerpoint to post 4 different possible answers in each of the corners to represent the corners of the room. Students choose how they would answer and go to that corner. For example, if I posted "My favorite birthday present this year was..." and put in the four corners of the slide "gift card, books, technology, clothes", the students pick and go to the corner that best suits them.

    1. Robyn-those are great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  5. These are some excellent ideas!

  6. Hey Room 213!

    This is a great post. I think we often think that physical activity across the curriculum but you did an excellent job of showing how any movement is valuable! Since I teach PE my kids are moving most of the thing and I don't have to be super creative about getting students to be active. However, in my health classes I've had to really think of ways to keep kids moving most of the time. I really like doing learning stations as it also challenges kids to think and take ownership of their learning.

    I will definitely be sharing this post and linking to it on my blog!



  7. I buy a bunch of soft squishy balls from the dollar bin at Target and toss the ball to students when I call on them to answer something. Sometimes I have the whole class stand and each person can sit once s/he has participated or answered a question. Another thing I love to do with my morning classes is find Wii Dance videos on YouTube and we either dance to it as a class for a brain break or I turn on a fun song and we do stretches together to wake ourselves up before we begin something that requires us to sit.

  8. I often do the "stand up and stretch/take a break" in my classroom. Those days when the energy just feels BLAH. I'll just interrupt the lesson and tell them to get up and move around, the look at me like I've sprouted a second head. I love it! While not full body, I also have some bags of "think putty" that I found at a teacher store that I let the "fidgeters" play with during class to help them at least move their hands.

    1. Both are great ideas, Tina! The stand up and move idea does get some rolled eyes the first time you do it, but after a few times, they start asking for it. (I think I'm going to get some putty for September!!

  9. Loved the ideas in this article and know for a fact that they are extremely useful!

  10. My students worked real hard today and we got up between assessments and did a train around the room. We dance, we stretch, or just wiggle when we feel the need to move. Some of my students have requested to work standing up and I'm fine with that as long as they stay in their area. I just put their desk on the side or back of the room so they are not blocking anyone's view. I teach 3rd grade and have 28 students.

  11. Great ideas! I especially like the walk and talk outside idea to take advantage of a beautiful day!! One of my favorite moving activities is to put students in an inner and outer circle standing up. The circles face each other so everyone has a partner. The partners discuss a question, share their writing, do an activity, etc until I call for one or both circles to rotate. New partners do it again.
    I'm glad you linked up with Spark Creativity! Hope to see you there again next Tuesday!

  12. Thanks for these ideas. I like to use sticky notes and ask students to use them to place ideas on several open ended questions posted on the walls around the room.

    Could you maybe tell me about the game Sig Fig Says? I realise this is your colleague's idea, but here's hoping. A web search didn't illuminate it. Thanks in advance.

    1. I'll need to ask that teacher when I get back to school! Send me a reminder if I forget ;)


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