As a teacher, I spend my days on my feet. I know that my proximity to my students is one of the best tools I have as far as classroom management, on-task behaviour, checking for understanding, and encouraging student questions. Any time there are students in my room, it is rare for me to be sitting at my desk. And because this is my reality, it is easy to forget that the same is not true for my students.
Unlike me, my students spend the majority of their days sitting in desks. Their experience of school is far more sedentary than mine. It often has more in common with what we as adults experience when we attend multi-day conferences than what we experience when we are in our own classrooms. And as anyone who has attended one of those conferences can attest, just the very nature of sitting all day is draining. It’s no wonder that many students struggle to stay engaged.
One of the things that we can do to help our students break up the monotony of sitting is to find ways to incorporate movement into our classes. This may take some intentionality and creativity on our parts, but the benefit to our students is worth it. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
This activity can be done in just about any subject. Present the students with two opposing positions and ask them to think about which position they most closely agree. Create a space that represents a continuum of ideas with one position on the left hand side and the other on the right. (Some teachers place tape on the floor or use hallway space to create this space.) Give the students several minutes to brainstorm their reasons or support for the stance that they have taken. Then have them move to a location on the spectrum that represents what they believe. Ask students from various places on the spectrum to support their opinions. Students who are uncertain where they fall can be challenged to make a decision based on the most compelling argument they hear from their classmates.
Around the World:
Students of all ages enjoy playing games. Games that allow for movement are especially good for primary and middle school students. In this game, students are paired against each other to answer questions. If a student gets the answer correct before his partner, he moves to challenge the person in the next seat. He continues moving until he answers incorrectly or is beaten by another classmate. The object of the game is for the student to move all the way around the classroom and return to his/her original seat. As an additional twist (which can help keep all students engaged) if both competitors answer incorrectly or fail to answer before a given time, the teacher can randomly choose another student in the room to answer the question. If that student gets the answer correct, she moves to the position in the room that would have been occupied if one of the other competitors had gotten the answer correct.
This activity takes a bit more time to prepare and execute. Break students into small groups and assign each group a subset of what you have been studying. Ask them to create artifacts (such as pictures, statues, or museum exhibits) that illustrate the major concepts covered in their assigned topic. (For example, I often have my students illustrate major tenets or authors of a given literary movement.) Once students have created their artifacts, have them arrange these around a given space (in the classroom, the library, the gym). Each group then takes turns guiding the rest of the class through the gallery space explaining the significance of, and fielding questions about, each artifact to the rest of the class. (If the weather is nice and you have an available space, I’ve found that nearly all students enjoy using chalk for this activity.)
What other activities have you tried to incorporate movement into your classes? Feel free to send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 For an interesting article on one teacher’s experience “going back to school” and sitting all day, check out this blog: A Veteran Teacher Turned Coach Shadows 2 Students for 2 Days.
Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Teacher Education Services