Teachers who are sensitive to the role of movement in enhancing engagement will have greater success in sustaining students' attention levels.
Routinely encouraging students to move their bodies in the classroom probably increases student engagement, which, in turn, supports student learning. Indeed, this is what a growing body of evidence suggests.1
Teachers can productively use movement in their classrooms by drawing on two categories of activities.
Movement That Deepens Understanding
In general, movement that is directly related to content acquisition should be the teacher's first choice. A number of activities are appropriate for a variety of grade levels and subject areas.
Give One, Get One
For this activity, the teacher asks students to stand and find a partner. The partners compare notes on a particular topic with a goal of both giving new information to their partner (give one) and receiving new information from their partner (get one). Pairs also generate questions that the teacher answers in a whole-class setting. Students stand all the while, thus providing some movement and variety. At the end of the activity, students record what they have learned electronically or in a notebook, adding necessary updates and corrections.
Voting with Your Feet
A teacher typically uses this activity after asking a multiple-choice question with lettered alternative answers (for example, a, b, c, or d). The teacher places one of four posters, each with a different letter, on each wall of the classroom and asks students to move to the poster that represents the answer they consider correct. Before disclosing the answer, the teacher asks one or more students in each group to explain why they think their choice is correct. In this way, students get to consider each answer. The teacher might extend the activity by allowing students to move to a different choice before he or she reveals the correct answer.
In this activity, students assemble in different corners of the classroom to discuss various aspects of a topic. For example, during a unit on civil disobedience, a social studies teacher might want students to consider the following questions: What are the defining characteristics of civil disobedience? How can civil disobedience advance democracy? How can civil disobedience impede democracy? When did you use a form of civil disobedience to a productive end? Each of the four questions is posted in a corner of the classroom, and each corner has a student recorder—someone who stays at that corner throughout the activity.
After selecting recorders, the teacher organizes the class into four groups. Each group goes to one of the corners for about five minutes, during which time students discuss the assigned question and the recorder writes a summary of the group's comments. Each group then moves to another corner, where the recorder briefly shares the comments of the previous groups. The new group subsequently adds its comments.
After each group has visited each corner, the recorders summarize the comments for the whole class. Teacher and students then engage in a whole-class discussion aimed at generating generalizations about the topic.
Drama activities should be brief and move quickly. A teacher might organize students into small groups and assign each group a topic or choice of topic. For example, a mathematics teacher might have students do brief sketches that illustrate mean, median, or mode. After each sketch, the observing students question the players about the topic.
In this activity, students are asked to stand and briefly illustrate vocabulary terms that the teacher calls out. For example, a mathematics teacher might call out the term rectangle. Students then attempt to represent a rectangle with their bodies. Next, the teacher might call out square, and students change their body representations to fit the term. After a few more rounds, students take their seats.
Movement That Boosts Energy
Not all movement activities need to directly link to content. Sometimes it's necessary to get students moving simply to boost their energy levels.
Movement increases the amount of oxygen to the brain. Consequently, when a teacher sees that students' attention levels are waning—for example, during a class period right before lunch—he or she might ask students to stand up and take a stretch break. At the elementary level, I've seen teachers ask students to run in place or engage in a quick set of jumping jacks.
Teachers who wish to apply brain research2
might construct activities that stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. For example, during a stretch break, the teacher might guide students through stretches that require parts of the body on the left side to connect to parts of the body on the right side and vice versa, such as touching the right elbow to the left knee and then touching the left elbow to the right knee.
Every Bit Helps
Movement in the classroom is a small, but potentially important, part of effective teaching. Teachers who are sensitive to the need for student engagement—and the role of movement in enhancing that engagement—will have greater success in sustaining students' attention levels.
Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Heflebower, T. (2011). The highly engaged classroom. Marzano Research Laboratory: Bloomington, IN.
Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Robert J. Marzano is cofounder and CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of The Art and Science of Teaching (ASCD, 2007) and coauthor, with Tony Frontier and David Livingston, of Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching (ASCD, 2011).
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