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November 2014 | Volume 56 | Number 11
The Mindful Educator
"Two, four, six, eight …" wait! Am I hearing indoor recess? No, but students are raising their heart rates and getting the blood flowing to their brains while they are learning. Something that started as a strategy to motivate my highly distractible, kinesthetic learners morphed into a diverse collection of "wake-up" activities.
One of these activities, "It's in the Cards," really got my elementary students excited about math. To lead this exercise, I would get a deck of cards and post a code on the board; it may say, hearts = jumping jacks, diamonds = knee lifts, spades = straight jumps, and clubs = twists. Then, a student would draw a card from the deck, and the rest is "in the cards." The number on the card indicates the number the class counts by while doing the movement. For example, if a student would pick the three of hearts, the class would count by threes while doing jumping jacks for a total of 10 jumps (or until the count of 30 in this case). Then we would draw another card and repeat the process.
I first began using movement in my reading class a number of years ago. I thought if my young students could feel how the arrangement of letters changed the sound of the vowel, they might better understand how to decode unfamiliar words. I had them physically experience the six different syllable types. Students became a short vowel when a consonant closed them in (scrunching down in their seats) and a long vowel when the silent e pulled them up (sitting up tall). Soon, they got it! As a special education teacher, I continued to create active strategies for vocabulary, math, social studies, and other subjects.
I also brought movement into the general education classroom to engage students at a time when sitting was on the rise. We used the activities to transition to a new subject or to simply get the blood circulating.
The best lessons started with a reminder of the rules. In most cases, this meant an imaginary space around each desk that the student stayed within—and all activities ended with silent, deep breaths. Students loved these activities, so they usually complied; if not, sitting out once was often enough to redirect them.
Here are some other favorite wake-up activities:
Silent Syllable Types: First, with all of the students standing, a randomly chosen student makes the motions for a syllable type while the other students follow. (For example, an "open syllable" [students stand and stretch their arms out wide] "ends with one vowel" [students sign the number one and the letter V]; "the one vowel in an open syllable is long" [students sign the number one and the letter V, stretch their arms out wide, then reach their arms to the ceiling while on their toes], "mark it with a macron" [students mimic a line above their heads].) The class identifies the type at the end of the movement. Another student then gives an example of that syllable type (such as she or go for an open syllable or car or short for a vowel-r syllable). Next, a third student makes the motions for a different syllable type, and so forth.
Ball Toss: Toss a beach ball with numbers written on it to a student who adds, multiplies, or subtracts the numbers his or her fingers land on (the operation depends on the grade level). Then, the student chooses an activity for that number, such as knee raises or push-ups, and the class performs the same number of repetitions as the answer.
Gypsy Geography: The students soar over Arizona (flying motion), stop at Camelback Mountain (turning to the east) and climb to the top (climbing motion), and so on.
With a few slight alterations, these active learning strategies may be tweaked for different grade levels and subjects. They not only motivated my students, but also strengthened their learning—and we had a ball doing them!
Linnea Lyding is an assistant professor at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix and a former K–8 special education teacher and reading specialist.
Copyright © 2014 by ASCD
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