Increase Student Engagement with Physical Movement

Increase Student Engagement

Author: TeamTom Education , Tags: 

( words) minutes to read 

On-task. Compliance. Engagement. Participation. The subtle distinctions have vast differences in brain activity and student engagement in learning.

Doing work and being off-task are vast opposites. Students must be on-task to learn, but not all compliant participation is the same.

Compliance and engagement are different.

When a student does what you ask, that student is complying. When a student has high levels of brain activity, that student is engaged. Another vast difference.

Here’s one strategy – a very simple strategy – you can use to increase engagement in your brains, uh, I mean students.

Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites

Intentional learning is the result of student engagement, not simply being on-task. Dr. Marcia Tate synthesized decades of brain research in her work on engaging the brain. In a recent article, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites, she offers 20 ways to engage brains. Her suggestions include:

  • Reciprocal Teaching
  • Drawing
  • Writing
  • Visuals
  • Role Play
  • Metaphors
  • and others.

The simplest one to use is physical activity. Movement.

Getting students to move is a sure way to activate the entire nervous system. It allows information to be processed more effectively in working memory and muscle memory. Retention and recall will increase. More connections will be made.

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Ways to Engage Students with Physical Movement

There are so many ways that you already use movement to increase student engagement. Here’s a short list if you’re looking for new ideas.

  • In math, you can walk an edge to learn perimeter. Put masking tape on the ground and walk it.
  • In math, build a human number line to add and subtract integers.
  • In math, create a human plot diagram to represent data.
  • In math, put your feet on different angles to feel the difference between parallel and intersecting lines. The same type of movement can also be used to find congruent angles.
  • In science, build human models of the solar system, animal cells, and other concepts.
  • In social studies, divide the class into employees, unemployed, and business owners. Then pose different scenarios asking students to shuffle around. Each scenario represents a growing economy or a weakening economy.
  • In social studies, create a human timeline in addition to reading it. Remove certain students (which represent dates and events) and ask them to predict how that would have changed history.
  • In reading/literature, act out plot events to help students create a summary of a text.
  • In language arts, create a human sentence. Each student is a part of speech…much more engaging than only diagramming a sentence.

For ideas on how to engage student interest using games, read here.

Here's a list of 9 ways to engage students with movement. #teachingClick To Tweet

Mindful vs. Non-mindful Movement in the Classroom

The examples above are all examples of mindful movement to increase student engagement. They are thoughtful uses of physical participation. They boost learning, active processing, long-term memory, and more.

There’s also a use for non-mindful movement. This is much easier to use too. Here are a few examples:

  • Simply taking a physical break.
  • Students are appearing more and more disinterested in the topic of study – have them stand and talk about their favorite TV show for 60 seconds. Watch how quickly their brains are reactivated. Then go back to task.
  • Instead of handing out worksheets – cut it up and post it around the room. Students have to move while they work.
  • Instead of giving a packet of work – create learning stations with each different learning task. Students have amount time at each station and then they move to the next.

Whether you use mindful or non-mindful movement, you will still get the benefits of increased engagement.

The Impact of Physical Movement on Learning

In her graduate research study The Impact of Physical Movement on Academic Learning, Kristy N. Ford presented several benefits of physical movement in the classroom. Here’s a summary:

  1. A study found increased attention-to-task and increased student motivation to learn with physical movement. The study required 10 minutes of mindful movement activities each day.
  2. The use of physical activity in cooperative learning is correlated with increased academic achievement.
  3. It is likely that students with special learning needs will receive even more academic benefits from physical activity than their normally developing peers.
  4. A study involving increased walking showed students with increased physical activity also had increased fluid intelligence ability and cognitive activity.
  5. Staying awake is key to paying attention. Physical activity increases blood flow and alertness.
  6. Students report increased ability to focus when sitting on exercise balls instead of stationary chairs.

Student Engagement in Math Class

Student engagement and learning can increase in math classes from the use of physical movement.

In the peer-reviewed journal Learning and Individual Differences, an article presented positive findings with 4th and 5th graders learning about fractions. They had 16 students in a physically active class and 16 students in a computer-based sedentary math class. They found:

  1. “Physically active tasks might be more beneficial than sedentary tasks.
  2. Physical activity did not have much influence on motivation.
  3. Teachers should be involved in scaffolding children during physically active tasks.”

Tap to read more on Scaffolding Strategies.

In a 2105 research study, study brain activity was recorded in a math class. One group of students sat in traditional seats and another had physical movement during instruction. The latter group displayed increased brain activity during math problem-solving.

This evidence supports the idea that movement, of any kind, can lead to greater student engagement.

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Thanks for reading. For more instructional strategies, please take a look at these recommended articles:

  1. 15 Visible Learning Strategies Made 200% Growth in 9 Weeks
  2. What is Visible Learning and how will it Improve Learning?
  3. 17 Ways Teachers Change Lives
  4. Games and Student Interest in Learning

About the Author

TeamTom Education is dedicated to creating engaging teaching resources and strategies that make learning awesome!

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