In our previous post, 4 Tips for Managing Classroom Discipline Before the Holidays, we shared helpful strategies to keep kids on track this holiday season. But what if your students still can’t sit still - or inversely - what if they can’t seem to stay awake and focused?
As a teacher, you get to move around in class a great deal, but your students’ daily movement is much more limited. And all that sitting can affect their ability to learn. A few years ago, the Washington Post featured a story from a former teacher who was asked to shadow two high school students over a two-day period. One of the biggest lessons she learned was how exhausted she felt after a day’s worth of sitting.
She found herself struggling to pay attention as classes wore on, so much so that she later issued this recommendation to teachers: schedule a hands-on movement activity for your students every single day. She would gladly give up 10 minutes of instruction time per hour. She argued that over-tired students weren’t absorbing much knowledge anyway.
So how do you keep your students moving in a way that maximizes learning, especially around the holidays when they’re ready to burst? Here are a few ideas:
Set up a gallery walk
Turn your classroom into a gallery, where students can learn through visiting different stations around the room. This can be as simple as taping a number of supplemental documents to the wall and having students go from station to station reading and discussing each part of the lesson in small groups.
Alternatively, each station can host a question written on a poster-sized piece of paper or digital device. Students can go around independently and fill in their answers while seeing what other students wrote. You can find additional ideas for gallery walks here. And check out our Pinterest board on gallery walks for even more inspiration.
Improve your classroom infrastructure
Every school has a different budget, so it’s not always possible to invest in a new set of desks for an entire class. But depending on your school, you may be able to add a few special standing desks, pedal desks, or wobble chairs, which give students a way to get their energy out without interrupting the class. You don’t need to outfit the entire class — having one or two of each option can be enough to give students the freedom to move when they need to.
Set the expectation that students are allowed to get up and use one of the special desks or wobble chairs when they feel their energy flagging or feel they’re getting restless. Figure out the boundaries and time constraints that make sense for your class, but get comfortable with the idea that some movement is a good sign of life in a classroom.
If you aren’t able to offer any of these options, designate a “standing” spot where one student at a time can stretch their legs, within the guidelines you set.
Teach your class to juggle
Sometimes it’s good to take a break from learning academic subjects altogether and just engage your class in physical movement. Could you learn how to juggle and teach your students? Set aside five minutes twice during each class period and run students through juggling lessons. Engage YouTube videos as needed.
This will give students a quick mental break that will help them stay with you during your lessons.
Use the corners of your room
You can find a number of activities that utilize the corners of your room to get students moving while learning. For example, place a device in each corner of the room. On each device, type a different argument or perspective on the same topic. Distribute students equally among the four devices and have them work with their team to present facts that back up their argument. When all have finished presenting, ask students to move to the corner of whose argument they found most persuasive.
Make it a rule that they have to move corners — teaching them to equally weigh arguments that are different than their own – and encourage them to share why they chose the argument they did.
Line up with flash cards
Write different concepts, equations, vocabulary words, etc., on flash cards and hand them out to your students. Line students up face to face in two lines with their cards. Each student has to teach the person standing across from them the idea that’s on their card. Then the students switch cards with the person they’ve just taught and everyone takes a step to the left. Now each student has to teach the concept they just learned from their partner to the new person standing across from them. Want even more inspiration? There are some great tips for these movement strategies and others here.
Get moving by any means necessary
Do all of these options feel too “creative” for your everyday use? There are an endless variety of low-key ways to get your students moving:
- Take two-minute stretch breaks twice per class.
- Start and end each class with jumping jacks.
- Install a toy basketball hoop over the door and allow students to use it during the first and last five minutes of class.
- Insist that students stand up every time they answer a question. Call upon them often.
- Conduct lessons outside occasionally when the weather is nice.
The important thing is getting students out of their desks so they can engage with your lesson while getting some blood flowing. Give in to students’ natural rhythms, and you’ll find they’re much more present when you need them to be.
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