Activities that get students moving can keep them engaged and provide an outlet for their pent-up energy. Getting students up out of their chairs makes learning or reviewing content fun and memorable.
Just make sure you take a few crucial considerations into account when choosing movement-based activities for your students.
- Time and space: Think about how much time you will be able to allot for these activities, and how much space you will need based on your class size.
- Comfort: Don’t forget how certain activities make students feel. We want to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone at times, but some might have learning differences or specific struggles that need accommodations or adaptations.
- Behavioral issues: If you’re worried about students getting off task, strategically assign pairs for certain activities. Another option is to hold them accountable for their behavior through a participation grade or by keeping score. To increase their motivation to do well, think about including a prize like extra-credit points if you think it might help.
These four activities will get your students moving:
1. Concentric circle sharing
Students stand face-to-face while in one of two concentric circles so they can rotate around the circle, changing partners every few minutes. This is a fun way for students to share homework responses, to quiz each other as exam prep or to play characters from a novel or historical figures. Here’s how to do it:
- Divide your students into two groups.
- Have one group stand in a circle. They should be shoulder-to-shoulder and facing outward so you can see their faces.
- Tell each person from the other group to stand in front of a person from the inner circle so they are face-to-face with their partner. Together the two groups form two concentric circles. Since you will stand outside the circles, you will see the backs of everyone in the outer circle because they are facing inward to their partners.
- Once they all have a partner, stand on a chair to fully observe students.
- As the facilitator, you decide when the inner or outer circle rotates two people to the left, one person to the right or however you want to do it.
Benefits: This activity keeps students moving and interacting with classmates they might not otherwise get to work with because of your seating arrangements. It also encourages immediate engagement since it’s a series of peer-to-peer interactions that are brief but meaningful. You can listen and watch students to see how well they understand the material, how well they’re working together and if there are key concepts that multiple students aren’t quite comprehending.
2. Four corners
Don’t be afraid to get creative with this activity, which uses the corners in your classroom. You ask a question such as “What group are wolves, cats and hamsters all a part of?” and then students have to walk silently to whichever corner represents the correct answer.
- Make sure each corner of your classroom has plenty of space for students to cluster in it, and there are no hazards like loose cords or things they could knock over.
- Label each corner with a sign that fits the activity. Focus on concepts like historical eras, animal classifications, parts of speech or character traits.
- If you have more than four answers for them to choose from, get creative and put an empty space in the middle of the room with a sign on the floor for them to sit around, or put another one against a wall halfway between two corners.
- Tell your students they must be silent when you ask the question to the class and when they’re moving to and from the corners. Consider including a participation grade if you’re worried they won’t stay silent.
- Call on students standing in the correct-answer corner to explain why they think it’s the correct answer.
- Congratulate them for being correct and go on to the next question.
Benefits: Four corners lets students practice multiple-choice questions in a fun way that gets them moving around the room. Although it can be easy for students to follow their friends vs. think their answers through, they will quickly see that that doesn’t always work. Asking students to explain their answer provides time for discussion and gives students recognition.
3. Review ball
Each small group has its own ball to toss back and forth. Every time a student tosses the ball to another, a vocabulary word or term is called out. It’s pretty basic, but challenges can be added to make it more interactive and to encourage teamwork.
- Divide the class into small groups and give each one a ball.
- Post the terms for them to review on the board so they are visible at all times.
- Demonstrate the activity by calling out a term and tossing the ball to a student at the same time. As soon as the student catches it, he or she should quickly state the definition and then toss the ball to another person, calling out a new term at the same time.
- Once all terms have been covered, groups should go back to the ones they missed.
- When they feel like their group has them down, tell them to speed it up and see how quickly they can do them without mistakes or long pauses.
- They can also try doing it while balancing on one foot, jumping up and down, or doing something else that adds more excitement.
Benefits: It’s easy to ask students to turn to their neighbors and quiz them before an exam, but this activity makes review much more lively and builds community. Students have to work together and help each other. You can even have them pick team names or create a team chant to help encourage each other.
4. Sentence relay
Students take turns writing one word on the board at a time to collectively create a complete sentence. This fun relay gets students thinking creatively about sentence structure. It can be done with English learners, elementary students or older students if you start the sentence relay with a scientific term learned, a historical event studied, etc.
- Divide your whiteboard in half and write the first word of a sentence twice, once on each side.
- Call up five students to form a single-file line on one side, and five more students to form a line on the other side.
- The goal is for either team of five to create a sentence together as fast as possible, but it must make sense and be grammatically correct.
- Each person can write only one word and then must pass the marker off to the next person.
- They can include punctuation marks when appropriate, but if any are incorrect, the team must start over.
- Consider doubling this if possible and having two games going at once on either side of the room. That’ll get even more students involved.
- This game works only if students stay completely quiet during the relay. One way to ensure this is to award points to the left side of the class vs. the right side for each relay.
- When it’s done, you can discuss each team’s sentence as a class. If one sentence is incorrect, you can talk about what makes it a fragment or what could be changed to correct it.
- Ask the observing students to suggest other sentences that could’ve been created.
- Change participants so everyone gets a turn to be part of a relay.
Benefits: Every student is involved without being put on the spot for too long. For more advanced teams, their sentences might be longer, meaning each student might take two turns to get to a complete sentence. By doing so, they have to think about compound and complex sentences, the proper use of commas and how to avoid creating a run-on sentence.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd from University of California-Santa Barbara. She has worked with adolescents for a decade as a middle school and high school English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, and a curriculum designer for high school and college courses. She works with 13- to 19-year-old students as a project manager of a nonprofit organization.