15 Ways to Create Movement in the Classroom

I love having lots of opportunities for movement in class. Sometimes it feels like some brain breaks are just useless time wasters. All of the activities below could be tied into content while they also build more relationships between students, so they won’t feel like a waste of time. Learning is social; Talking through learning and sharing with peers is a way to help learning stick and can clear up misconceptions. Even though I’m a hard core introvert, I still have found these sorts of activities as a student to be pleasurable as long as I still also have some quiet time and independent work time to balance it out. Keep in mind any of these ideas could be used for morning meetings as well. While classrooms may still have distancing restrictions, there typically is some freedom where students can interact with anyone in their class for short periods of time. Many of these activities will work great for 3 ft distance as well.

1. Concentric Circles

The best use for concentric circles is for answering short prompts. They could be holding quiz questions they give to one another, answering get to know you questions, sharing book recommendations, their highlights of the day, or goals for tomorrow. Anything that can be answered in around 30 seconds is perfect.

The way to get this set up is to split the class in 2. If there is an odd number, you can participate. Once everyone is assigned 1 or 2 have 1s stand in a circle facing outward. Then, have all 2s go stand in front of a 1. If kids purposely go to their friends, it does not matter because they will move anyway. Choose if you will always have students go to the right or left. As long as you stick to one direction, you can alternate whether the inner or outer circle moves. I like to change it up, so I might start with inner circle moving 1 to the right then outer circle moving 2 to the right then inner circle 2 to the right and close with outer circle moving 3 to the right. This keeps them guessing who they will talk to and forces a lot of connections that might not otherwise happen.

2. Speed Dating/Line Dance

Similar to concentric circles, this is best done with short prompts. I love doing this style for morning meetings where I have students answer would you rather questions quickly with a partner. Because students could end up talking with anyone in the class, I find it’s best to keep the questions opinion focused so that it lowers some stress, especially at the beginning of the year. The opinions might be content focused as well such as, “Do you think [this character] is being helpful or are they more annoying?” You might also select simpler questions such as “What is the setting of the novel?” or use a Kahoot! quiz without the computers and allow them to chat about the answers while the timer is up.

The set up for this is to create 2 groups. Have group A line up in the largest span of space you have. This also works in a hallway. Then, have group B find a person to stand across from. Pick one line to stay and one line to move. If line A is moving, the farthest person at the end will walk all the way back to the beginning as everyone else slides down one person. It’s easiest to keep one line in order to maintain the places of where partners should stand. The very first person or two might need a little guidance from you but otherwise even young children can catch on quickly.

3. Toss a Ball

Tossing a small beanbag, hoberman sphere, or beach ball around is a lot of fun! This can facilitate all sorts of conversations. If you’ve ever done the activity where you connect everyone in a room by passing around a ball of yarn and seeing the web form, you can think of passing a ball around as creating that same web of ideas. Because many kids want to pass around the ball, they might be more likely to participate. Playing a game like “Things that…” can be a great starter so you can prompt, “List words that have to do with geography” or “List number sentences that add up to 10” or “List synonyms for good”. If you prompt kids to raise their hand if they have an idea, then the person holding the ball can toss to anyone with their hand up.

A more organized way to pass the ball and ensure 100% inclusion is if you set a pattern for the ball. Allow everyone to pass to one person, stating the name of the person they are passing to. Establish the pattern.  After the first pass, have everyone point to who they passed the ball to and clear up confusion. Then, do it one more time with names to make sure the passing is smooth. If you want, you can even time the class to see how smoothly and quickly they can pass without dropping the ball. Once the pattern is set, you can have everyone share or you can try to force some connections where one person says 1/2 then the person receiving has to say 0.5 and the person receiving after them says 50% then the person after them can say 2/4 and so on until you need a new number.

4. Line up in order with cards

I have had great success with this activity, but it requires a little bit of prep time. First, you need to prepare some cards for students that have a clear order or sequence. These could be math number sentences to solve, events of WWII, practice measurements, plot points from a story, the steps in the water cycle, etc. You can create duplicates of the same sets of cards or you can do different cards for different groups. Make sure that your groups are the same number of people and divide up the cards accordingly.

When you go to play in class, have students set up their chairs in lines. It’s best if desks are a little out of the way so that students can walk around and in between chairs. Assign students to groups and assign those groups to a row of chairs. You will pass out cards to each student face down making sure that each group is already in their correct row. Also make sure you have established the front chair is the smallest number or first event, etc. When you give the cue, each person can look at their card and get themselves in the correct order. Once a group has everyone sitting down in the correct order, they win! The competition for this game can get fierce quickly but it is great for allowing students to quickly assess their card and compare it to others. If they can do this quickly working together, they have really mastered that skill or content.

5. Chalk Talk

This is one of my favorite thinking routines. A chalk talk is a group discussion that happens on paper in writing vs. out loud talking. You can set up different sheets of anchor chart paper at desks around the classroom or in the hallway or on the walls. Put them wherever works that allows for movement and space to stand/write nearby. Have students carry a marker with them or leave some at each spot. When you do a chalk talk, the idea is that you are responding to the word, phrase, sentence, image, or question on each page. Students can then connect their idea to another idea with lines, put check marks or stars next to pieces they agree with, or add on ideas to others’ thoughts. Here are some directions from Project Zero which is the home of thinking routines.

I have used gallery walks in multiple ways for students. One of my favorites was for providing feedback. If you can lay out drafts, projects, or computers open to a document or slideshow, then students can move to different pieces and give just one piece of feedback at each place. For example, during my literary nonfiction picture book unit, I had students move to different books and answer a question each time. For the first one, they just looked at the cover and gave feedback on if it was enticing and clear, had a title, and had the author(s) name(s). Then, they moved to the next book and everyone was now looking at the first page. Then, they went through and looked for text features. Then, they went to a new book and looked for text structure/organizational pattern. This strategy was helpful for getting lots of feedback from different people. Some students feel more confident giving feedback while others are not comfortable with the process at all. This process allows for students to usually get at least one useful piece of feedback for revisions.

Another one of my favorites was a series of number sense routines. I put different math activities all around the room each marked with a letter. Then, students had a paper with an outline of these different number sense routines and they went to the spot on the paper that had a space for B just like the paper. I know many teachers use task cards for this activity where students move from one task to the next.

The easiest way to do a gallery walk, though, is just to have students lay something out on their desk that they’ve been working on and everyone walks around casually to observe. This can work well for drawings of habitats, a “ways to make 100” page, a color symbol image, etc. This can be a very quick 2 minute walk or it can be extended by having students respond with a thinking routine such as Sentence Phrase Word or Connect Extend Challenge.

7. Book Tasting

Some book tastings I’ve seen on the internet take this to a whole other level with books wrapped as presents or the classroom transformed into Starbucks. By all means, you can do that if you wish, but book tastings can be just as effective if you set it up like a gallery walk. First, I teach students how to do a book tasting – pick up the book, look at the cover, look at the inside flaps and/or back cover, start reading the first page. Sometimes I’ll prepare a paper that lists all of the books so they can give it a yes, no, or maybe as they walk, but other times, exposure is enough or they can write titles they’re interested in on an index card as they go. Every student stands in front of a book to start. Then, they have a couple minutes to look at that book, gauge interest, then they move onto the next one when I ring my chime. I’ve found that when I tried to get them to go through all the books silently, it got long, so I would pause and let them share some thoughts to break it up.

8. Four Corners

I have not played the classical game of four corners in ages! I do, however, love using the four corners of my classroom for multiple choice answers. I have used slideshows like this in the past where I put four answer choices up corresponding to the four corners of the room. This makes for great review games and it’s pretty quick. You can play with outs, but I usually don’t as I want everyone to participate as much as possible.

9. Hand Up Pair Up, Party of 5, Find someone who…

These are all ways to quickly and easily group students together for whatever you might want them to do or discuss.

Hand Up Pair Up – Hold your hand up ready to High 5. Once you can High 5 (or air high 5) someone, you’ve got a partner and you put your hand down.

Party of 5 – Just like when you are asked by the hostess at a restaurant for how many are in your party, you can ask everyone in the class to find a party of 5 (or 4 or 3 or 6).

Find Someone Who… – You can get students to share a little about themselves if they can find someone who is wearing the same color shoes or likes the same candy or would choose the same sport between soccer, basketball, and swimming. You can have them find their “pants twin” or something along those lines as well.

Once they are paired or grouped, you can have them do whatever you need them to do. This just creates some movement before that group task and allows them to mix up more than just the person next to them or the group that already is there at their table.

10. Quiz Quiz Trade

This is one of my favorite Kagan structures. Quiz Quiz Trade is when each student has a “quiz” question. These can be open ended discussion questions or questions with correct answers that might be listed on the back. One of my favorite homework assignments or entry tickets is to write a question on one side of an index card and put the answer on the back. I can quickly check through the cards at the start of class or as they are creating them, and then we get to play with them!

Students hold their question and mill around the classroom. Then they find a partner, take turns quizzing one another, then trade their cards. When they’re finished, they find another person who wrapped up with their partner and quiz them. After both people taking turns quizzing and being quizzed, they trade and move on again. Students might end up seeing the same question a couple of times, but if all of the questions are unique, this does not happen much.

11. Musical Chairs

This could be similar to quiz quiz trade. First, you play music. Students should understand that every time you stop the music, they need to find a partner. I do this as a greeting for morning meeting often, and kids love it. This also works well if you give students cards that require interaction but are not questions (as you would do for quiz quiz trade). For example, you could give students base words and suffixes. Then, their job is to try to make a real word out of the cards they have with their partner. Another option is to give everyone numbers or expressions. Students then are required to compare those numbers with the person they end up paired with. If every kid has a 2 digit number they are holding onto, then they can add or subtract their number with the number of their partner. In these cases, students keep their cards and the quizzing is more synchronized. This means you can often differentiate the number for different students. For example, a student can have the number 10 or 20 and still participate, but if a student has 83, that might be more difficult for them as they meet up with partners. It will create different challenges for different students.

12. Back to Back

I love using whiteboards in the classroom. One of my favorite ways is for mental math problems where students just hold up their board to show me. A variation of this is to allow students to stand with their whiteboard and marker back to back with a partner. I can give a definition for a vocabulary word, a number sentence, or something else with a definitive, short answer, and then students flip their whiteboards to face one another on my count as opposed to flipping it to me. This is a great way for them to check their work with a partner. I can then provide the correct response just in case, and they turn back to back again.

13. Act it out

Students can model all sorts of things that do not require excess amounts of time. For example, when reading a poem about leaves falling and twirling, students can act out the visualization of the leaves. When reading about a character that feels frustrated, they can show that expression on their face. This can also be a mini-project such as modeling cold fronts, warm fronts, occluded fronts, and stationary fronts in weather where different people have labels like “rain”, “cloud,” “cold air,” and “warm air.” These simulations can really help learning stick.

14. I Spy/Scavenger Hunt

While teaching virtually, one way to gain some movement was to do scavenger hunts. These were super fun. You can read about how I used scavenger hunts and reverse scavenger hunts and other movement games virtually in this post: 15 Ideas for Virtual Games and Community Builders. These sorts of activities can work pretty well in the classroom especially with more of an “I Spy

15. Breakout Rooms

Virtual breakout rooms required you to use codes within a website to unlock them. These can be really fun for students. You can also literally have students find keys or clues and unlock actual locks. They can also solve for codes which they can use to put together to find an answer to a puzzle or clue, like a mini murder mystery. These sorts of activities take a good bit of planning (unless you’re purchasing one or using an activity that’s already created for free), but it can make for a really fun, special day. This also can be a great investment if you are likely to be teaching the same subject/grade in coming years.

I hope that you enjoy some of these ideas to create movement. Often, these are perfect for review and practice of material which we all need!


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