Active Learners are Successful Learners

We often joke that during staff meetings teachers display behaviors they don’t tolerate in their classes.  You know the scene: restlessness, doodling, squirming and whispering.  What about when you spend the whole day at a meeting?  Do you often find that you’re more tired after a day of sitting and listening than one full of the business of teaching?

Well there’s a good reason for both of these phenomenon.  The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time; yet, that is exactly what it does in school.  In  Brain Rules (2008) brain researcher John Medina states that “physical activity is cognitive candy” and that “exercise boosts brain power”.   In fact, study after study points to the same conclusion: learners need to move.  But is this research  just about kinesthetic learners?  Definitely not, for we all benefit from moving and stretching.  It gets the blood flowing, it boosts creativity, and it breaks up the monotony of sitting in those hard old seats!

I’m lucky to teach with some creative and inspiring teachers who use lots of movement in their classes.  One physics and math teacher has a trunk full of toys and games that get students moving as they learn about the principles of physics. If you walk by his class on the right day, you might even witness students in egg throwing contests.  His most popular game, though, is in his math class, where enthusiastic students play “Sig Fig Says” to learn about significant figures.  Another math teacher has a chin up bar hanging from the ceiling so students can take action breaks, and a biology teacher has exercise  balls for students to sit on so as to better engage their core.  Others have taken students paint-balling to re-enact battles in WWII or the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.   The students in these classes clearly have lots of opportunity to move to learn.

ggpicRecently I’ve been experimenting with some “grammar games”.  I created cards containing parts of sentences that, when put together, form a grammatically correct sentence.  I hand out the cards and then students have to find matches to help them complete their sentences.  They have a great time running around the classroom, trying to be among the first to get a match.  It makes grammar a little more fun, and I can give them immediate feedback without having to correct a bunch and exercises.

However, do you have to go to great lengths to get your students’ bodies and brains moving?  Do you have to spend hours thinking up crazy lesson plans and field trips?  No, because there are some very simple ideas that you can use every day.  The simplest is to just allow students to stand up and stretch half way through the class.  Or, when they do group work, tape a piece of chart paper on the wall so they have to do their work standing up.  If you’re comfortable letting them leave the room, send them for a walk ‘n talk as they discuss their ideas.  Send them in pairs or small groups for a walk around the school, or outside on the school grounds.

With some very easy-to-use techniques, you can get your students out of their seats, their energy level up and the blood flowing to their brains.  Not only will you have happier students, but you many have more successful ones too.  I’d say it’s worth a try!

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Jackie Cutcliffe (Room 213) teaches high school English in Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow her at Real Learning in Room 213


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