Movement Breaks & Active Learning Opportunities 

My first year teaching, I was a fifth grade self-contained teacher, and like everyone else, it was a bumpy learning experience. I had a very active student that was always moving about. My district embraced cooperative learning and my school was a Kagan model school, so active learning and collaboration was always prevalent. So, why could I not keep this kiddo “under wraps?” It came to a head one day when he whipped around and clipped a prized coffee mug off my stand that held extra pencils. As I watched it crash to the floor and smash to smithereens, all I could do was think – what else can I say to get through to this kid?

Fast forward, add a few years of experience, and what have I come to understand? Kids need movement. It’s normal. It’s natural. What we are actually having them do by sitting in their chairs for instructional time, is completely the opposite, especially if they need to move. Today, I teach third grade and I am a firm believer in bending over backwards to meet the needs of the active body so that the mind can perform to its fullest potential.

For every child this is different, so I offer a variety of things in my classroom to meet these needs. First, you have to get to know your students. Because I still loosely rely on cooperative learning structures in my classroom (flexible learning structures is more like it), I do still keep my desks in clusters of 3-5 depending on class size. Each team has a 5-drawer Rubbermaid tower. In the top drawer, I load it with brainbreak items like the small hand-held favor-size mazes, stress balls, books of actual mazes, braiding string, etc. (Other drawers have curriculum materials such as white boards, markers, text books, etc to free up desk clutter.) These items can easily be modified to meet needs of specified individuals. At the beginning of the year, I always make it a point to talk about the importance of sharing, the proper use of and when it is ok to use the items, and respect to others’ focus needs when using them. After three years, I have yet to remove a single item due to a disturbance of any kind.

Next, I am mindful of offering a variety of movement opportunities. We start our day with 80 minutes of math. Without movement in the midst of this LONG period, none of us would survive! First, it is simple to integrate right into your instruction. We use EverydayMath, so I use the lesson segmenting to fluidly move my students throughout the lesson. We start the warm-up (Mental Math) together at the front carpet. I can more closely engage each learner into this important part of the lesson, getting their brain tuned up, and preassessing/take notes for small group needs. But again, this doesn’t mean all students need to be seated. Some do, but know thy students! I have one kiddo that wears a Fitbit and marches across the back of the carpet so that he can beat his sister’s numbers for the day. He does not disturb others, stops and participates when needed, and never misses a beat if I call on him. I also know his family has embraced physical fitness following some recent health scares. I also know that if I have his sister next year, I will help her beat his numbers 🙂 Then, the Math Message varies, sometimes as a quick turn-and-talk, write-pair-share on white board back at teams, etc, depending on outcome goal. But it is quick, and with 100% engagement, which frequently lends itself nicely to a swift Kagan structure – and most importantly, there is no need for the kids to be seated or quiet!

Section two of the lesson dives into more depth through guided and independent practice. During guided practice, I give my students choice of seating preference, but they know it must comply with these rules: I must stay engaged and I must not interfere with another’s learning. Some sit on the carpet by my feet staring up at the Promethean Board, one stands on the edge of my laptop cart and watches the whole lesson on his own personal screen, some are at their desk copying everything I do on their white boards, some choose a stand-up table and just watch from a distance. It should never matter to me, so long as they are tuned in. Every now and then I have a student that needs help making a good choice for them, and that’s ok too. I talk to them about it and explain it to them as a way to make them feel successful. I never “call them out.”

Last, when we move into independent practice, my students know this is a period of quiet, restful practice time. They settle, mostly at their seats, so that I can rotate and assess, coach, pull a small group, and reflect for our closure. Exceptions to seating during this one block of time are minimal and tends to be very respected. [This is an example of my math block, but my ELA is very similar.]

A second important, yet super simple implementation I have instituted in my classroom, is daily use of our class GoNoodle account. Haven’t heard of it? Go to GoNoodle and please sign up for your free account today. You will not regret it!! After math has wrapped up, I use a random selector to have a student choose a GoNoodle brain break activity. Some kiddos were hesitant to get involved at first, but the more fun others were having on a daily basis, the more students became actively engaged with this fun release of energy. Need them to wind-down instead? That’s ok – there is yoga too! Try that before a big test…. Most of my students have gone home and asked their parents to sign them up for the free GoNoodle app on their own. It is such an easy, great way to let kids be kids in between all the hard work they are accomplishing throughout the day!


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