Student Body: What Happens When Teachers and Students Move Together?

Back to Structuring Equality

Student Body: What Happens When Teachers and Students Move Together?

By Michael Druffel and Kelly Lerash

Here’s a challenge: for the 30 minutes it takes to read this paper, step back from your desk. Stand up off the couch or away from the coffee table. Stretch out your legs. Lift your computer or tablet, and try to read this essay from beginning to end standing on your feet. If you’re a product of the typical American education system, this is likely going to be an unusual experience. Decades of institutional thought have taught us that physical movement and knowledge acquisition are like fire and ice. Typically schools assume that if your body is engaged, your mind is wandering. If your mind is active, your body should be anchored to your chair. We often learn only with a handful of our body parts–with our eyes and ears and occasionally our mouths, but almost never with our, arms, legs, or torsos. But the standard model–of only teaching to the student’s eyes and ears–isn’t the only way to teach and learn, nor is it the most effective way for everyone. Engaging the whole body in the classroom can help students learn more than the traditional model allows. We believe that any classroom and any teacher can employ a few simple techniques to engage students’ bodies that will improve students’ understanding of academic concepts, create more interest in the lessons, and make the classroom more fun. Are you still standing?

Recently we spent time in a middle school math classroom in Harlem, NY. The classroom’s floor is linoleum tile–the kind you expect to see in a middle school, checkered like a chessboard and flecked with years of scuff marks. The walls are painted pastel purple and yellow and dotted with with student artwork and motivational posters. Thin metal bars crosshatch the windows, which don’t open more than five inches. This is a stereotypical classroom recognizable to most who spent time in the American educational system. Yet despite the classroom’s standard appearance, the teaching and learning were anything but pro forma. The two motivational teachers employ a cutting edge educational system simply by requiring the students to use their bodies.  The teachers used three movement-based techniques to create a learning atmosphere as sophisticated as a Berkeley classroom equipped with digitized student response systems (clickers). The teachers 1) taught students to associate math vocabulary with simple hand motions; 2) conducted class polls by asking students to stand or stomp their feet to show support for an answer choice; and 3) instituted a policy of snapping their fingers or stomping their feet in a rhythm that students would echo back to maintain order and attention in the class.


During a seventh grade geometry class we observed, the teachers wanted students to learn how the cross sections of geometric prisms relate to their base. To get to that conceptual standpoint, the teachers needed students to understand the concepts “horizontal,” “vertical,” “parallel,” and “perpendicular.” They tied the vocab words to hand gestures, creating an improvised sign language. Every time students said the word “horizontal” they made a single horizontal chopping motion with their right arms. When they said the word “vertical” they made a vertical chopping motion with their arm. Similar motions accompanied the words “parallel” and “perpendicular.” At the beginning of the lesson a few of the students mismatched hand gestures to words, but as the lesson progressed the students became more and more accurate. By engaging the students’ entire body, the teachers made every student into a teacher.

To explain how the base of prism related to its cross section, the teachers used multiple choice questions combined with embodied response from the students. For example the teachers would ask “Is this cross section perpendicular or parallel to the base? If you think it’s perpendicular, stomp your feet twice now. (Pause, listen.)  If you think it’s parallel, stomp your feet twice now.(Pause, listen.)” The teachers gave the students 30 seconds to find someone who disagreed with their answer choice–who had stomped for a different answer–and try to convince the other person. Then they would ask the question again and the class accuracy improved. Essentially they had constructed an embodied clicker system with students able to see how others voted, contemplate the answers, debate, and rethink This model of guessing and reflecting transformed a standard class into a Freirian class–every student using his / her body to join the conversation and co-teach the math lesson.
But the class never got out of hand with the stomping, standing, and the debating.  In fact, it was orderly from the time the 13 and 14 year-old students took their seats to the time the dismissal bell rang. The teachers maintained classroom order by having students snap their fingers to signal it was time to regroup. When the 30 seconds to debate expired, the teachers called out “Snap your fingers twice if you can hear me.” A third of the class snapped. “Snap your fingers if you can hear me.” Two thirds snapped. By the third time the teachers said this–in less than five seconds–the class finished its discussion and quietly faced the teachers. With three embodied teaching strategies, the teachers created an active learning classroom that used all the students as teachers–teaching vocab, teaching math problems, and restoring quiet–through three basic movements.


Benefits in Any Learning Environment

For the remainder of this paper, we will explore the benefits of using an embodied style of learning and teaching not only in the K-12 classroom but in any learning situation, including in the college classroom, even in advanced graduate study.   We were pleased to be able to insert a movement break into every two-hour class session in our own graduate course on “American Literature, American Learning” and even began writing these brief breaks into the class agenda.  It allowed for natural breaks in thinking, focus in direction, mood, meta-cognition and other pauses and refreshers that enhanced the class.   In this paper, we will focus on the research supporting the importance of movement in learning.  We’ll focus on physical health, improved learning outcomes, and even the ways that embodied learning helps combat racism and sexism in the class.

Kinesthetic learning (or embodied learning– we use the terms interchangeably) can be applied to any classroom from elementary school to college, and we believe it can benefit all types of students. We’ll try to offer some suggestions about how to implement different strategies it in a classroom and offer solutions to potential problems. We think this kind of embodied learning carries all the benefits of digital student response systems and more. Kinesthetic learning can be done anywhere with any kind of space. We hope we’ll be able to convince you to. Stomp twice if you can hear us.

There are a variety of self-reporting assessments that can assess the primary learning style of an individual. Researchers Griggs, Barney, Sederberg, Collins, Keith, and Iannacci (2009) conducted a study of 167 students in variety of disciplines around their learning styles and how it affected their classroom competencies and study habits (57). The researchers asked  students to complete an online Multiple Intelligence assessment, which categorized the students learning styles in eight categories:  self, social, body movement, nature, musical, language, logic/math, spatial (2009, 57). The majority of students’ top three strengths were self, social, and body movement which contradicts the typical college learning environment of lecture and notes that is predominantly used in the majority of college classes (2009, 57 and 60). This study suggests that for students to perform at their greatest abilities, the classroom atmosphere needs to be adapted to better suite their learning styles. The lack of interaction and movement in the  current model of education  is not compatible with the students’ strengths.  VARK, another multiple intelligence questionnaire used to determine learning styles, categorizes learning as  visual [V], aural [A], reading/writing [R], or  kinesthetic [K]. In a study by Sinha, Bhardwaj, Singh, Abas Learning preferences of clinical students: A study in a Malaysian medical college of Melaka-Manipal Medical College in Malaysia of 176 participants, the majority of participants were multimodal, multiple learning disciplines applied to them, and kinesthetic was the highest preference in most categories (61). Additionally, in the mono-modal category, one preferred learning style; kinesthetic learning was the strongest learning style (62). This information shifted professors lecture style from “teacher-centric” classrooms to “student-centric” classrooms meaning learning was more focused around the students doing the heavy lifting of content instead of teachers lecturing(62). The study found a correlation in learning style accommodation and course score work meaning if the teacher adapted the coursework to better accommodate the learning styles of the students in their classroom, course score are higher (62). For these students who are kinesthetic learners to be successful, they need more hands on learning and movement to be incorporated into the classroom.


Health Benefits

Obesity is a growing problem in the American school system (Benes et al 1).“43 million preschool children worldwide are estimated to be overweight or obese and 92 million are at risk for overweight,” (1).  While high body mass index (BMI) contributes to such physical problems as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers, high BMI in children also correlates to poor academic performance and carries over into young children’s adult life  (1). Why is obesity a growing problem? Many students are not getting enough physical activity( PA). PA reduces sedentary time, any time a person is not sleeping or participating in movement. Currently, many high school age students are not participating in enough, if any, PA during the school week. Less than 30% of students are participating in the recommended PA levels and up to 14% are not reporting moving at all(1). People who do not incorporate PA in their day put themselves at  potential health risks that are challenging to overcome if not addressed at a young age.

Movement should be integrated into the classroom to help combat some of these inactive tendencies to benefit students’’ health in their youth and into adulthood. According to Wester, Russ, Vazou, Goh, Erwin (2015), “increases in PA are associated with improved health through reducing risk factors for chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” (692). PA is also proven to improve muscular strength, bone strength, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (2015, 692). Furthermore, movement integration (MI) activities that reduce sedentary time in the classroom, “positively influence body mass index, reduce weight in girls, increase health-related fitness, improve on-task behavior, enhance cognitive function, increase academic standardized test scores, increase enjoyment and positive affect, and increase perceived competence and effort in the classroom,” (2015, 693). Children and adults are often not moving enough outside of the classroom, which can cause long-term negative effects to their health.

According to Morgan, Barnett, Cliff, Okely, Scott, Cohen, and Lubans (2013)  who do not develop their fundamental movement skills, FMS, at an early age could delay their motor abilities(p. 2). FMS are developed and maintained through PA regularly throughout a person’s development(2013, p.2). Studies have shown that if there is PA throughout many lessons per week, the person is more successful at maintaining FMS (2013, p. 12). Therefore, it is crucial for educators to incorporate some sort of movement into their lessons to ensure all students are developing their FMS. Speaking of FMS, be sure to stretch your knees while standing for such a long time!

Movement in the classroom is important in a variety of classroom types and settings, but it might be even more pertinent in schools and classrooms serving a low socioeconomic, SES, population. According to Mitchell, McLennan, Latimer, Graham, Gilmore, and Rush (2011)children from low SES homes perform at a lower decile in FMS (e232). Additionally low SES children perform lower those children with from a higher SES background in locomotors skills (2011, e233).If a school places mandatory interventions PA, there is improvement in motor abilities (2011, e233). Therefore, it is critical for all to be moving in the classroom, but teachers need to be be aware of the students they are serving to ensure they are meeting all of their PA needs and  address their learning needs. PA in the classroom can be used to better serve a variety of learning styles.


Improved Learning Outcomes       

Another measure of multiple intelligence and learning styles in the classroom is having individuals complete a learning styles inventory. Woesete and Baham over a four year study of learning styles of the students in their classroom “have been approximately 15 percent auditory, 40 percent visual, and 45 percent kinesthetic,” (2007, 63). The majority of people in their classrooms considered themselves kinesthetic learners, learners who learn better with physical activity. By implementing new tactics based on their findings with two lab students, one who identified as a kinesthetic learner and the other who identified as a visual learner, by moving lab discussions to the lab which allowed the kinesthetic learner to have a hands on approach to the topics they were discussing which he self reported as, “this approach works so much better,” (2007, 64). Further, when the students needed to present their research, Woesete and Baham had them role play the questions before hand, incorporating kinesthetic learning to practice, and when the students presented their work the kinesthetic learner used a variety of movement and hand gestures which he had practiced which helped him with his presentation and put him more at ease in delivering his/her findings (2007, 65). “The focus has shifted from concentrating on the constructs of intelligence and processing of information to an increased interest in the students’ active responses to the learning task in the learning environment,” stated in the conclusion of Woesete and Bahams research (2007, 65). This research demonstrates when professors take the time to understand their students’ learning styles, the outcomes improve for both parties.

Turner, Narayan, Whicker, Bookman and McGann (2011) conducted another study, which used VARK to assess their residents, in Do pediatric residents prefer interactive learning? Educational challenges in the duty hours era to better understand their learning preferences to best use their prolonged hours in order to optimize their time (p. 494). Kinesthetic learning and interactive learning are by far the preferred learning styles among these pediatric residents which include “interactive learning, irrespective learning including simulation-based education, standardized patient interactions, interactive case-based discussions and hands-on patient encounters (2011, p. 494-495). This study concludes that if the curriculum is modified to best fit the needs of its learners, trainee education will be improved a new educational paradigm will be created (2011, p. 495). It appears, medical students overall learn better with hands on methods. It seems that they will better serve their patients if they are taught through hands on learning and will have a better conceptualization of the processes they are executing when they have the opportunity to actually do the process.

We know that people possess multiple intelligences–different ways of learning and processing information. Teachers need to understand the learning styles and the multiple intelligences of the learners in their classrooms. Particularly at the undergraduate college level,  students enter the classroom at different levels and competencies.  To reach all students, the professor must be able to communicate with students, who possess a variety of different types of intelligence (Woeste and Barham, 2007, p. 63). With general education classrooms housing more and more types of neurodiversity and greater numbers of special education students attending higher education, teachers must teach to the variety of learning styles in the classroom.  But this is not just a special education issue. “[Children and adults learn best when taught through their strongest learning modality or combination of modalities,” (Cummings, 2016,  p. 307). The best educate a person it is ideal to teach in their primary learning style and follow up with their secondary preferred learning style (2016, 307). Kinesthetic learning is one of the common multiple intelligences teachers should use to reach students. Often, however, kinesthetic learning is not added into the curriculum harming a large number of learners in the classroom that could otherwise flourish if their learning preferences were met.

Another self reported learning style assessment is the Learning Styles Profile created by the National Association of Secondary Principals that reports learning styles as auditory, visual, tactile/kinesthetic, analytical, and global learners. Rebecca Finley Snyder reports that despite GPA, 81% of high school students she survey considered themselves kinesthetic learners, “they learn best by actually doing things in class, not just by listening and watching. They need to be actively involved in constructing their own knowledge about the subject they are learning,” (18). She also found that male students particularly self-reported benefited from kinesthetic learning and working with others (18). These studies demonstrate that high school students prefer to have hands on learning as opposed to lecture style learning. If there was more kinesthetic learning options for them, they would likely be performing better and enjoying their classroom experiences more. For example, when introducing a new concept in a history class, you can use a gallery walk–students can walk around the room to explore and learn about a variety of material via posters with pictures and written information. This not only gets them out of their seats, they are physically engaging with the material.


Challenging Inequality

 Yet despite the clear physical and educational benefits of kinesthetic learning, most classrooms do not embrace movement as a way to learn. Unintentionally or not, this leads to other problems than a less effective classroom. The focus on a mind distanced from its body actually can perpetuate unfair structures of racial and gendered inequality.  Hui Niu Wilcox notes that in western thinking, white males  are the only people noted purely for their brilliant “objective minds.”Women and other minorities are thought not capable of understanding science on the same scale because they are too closely tied to their bodies (106). Only the white male is able to move in the classroom unmarked by his body. Because of this privilege, only the white male is seen as the ideal subject for non-embodied learning. His Cartesian duality makes him the only subject who can leave his body at the classroom door and flourish in a system that dismisses embodied forms of knowing.

Wilcox (2009) asserts, “the key to dismantling such a system is to develop alternative models of knowledge production that challenge the interconnected dualism and hierarchies (mind/body, male/female, white/other), and that recognize the body’s capacity to know. The body is not just another thing or object to be controlled and studied. It is in and through our bodies that we experience the world and develop consciousness (106).” White male privilege is reinforced in the classroom by having students sit and listen as the primary means to absorb  information. This system needs to be transformed into bodily movement to change the balance of power (106). Educators need to explicitly use embodied pedagogies in their classroom; embodied pedagogies can be dance music and theater performance (106). These activities will help women and other minorities who have felt oppressed in the classroom become a more powerful force, not only in the classroom but in other environments where they feel marginalized (107). Further, Wilcox contends that “a learning space that acknowledges students as bodily beings can become dynamic, invigorating, joyful, and even healing,” (116).

Movement in the classroom is not only important to ensure that a variety of learning styles are being reached, but it allows for classroom dynamics to be shifted in a way that allows other, previously educationally oppressed groups, to be valued and celebrated in the classrooms. To incorporate bodily movement in the classroom, it is not so much that educators are comfortable with movement themselves, as it should be shift in mindset for all, but more important educators are exposed and taught how to make a moving classroom beneficial for all.


Our Solutions      

Implementing kinesthetic learning in the classroom can be daunting. It is scary to attempt unfamiliar teaching methods–especially when teachers and professors are given very little instruction in how to use kinesthetic learning. Most educators don’t have a model for this style of instruction particularly if they were not taught how to use movement in their own classrooms while in undergrad coursework. Yet, we believe it is important to try and there are a variety of ways to incorporate MI and PA into the classroom.Getting students moving in the classroom is vital to their learning and helps combat potential medical issues while at the same time increases their learning retention. With such a variety of learning styles and diversity in the classroom it is important to adapt to the vast learners. With such a high number of self-identified kinesthetic learners is appropriate and needed to incorporate movement and activity into the classroom. The following are some strategies to improve any lesson–whether math or English, middle school or college–by including movement in the classroom.

Stretching Breaks

The most basic way to add movement to a classroom is to add a stretching break midway through class. Even a brief stretching break can expose students to more physical activity, stretching is a worthwhile use of class time. In fact, experts recommend that for every half an hour of sitting, we should stretch for two minutes (Reddy). Even this brief break is believed to lower the chance of chronic diseases caused by excessive sitting (Reddy). Thus a five minute stretch break in an hour-long class is a healthy choice. Experience has also shown that students can only focus for so long, and a stretching break can help refocus attention. A skeptical teacher might dismiss this as a waste of time, but the time used to stretch can be made up if students are made awake and alert by the break. The added blood flow can make students quicker and more eager to answer questions. This is especially true in long college classes.

Stand up / Sit Down

“Stand up / sit down” is one of the easiest ways to use movement to enhance learning. Like the middle school teachers we observed, a teacher using “stand up / sit down” simply asks students a multiple choice question and instruct students to stand for the answer they like. After the students see which of their colleagues agree and disagree with their opinions, the teacher gives the students a set amount of time to discuss the issue with one person near them. The teacher then has students regroup and repeats the exercise to improve accuracy. As mentioned before, this exercise is effective because it cuts to the heart of Paulo Freire’s strategy of turning students as co-teachers. By making each student’s opinion embodied, students can learn from each other. They learn what their classmates believe and why they believe. Besides this Freirian engagement, “stand up / sit down” can be used in any type of classroom. The activity is just as applicable in a college calculus class (“Stand up if you think the function is continuous; stay seated if you think it is not”) as it is in a high school literature class (“Stand up if you think Gatsby really loved Daisy; sit down if you don’t”). While some educators might think the multiple choice format stifles critical thinking, we disagree. We think that the fact that students get to debate and interact with each other directly–without the usual mediation of the teacher, actually encourages critical thinking. The teacher’s biases are not engaged in the discussion and every student gets a chance to learn from his / her colleagues.
Again some educators might be nervous to implement this strategy because they are afraid that they will lose the class’s focus. This is a valid concern, but careful planning will prevent or greatly minimize the risk of a class getting out of hand. If teachers employ the snapping or stomping strategy used in the example at the beginning of this chapter, they can more easily regain the class’s attention. The key is for the teacher to discuss the activity with the class–clearly stating that students will have a given amount of time to discuss the question, after which the teacher will snap or stomp. Using a timer or a stopwatch will make it easier for the teacher to maintain order. As the students discuss, the teacher pays attention to the timer, waiting to snap or stomp when time expires.

Four Corners

Four corners” works like “stand up / sit down.” The teacher asks students a multiple choice question and instructs students to answer by moving to specific corners of the classroom corresponding to specific answers. One way to effectively use this strategy is to group the students using notecards. For example a middle school biology teacher could teach animal classification by passing out cards to each student containing the name of one of four animals: horse, turtle, tuna, and sparrow. Each corner could be labeled “mammal,” “reptile,” “fish,” or “bird.” The teacher would then tell the students to move to the corner that matches their animal. If everyone is in the right place all the cards will match. Like “stand up / sit down” this could be used in any class. College English classes could match lines of poems to the proper meter (“if you have an iambic poem go to the iambic corner”). Middle school math classes could match angle degrees to terms like “acute,” “obtuse,” or “right.” “Four corners” also can be used in any classroom, regardless of technological options. The key is that once all the students are in the proper corner, all their cards match up.

Music and Movement

Music and movement can be combined with literacy to create a dynamic classroom. Sara Winstead Fry and Georgia Newlin  (2010) present their ideas in Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and History by explaining how to use music and movement in history lessons to bring children’s understanding of their historic readings come to life (p. 12). In a game called freeze/shapeshift/360 Fry and Newlin begin with playing time/culturally appropriate music to set the tone while children are reading, then the teacher yells out a scene from the reading they should begin to mimic, when the teacher calls “Shapeshift” he/she will announce another scene the students should act out or the teacher can say “360” and students can spin themselves to see what others look like (2010, p. 12). For example, if students were reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis the teacher could be playing Cuban music from the 1960’s to set the time and place in students mind. Once students have commenced reading, the teacher could announce that students are to act as though they are part of the military blockade preventing any missiles from going into Cuba. After a minute or so the teacher could announce 360, in which children can rotate their feet in a circle without changing their position, so others could see what their classmates were posed as. Next, the teacher would announce “Shapeshift! You are in a negotiation meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union” then the students would immediately begin shifting themselves to fit the scenario. Another similar activity of kinesthetic learning is called tableau (2010, p. 12). This activity is very similar, but students work in small groups to create the image they are acting out. Before the activity students should talk about specifics, but during the activity the image the student create should be silent with a focus on facial expressions, physical body expressions, and a clear direction of where the audience is expected to look (2010, p. 12). These activities are effective because they encourage multiple learning styles and multiple intelligence styles to be successful in the classroom.  They also work to reduce the amount of sedentary time, which can have health benefits over extended periods of time. Hey reader, Shapeshift! Are you getting any strange looks from other patrons of the coffee shop or your roommates?


Kinesthetic learning is a very effective way to teach a difficult subject like poetic meter. . Virginia Zimmerman (2002) describes her lesson plans for teaching poetry to college students.  She starts by collaborating with her students to create a movement for stressed and unstressed syllables This could be steps and hops for unstressed syllables or kicks and punches for stressed ones–students can decide. The students then read the poem out loud matching the movements they devised to the syllables in the poem.

As students become more comfortable, the teacher can add more restrictions, team activities, competitions/races to challenge the class further. For example, a class could move to the quad or gymnasium and play capture the flag using the poetic movements the students devised–one side could only hop in iambs, the other could only skip in trochees. While a game like capture the flag might appear purely silly and not intellectually rigorous, we believe it is actually a very effective pedagogical tool. When students dodge and juke they will inevitably break the metrical pattern. The teacher should call attention to these moments of chaos, pointing out (in a good natured way) the students who cheated the metrical form. This leads to a discussion of how metrical poetry will break the form at points of emotional intensity. Having cheated the pattern themselves, students are then more aware of when poets do it, and will be able to author powerful close readings based on insights gained from metrical chaos in an otherwise orderly poem. Even further, the assignment can be to create a dance that shows the meter while also showing the mood of the entire poem; this is more challenging, but also allows students to rise to the challenge of demonstrating their deep understanding of a poem . Kinesthetic activity allows people to get out of their seats and move, but it is also a very clear visual for the instructor to see their understanding of meter. The immediate feedback can benefit both student and teacher to ensure everyone is doing their best learning.

Human Timeline

Interactive kinesthetic learning does not always require getting out of the classroom to go to a park or intricate planning by the instructor; it can be a simple activity like having students create a human timeline. History teachers can give notecards to students describing historical events and , “ask the students to line up so that their cards are in chronological order, with the earliest events at the left and the latest at the right,” (Wolfe, 2009, 33). This lesson can be adapted by having students space themselves according to how much time is between each events, having extras as chronological order placers, not allow speaking, or making them dance through the timeline (2009, 35). This type of activity can be translated in many different forms. It can be used in a literature class to depict changing literary periods in art class to visualize different artistic periods, or even in a biology or chemistry class, in which the cards could describe stages of a reaction This activity gets people out of their seats without feeling intimidated. This is a low level interaction that allows a large population to participate without the intimidation or fear of doing it wrong. Timelines can be used as an icebreaker to get a group of people moving and getting to know each other. For example, a teacher can have students line up according to their birthdays. To make it more challenging, have them line up silently.

Working with Students with Physical Limitations

Obviously more demanding physical activities like capture the flag or meter tag are not for all students. Some students have conditions that make engaging in complicated movement difficult or impossible. Recognizing the physical limitations of their students some teachers could be tempted to abandon kinesthetic learning entirely. At the same time, exercise is for everybody, at whatever level of ability. Everyone needs movement and far too often those with physical disabilities are deprived of situations where appropriate movement is enjoyable and beneficial.Of course teachers should never force students to do something the students can’t do or find excessively uncomfortable. But because some students have physical limitations it doesn’t mean teachers have to throw out all attempts at embodied learning. If students have conditions that prevent them from running to play meter tag, teachers can focus on simpler forms of embodied learning–like the idea of pairing new vocabulary terms with hand gestures. If students have a hard time stomping their feet as a sign to return focus to the teacher, teachers can employ a clapping or a finger snapping sign. Because students with disability typically lead less active lifestyles, it’s even more important that educators structure PA into the classroom. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department recommends a series of stretching motions through a variety of videos that target specific muscle groups. Educators can pick appropriate exercises from these videos for their students. Even though these exercises are created with disabled people in mind, they benefit everyone in class. Still teachers should always calibrate their lessons to their students, and this can include replacing too difficult physical activities with less difficult ones.

Apprehensive Learners

Just as educators can be apprehensive adding movement to their classes so too might some students might feel apprehensive or embarrassed to move in class. This is understandable. For decades our educational system has taught students to ignore their bodies while learning. Bodies are unfairly stigmatized. Naturally, students who have spent their lives in the American educational system will balk when their teachers encourage them to learn using their whole bodies. But apprehension is no reason to abandon the project. It will be scary to try kinesthetic learning at first. To solve this problem a teacher must clearly explain that the class will try something new, but the teacher believes movement will help the students. If the project doesn’t work with the particular group of students, a teacher can abandon it. The important point is to get the students to try it. If students try playing “stand up / sit down” and strenuously object, a teacher can discontinue it. But teachers should try new strategies–especially strategies that have the benefits that kinesthetic learning does–and should not be afraid to gently force students out of their comfort zones.

The Teacher’s Comfort

It might not only be the students who are apprehensive to try a new activity. Teachers themselves might be nervous to experiment with a new method with a class. Yet teachers can also overcome their apprehension. All it takes is careful planning. If teachers are nervous about the timing of a lesson or about how to present the instructions to the students, they can role play with colleagues or discuss their ideas on an internet forum like HASTAC. By reaching out to other educators, teachers can build their confidence and work out kinks in lesson plans ahead of time so that when it’s time to introduce kinesthetic lessons to the students, the lessons will run more smoothly. As long as teachers have spent ample time preparing the lessons, movement based activities will likely run smoothly. Some teachers might object to the extra time it takes to prepare new lessons. However, we argue that the benefits to the students are worth it. And a well planned lesson requires less work in class. If a teacher has timed out how long an activity should take, the teacher need not focus on those issues in class and can be more present for the students. If teachers are still nervous about trying a new strategy like embodied learning, we recommend using exit tickets in class. At the end of class, teachers can pass out note cards for students on which students can offer feedback. This strategy will help teachers improve their movement based lessons and boost confidence.


Learning and physical engagement work together. As we’ve shown, most people say that they learn best by moving. Adding movement into a lesson plan doesn’t have to be a burden. It can be as simple as having students stretch in class and asking them to stand up more. But this basic movement redistributes the teaching load in class. Able to learn from each other’s bodies–how students stand or move their arms to express answers–all students take up the task of teaching and reinforcing concepts. It makes learning easier and more fun. And as you’ve learned by standing and reading–you can engage your body and mind at the same time. Snap once if you are convinced it is worth trying kinesthetic learning in your classroom, twice if you aren’t.





Cummings Persellin, Diane. “Responses to Rhythm Patterns When Presented to Children through Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Modalities”. The National Association for Music Education, 40. 4 (1992) : 306-315. Web. 10 March 2016.


Griggs, LeeAnne, Sally Barney, Janet Brown Sederberg,  Elizabeth Collins, Susan Keith, Lisa Iannacci. “Varying Pedagogy to Address Students Multiple Intelligences.” Human Agriculture:  Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge, VII, (Winter 2009) : 55-60. . Web. 10 March 2016.


Mitchell, Brooke, Stephanie McLennan, Kasha Latimer, David Graham, Janine Gilmore, & Elaine Rush. “Improvement of Fundamental Movement Skills Through Support and Mentorship of Classroom Teachers”. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, (Nov. 2011) e230-e234. . Web. 10 March 2016.


Morgan, Philip, PhD, Lisa Barnett, PhD, Dylan Cliff, PhD, Anthony Okely, PhD,Kristen  Cohen, David Lubans, PhD. “Fundamental Movement Skill Interventions in Youth:  A systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Pediatric. 132. 5 ,(Nov. 2013). 1-20. . Web. 10 March 2016.


Sumathi Reddy. “The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much,” The Wall Street Journal 28 Sept. 2015. . Web. 10 March 2016.


Turner, David, Aditee Narayan, Shari Whicker, Jack Bookman, & Kathleen McGann,  “Do Pediatric Residents Prefer Interactive Learning? Educational Challenges in the Duty Hours Era”. Medical Teacher, (2011): 494-496. . Web. 10 March 2016.


Webster, C.A., L. Russ, S. Vazou, T.L. Goh, and H. Erwin . “Integrating Movement in Academic Classrooms:  Understanding, Applying and Advancing the Knowledge Base”.  World Obesity, Aug (2015): 691-701. Web. 10 March 2016.


Winstead, Fry, Sara and Newlin, Georgia. “Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and Hisotry”. Kodaly Envoy, (2010): 12-14. Web. 10 March 2016.


Wolfe, Lisa. “Human Timeline:  A Spatial-Kinesthetic Exercise in Biblical History”. Teaching Theology and Religion, 12.4 (2009, Oct.): 366-370. Web. 10 March 2016.


Woeste, Lori and Beverly Barham. “Undergraduate Student Researchers, Preferred Learnign Styles, and Basic Science Research:  A Winning Combination”. The Clearning House, 81.2, (2007, Nov-Dec): 63-66. Web. 10 March 2016.
Zimmerman, Virgina. “Moving Poems:  Kinesthetic Learning in the Literature Classroom,” Pedagogy, 2.2 (2002) 409-412. Web. 10 March 2016.


Back to Structuring Equality

One comment

  • I think the citation for the material by Hui Wilcox is missing from the bibliography.
    That article is:
    Wilcox, H. N. “Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice: Inclusive Science and Beyond.” NWSA Journal, vol. 21 no. 2, 2009, pp. 104-120.

Leave a Reply to Sarah Pradt Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *