Incorporating more movement into classroom activities can be good for students’ cognitive development, behavior, and health (McCaughey, 2018). However, it can seem challenging to incorporate activities that get our students moving in some settings. For many teachers, class lessons and activities are defined in part by the layout and organization of the classroom space. If a classroom is small, the teacher and students might feel forced to squeeze into the room with little room to move around. If a room is large but the desks cannot move, the teacher and students might feel stuck with always having the teacher at the front of the room and the students facing the teacher. However, teachers and students can still alter and adjust the classroom arrangements in small ways to better fit the needs of an activity, the learners, or the teacher. Using the space more effectively and getting students to move within that space can help improve collaboration, motivation, and attention in the language classroom.
In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we build on issue 56.1 of English Teaching Forum and a related Facebook Live event on the American English for Educators page to explore activities that get students moving in the classroom. In Week 1, teachers return to a tried-and-true Total Physical Response activity to get students moving and interacting freely in the available space. Week 2 explains an activity using the Four Corners technique to get students out of their seats and to change their perspective as they collaborate and present information. A vocabulary race is the focus of Week 3’s activity. Finally, Week 4 introduces a series of alternative classroom set-ups that lend themselves well to group work and discussions while also getting students out of their regular seats.
For additional information about movement in the classroom, check out a few of the many resources available on the American English website:
Total Physical Response (TPR) is an classic language teaching methodology that emphasizes language learning by having students respond physically to language cues. TPR is effective for reinforcing and practicing active language and vocabulary. Common games used in language classrooms such as Simon Says and Charades are often versions or modifications of TPR. In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, learners get a chance to practice vocabulary by acting out words in this fun game.
Beginning and above
During this activity, students will be able to:
- Teach classmates vocabulary with the Total Physical Response (TPR) method
- Recognize vocabulary words and define them through acting out the word’s action
- Pieces of paper with the lesson’s vocabulary words listed (see Appendix A)
- Copy and cut out the cards in Appendix A. Make enough copies for each group of 3 students to have their own set. (The vocabulary used here is for sports. If using a different set of vocabulary, model the handout on Appendix A.)
- Divide students into groups of 3 and post the names of each group on the board to facilitate quickly moving into the activity.
- Begin class by telling students: “Today we are going to review some of our new vocabulary words related to sports. We will work in groups of 3 to play a game that helps us to practice the vocabulary.”
- Warm up by asking students to name some of the vocabulary they have recently learned related to playing sports.
- Give students time to think and share some of the vocabulary words. If students seem stuck, offer a couple of examples.
- Do not spend time defining as this is a review game and students will have plenty of time to define.
- Bring the students’ attention to the groups listed on the board and have students assemble with their groups in different parts of room.
- Students will stand for this activity so have them move furniture if necessary.
- Point out a location in the room for each group to gather.
- Ask for the students’ attention and explain the rules of the game.
- Each group will receive a stack of vocabulary cards.
- One student will take the first card from the pack and say the vocabulary word.
- The two other students will “race” to respond with the correct action first.
- Model this with a word for all students such as “run.”
- Tell students to quickly show the action of the word “run.”
- Explain that the first student to correctly act out the vocabulary word will earn a point.
- The winner of the point will pick the next card and say the word for the two other group members to act out.
- When all of the words have been used, the group member with the most points wins the game.
- Call on a few students to repeat the rules of the game so that everyone is clear on how to proceed. The rules can also be written on the board for added support.
- Tell students it is time to begin the game. Give each group their own set of vocabulary cards. Tell students to wait until the teacher says “Go” to start the game.
- Remind them that each group must keep score in order to declare a winner.
Students could make the vocabulary word cards. First put the students into their groups and ask each person to write 5 vocabulary words on note cards. Each card has a single word. Students then shuffle the cards and play the game as outlined above.
The activity could be extended to finish with the whole class. Each group’s winner participates in a challenge with the other groups’ winners. The winners stand in front of the class, and the other students sit down. Have an extra set of vocabulary cards and give one card to every seated student. Each seated student takes a turn reading out the card they have (loudly enough for everyone to hear). The winners race each other to act out the words. The teacher watches which student acts out each word correctly and keeps score.
Four Corners is a common classroom technique to get students out of their seats while giving them a lot of information in one class. In this activity, student groups work on a particular topic or activity in each corner of the classroom. Four Corners can be adapted easily to fit a variety of teaching and learning needs.
This week’s Teacher’s Corner offers a lesson that uses Four Corners to promote collaboration and encourage movement to keep class lively and active. In groups, students will be assigned a grammar point and work together to prepare an activity to teach the grammar point to each other.
Beginning and above
During this activity, students will be able to:
- Teach classmates a grammar point they have been working on in class
- Collaborate with classmates to develop a way to teach the assigned grammar point
- Large pieces of paper for each group
- Divide the class into four groups.
- If the class is large, this activity can be done in any number of groups. One option is to have eight groups; four groups work with each other and the other four groups work together. In this scenario, you only need four grammar points.
- Alternatively, eight groups could be assigned and all groups interact with each other. For this scenario, you would need to prepare eight different grammar points.
- Choose the grammar points you would like learners to focus on, based on what you have done in class.
- For example, grammar points could include the formation of Wh- questions, auxiliary verbs, third-person singular, plural nouns, etc. In short, choose anything that is level appropriate for your students and has already been taught in class.
- On each big piece of paper, write one of the grammar points at the top. Each piece should have a different point.
- Hang the paper in the corners of the room or the areas where groups will be sitting.
- Start class by telling students that today they will work in groups to create a review activity for a grammar point they have been studying.
- Explain that to do this each group will be assigned a corner of the room and a grammar point.
- Using the big piece of paper hanging in their corner, students will write the answers to the following questions (listed on the board) on their grammar point:
- How is this grammar structure formed? What are the rules for the form?
- When is it used?
- Give an example of the grammar structure as it is used in a sentence.
- Put the students into their assigned groups and send them to their corners to respond to the questions. Tell students that they have 5-7 minutes to write their answers.
- Circulate around the room as students work in their corners and answer any questions they might have.
- Bring the students’ attention back to you to explain the next steps.
- Tell students they will have 10 minutes to come up with a way to teach this grammar point to other groups. They can be as creative as they wish, but the game or activity will need to be completed in 5 minutes. Here are some possibilities:
- Students could simply go through the information they have written on their pieces of paper and then ask each group that they teach to come up with their own examples.
- Students could also invent a game that would help classmates practice the grammar point.
- Give students time to work on the activity in their groups, and circulate around the room answering questions and checking in on students.
- Once students have completed their activity plan, bring their attention back together as a group to explain the next steps.
- First, give each student in each group a number from one to four.
- Tell students all groups will rotate clockwise around the room to practice a new grammar point. For the first rotation, students assigned the number one will stay in their spots to teach the grammar point and present the activity to the other group that moves to their corner.
- The papers hanging in the corners or group areas help to remind the students who are rotating which grammar point they will be learning about.
- Remind students that they only have 5 minutes at each paper. When the time is up, the teacher can clap hands to signal the end of the round.
- Students will then have 1 minute to reorganize so that a new presenter takes over the task and the groups can rotate to the next corner.
- For the second rotation, the students assigned the number two will return to their original corners to present their activity, and the other groups will rotate once again. Continue this process for each subsequent rotation.
- The activity is complete when all groups have visited each corner.
- Wrap up the activity with a class discussion on examples each student came up with at each corner.
- If short on time, this could be done in the form of exit tickets with each student writing an example for each grammar point on a piece of paper and submitting it before leaving class.
This activity can be adapted to fit any time constraints the class might have. Instead of having each group prepare and present an activity, they could work to answer the questions listed on the board. After each group answers the questions, the rotation could start. Each group rotates together to the next corner to read about the grammar point and add their own example to the paper. After 2-3 minutes, the groups rotate again moving to the next corner. This adaptation can also be used so that all groups stay together and a student presenting doesn’t miss out on information offered at one corner.
Making traditional classroom tasks and activities into games can be a fun way to get students moving and practicing language and to nudge them out of their routines. Many of the tasks and activities teachers already use for class need only to be adapted slightly for the lesson to be more active and make a lasting impression on students.
In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, we will learn about a vocabulary activity turned into a race. During each round, students will step up to answer a question while their team members help with finding the correct answer. The first team to come up with the correct answer earns a point. The competitive nature of this race encourages students to work together quickly to find answers, and the excitement of the movement around the classroom motivates students to participate. It’s a fun and easy activity to use for teaching new material or reviewing previous material.
Beginning and above
During this activity, students will be able to:
- Identify target vocabulary words by definitions
- Cooperate with classmates to find correct answers
- List of vocabulary words and matching definitions
- Enough chalk or markers for students to write on the board
- Divide students into groups of six
- Tell students that in this activity they are going to work in teams to identify vocabulary words. The activity is a game where students will race against other teams to answer questions and score points. Every team member will participate in identifying new words while teammates offer help to earn points.
- Place students into their groups, and warm up the teams with some practice.
- Direct the teams to separate parts of the room so that each team has some space.
- Explain that they will practice within their teams before starting the game.
- Tell students that they will hear a definition of a word, and as a group they must identify the matching vocabulary word. Students can work with team members to discuss the definition to choose the correct word as a team.
- For example, the teacher gives the definition: “A person who takes orders in a restaurant while you are seated at a table.” Students will then work together to come up with the word server.
- The groups have 30-60 seconds to come up with the answer.
- Practice this process a few times with several different vocabulary words.
- Gather the students’ attention, and review the rules of the game.
- Tell students that each team will stand in a group and will choose one teammate to be ready to run to the board.
- The teacher will give a definition, and the teammate who has been selected must work with the group to identify the correct word and then race to the board to write the answer correctly.
- The first team to identify the word and correctly write it on the board will earn a point.
- Only the teammate chosen to go to the board for the round can write on the board. The other teammates must remain with the group but can talk to and shout out help to their teammate at the board.
- The next round is conducted in the same way, but a new teammate is chosen to go to the board. Each teammate must have a turn before a student can have a second turn to run up to the board.
- The game ends either when the teacher runs out of words or when a team reaches a certain number of points and wins.
There are a number of ways to adapt this activity to meet your classroom’s needs. First, this activity can be used for students to practice or review grammar or even sentences. Second, you can choose how big or small the teams should be to fit the space of your classroom.
One variation is to conduct the game between two teams at lightning speed with a five-minute time limit. Each team lines up and the person first in line goes first. The teacher says the definition, and the first student on each team must race to the board to write the word. Once one student writes the word correctly, the teacher says “switch,” and the students race to the back of the lines. The next students at the front of the lines listen for the next definition and race to write the word on the board. The team members can shout out help to their teammate at the board. Continue to do this for five minutes, or until everyone has had a chance to write on the board. Keep score, and the team with the most points wins.
The way classrooms are built and the way they are used can affect how students learn and participate in a class. The traditional classroom layout has students sitting at desks or tables and facing the front of the room, where the teacher stands. Students’ eyes are directed toward the teacher, and the teacher is the focus of the classroom. This set-up makes it difficult for students learning language to interact and practice language with classmates. In other words, this classroom design leads to teacher-centered learning and little movement or activity on the part of the students. Changing the layout of a classroom can give students more freedom to move and talk, and their learning becomes student-centered and independent.
Since this month’s Teacher’s Corner is focused on movement, this week offers some ways to reorganize your classroom to encourage movement and active and interactive learning. These suggestions are intended to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of different classrooms. Try a few and see how they contribute to your students’ learning.
Suggested Classroom Designs
Groups of Four
This set-up is ideal for encouraging small group work. Desks or tables are moved together so that four students sit in a square, facing each other. If students sit and work together in the same group over several class periods or for an entire term, they can build a sense of cohesion and unity with each other. This design is great for group work because students face each other and can work closely as a single unit or individually, if necessary. Additionally, the focus shifts to the students’ work and their groupmates instead of the teacher. The teacher now can move around the room and facilitate learning. If your classroom has tables and chairs that cannot move easily, try this set-up with students sitting in small groups on the floor. While sitting on the floor would not work for every day, your class can try it occasionally to get students out of their usual and fixed seats.
Seating students in small circles, or in one large circle for the whole class, offers a good way to conduct larger discussions. In the circle set-up, each student can see every other student. In addition, students are all placed equally, with no one person getting all the attention, because there is no front or back of a circle. Teachers can also put themselves on equal level to their students by sitting in the circle. Even though students will likely look at the teacher more than any other person in the circle, the circle set-up gives students and teachers a more natural way to include everyone in a discussion.
Wall and Board Work
Position students for group or individual work by having them stand at the board and around the room. Getting out of their seats can help students change their perspective, and by writing on the board or on large pieces of paper taped to a wall, they can step back and see their work in a new light. When out of their seats and standing, students can also look around the room to see what their classmates are working on during a task. Being able to see the work of their classmates while developing their own ideas can inspire and push students in new ways.
Choosing a New Space
It is important to give students some choices with low stakes (or, that allow for student choice but don’t change the direction of your teaching or curriculum path). For pair or individual work, give students the option to work where and how they choose within the classroom. Encourage them to use the space that is available and to move into new spaces as a way to break up the routine. Although this offer might seem small, it gives students a voice in their learning and in how they do their learning. Teachers can also watch how students work in an environment that best suits their learning styles and needs.
Walkabouts and mingles get students to interact while moving around the room. In addition to getting up and moving, students can talk in small groups or pairs and move on to the next discussion or interaction at their own pace. This small bit of freedom allows teachers to see how students function in different group sizes. It can also help you to identify which students may need a little more support in interacting and which students can be expected to lead and participate independently. During walkabouts and mingles, teachers will notice that students are often more willing to talk without the pressure of the formal classroom seating arrangement.