New Teacher Advocate — Kappa Delta Pi New Teacher Advocate Fall 2017
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Movement In The Classroom: It’s Good For The Brain
Mercedes Tichenor


The importance of physical activity for school children has been well documented. In his book Teaching With the Brain in Mind, Jensen (2005) stated that movement can offer many benefits to children, including strengthened learning, improved memory, and increased motivation and morale. Pellegrini (2011) found that movement breaks from cognitive tasks during the school day increase students’ attentiveness and facilitate learning. However, today we still see children sitting and listening to the teacher for hours at a time. Medina (2014), author of Brain Rules, contended, “If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom” (p. 5). Moreover, schools sometimes limit or eliminate recess and classroom movement in exchange for increased instructional time. These actions are counterproductive and not supported by research.

Researchers such as Medina (2014) and Ratey (2008) described exercise as the “miracle grow” for the brain. Movement in the classroom is not just fun for students; it’s good for the brain. Further, the stress reduction benefits of exercise and movement in the classroom are particularly beneficial to children who grow up in high-stress situations such as poverty and homelessness. Embrace movement and use these tips to enhance student learning.

Movement Outside the Classroom Movement during the school day is not a oneand- done model, but needs to be regular and ongoing, and can occur in and out of the classroom. During recess outside of the classroom, structure organized team games such as kickball, dodgeball, and Capture the Flag. These games not only encourage exercise and movement, but also support team-building and interpersonal skills. Plan individual group activities such as speed walking, rope jumping, hopscotch, and games like foursquare for students who prefer nonteam activities.

Movement Inside the Classroom

Movement breaks are short activities that can be academic or nonacademic in nature and can take place inside the classroom before, during, or after lessons. For example, to incorporate academics with movement, toss a beach ball around the room and have students answer questions each time they catch the ball. Write numbers on the beach ball for students to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Younger children can jump or clap the number. Consider including story elements from a narrative piece or details from an informational text on the ball. Students respond to those questions or problems they touch with their thumbs, index fingers, or pinky fingers when they catch the ball.

For students who need to move during lessons and cannot make it to the movement break, give them squeeze balls or exercise bands to use at their desks. Exercise bands or bungee cords around the chair legs allow students to “bounce” their legs. A clothespin glued to the underside of the desk enables students to open and close the pin. Also consider using squeeze balls and sponges in this way. Students can rub the surfaces or squeeze the items, allowing movement with little noise.

Nonacademic movement breaks in the classroom may consist of dancing, silent speedball, freeze frame, and old-fashioned calisthenics. The New York Times offers a 7-minute workout that includes lunges, squats, jumping jacks, and pushups (see Resources). Modify this workout to meet the needs of individuals or groups of students.

Suggested Movement Breaks

It is natural for students to enter what neurologists call resting states multiple times a day. Movement breaks benefit and re-energize the brain to help students refocus. See below for a suggested movement break schedule based on grade level. Breaks can last for a few minutes or longer as needed. Regular brain breaks incorporated throughout the school day take only a few minutes. However, the results are long-lasting and well worth the effort.


Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Pellegrini, A. (2011). Recess: Its role in education and development. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Company.


• Brain Boogie Boosters

• GoNoodle

• Minds in Bloom

• The Happy Teacher

• The New York Times 7-Minute Workout NYT-7Minute

Drs. Tichenor, Piechura- Couture, and Heins are professors of education at Stetson University. They work together on various projects through the Hollis Institute for Educational Reform, which is directed by Dr. Heins. Their current projects include brainbased learning, singlegender pedagogy, and working with marginalized students in P–12 classrooms.