We all know that it’s hard to concentrate on one thing for a long time. According to this article from last year, the average Brit has an average attention span of just fourteen minutes. But we still expect children to sit, sometimes for an hour, listening to instructions and then doing a test or a long piece of writing. Breaking up long lessons with physical activity has many benefits. These include enabling children to take a break and refocus, get some more oxygen into their brains and sometimes solve problems, after a break, that seemed impossible before. Also, they perceive it as fun! So, here are five ways to get children moving in a positive way to support learning.
1. Break it up
It’s not always appropriate to make a lot of noise in a classroom, so on those days when the lesson consists of a long, quiet piece of independent work, break it up by allowing the children to get up at some point, have a stretch, and quietly go round and look at each other’s work. Ask them to find some improvements or examples of other children meeting the learning objectives and show you. Before they start work again, ask a few of them to share what they found with everyone. This can really help some children’s motivation.
2. Warm up
Many people believe that activities that force the left and right sides of the brain to work together are beneficial to learning. They also involve moving about! You can invent plenty of your own, depending on your available space and the age of your class, but these links might be a start.
Basic crossing over movements - silly, but fun for younger children
Use these as a warm up or as a break in the middle of a lesson to refresh the brains!
3. Tune in
Music is a great way to enhance learning, because it is a mood lifter and offers variety in the way something is learned. Lots of children will enjoy the six times table much more if they are allowed to make up a song and dance about it – or how about using musical instruments for sound effects in different parts of the room when children are reading out their stories? If you know the songs the children already sing in school and have access to them, standing up and practising one or two of these, perhaps with actions, usually goes down well. If not, there are plenty of resources out there. If the school has a subscription to Singup, use it. But here is a favourite of mine that needs no subscription. It’s short, and children can learn it quickly with all the actions. Also fun and very active is conducting. Whether you know how to do it properly or not (if you do, teach them!), it is a fun way of getting them to listen to a piece and move vigorously!
4. Act it up
Want the children to remember something? I once wanted my year fives to learn some key facts about the moon. Instead of sitting still watching videos, or listening to me talk, they were given a drama task. We wrote a simple script that was a dialogue between ‘Caroline, the Cool Captain’ and ‘Anthony, the Afraid Astronaut’. They took it in turns to be each character, swapping partners each time and keeping moving. They acted out the script several times, experimenting with the voices and facial expressions. Anthony would ask silly questions about the moon and Caroline would reassure him with the correct facts. They were excited to be ‘doing drama’, but shortly afterwards they all got a good score in their science mini assessment!
5. Agree or disagree
Discussion is often part of many lessons, but sometimes it can be hard to motivate all children to take part. Try making your discussion more physical. You can use this for everything from maths problems to R.E. Put up two signs – ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ (you could expand to ‘slightly agree’, ‘strongly agree’ etc. if you like, but try to avoid a ‘don’t know’!). Ask the children to go and stand in the area representing their opinion. Ask individuals to explain why they are standing there and allow anyone to change places if they change their mind. Children can be asked to explain why they moved. They can also be challenged to try to convince someone else to move to their side.
Enjoy getting moving with your classes!