3 Ways To Get Your Students To Move!

by Justin Birckbichler

May is Physical Fitness Month! In celebration, fourth grade teacher Justin Birckbichler breaks down the ways he gets his students to #MoveInMay!shutterstock_1006221532

Depending what time you walk by my room, you may see students dancing or hear the sweet melodies of Whip and Nae Nae. If my administrators (or classroom neighbors) are reading this, I promise you that we’re not goofing off or wasting time. These songs are part of a purposeful time that I have planned to help my students succeed.

As a teacher of fourth graders, sometimes my job description leans closer to a herder of cats than a molder of minds. While it’s easy to think that they are the big dogs of the school and should be able to sit and work for hours on end, they’re still barely in the double digits and need ample time to move their bodies. Rather than fighting it, I made a decision to embrace it a few years ago and incorporate movement breaks into my day.

It’s not just anecdotal evidence that supports this practice – there are a ton of research studies that support this need to move. EdWeek shared this article with research supporting the idea of bring movement back into the classroom, stating that “movement increases blood and oxygen flow, which positively affects cognitive development, physical health, and mental well-being” and “physical engagement helps children build the foundations of their social skills.” An article from Kid Sense explains how movements that cross the midline (the imaginary line down the center of your body) can help with both physical coordination and also improve attention to reading and detail.

From my own perspective, it’s definitely worth it. While I may be giving away around four minutes of instructional time for a song and dance number, I also realize that having my students not move for two hours during our language arts block would result in more than four minutes being wasted by the wiggles and inattentiveness.

Generally speaking, we do two movement breaks in the morning and two in the afternoon. I usually work them in between station rotations, so about every forty minutes. In total, all four breaks represent roughly fifteen minutes total, which is a worthwhile investment to me. Think about the amount of time you probably spend in a class period redirecting students from being off task. I bet it’s more than the time we spend dancing.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is to get buy-in from the students. If they’re not doing the movements, it’s definitely wasted time. I do this in three ways:

1. I do the dances with them.

If I’m asking them to dance, I better be doing it alongside them. It also gives me a quick break to move and get my blood moving. Furthermore, it’s always important to establish my dominance as the Lord of the Dance early on.

2. If a child chooses not to participate, I have a discussion with them about the supporting research. 

Treating them like an adult and letting them know why I’m asking them to dance when we’re supposed to be learning how to do long division definitely helps them feel respected. I’ve never encountered a repeat offender once they understand why we do what we do.

3. I let the students select which dances we do. 

While you can use a website such as GoNoodle to manage movement breaks, I prefer to curate my own list from YouTube, generally using Just Dance video game screen casts (check out this year’s list here). I always make sure I watch the video ahead of time and check for three things:

Are the lyrics appropriate and catchy?

Are the dance moves appropriate for fourth graders?

Is the dance easy enough, but also involving enough movement and midline crossing?

Once those videos have been chosen, I let students (especially the reluctant ones) choose which one we do at the next break. This helps them have some ownership and sense of belonging.

This is a simple thing to do, with very little setup involved. This is a huge step towards letting the students move their bodies and activate different parts of their brain that aren’t usually associated with school.

Give it a whirl and let me know if you’re ready to challenge my class to a dance off – I assure you we will not lose!


Justin Birckbichler

Justin Birckbichler Justin Birckbichler is an Instructional Technology Coach in Spotsylvania, VA and a Google for Education Certified Innovator. In his work, he is very passionate about forming strong relationships with students, purposeful technology integration, and thinking outside the box. Connect with him on Twitter at @MrBITRT and read his blog at blog.justinbirckbichler.com. Outside of the education world, he’s is a testicular cancer survivor and spreads awareness at www.aballsysenseoftumor.com.