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Kinesthetic Learning in the Classroom

Imagine: You’re attending a professional development event, excited to learn how to better engage your students, meet their needs, and improve your own teaching craft. The sessions begin; you’re learning applicable things. However, as the day moves on, your legs become restless, your lower back gets sore, and it’s hard to concentrate.

Sitting too long. We’re warned about a sedentary lifestyle for adults. But do we ever really consider how sedentary a student’s life is? I recently read that when students sit for three uninterrupted hours, their blood flow declines by 33 percent.[1] I was skeptical that students have that much time non-stop in the classroom until I saw one of my previous class schedules where my students had 3 hours in class without an ‘official’ break…sitting for the majority of that time. Ouch.

Our bodies – and our brains – need exercise. If we don’t get it, that’s detrimental to our health. According to the Mayo Clinic, those risks include obesity, heart disease, and even cancer.[2] David Sousa explains that the part of the brain that coordinates movement, the cerebellum, also “plays an important role in attention, long-term memory, spatial perception, impulse control, and the frontal lobe’s cognitive functioning – the same areas that are stimulated during learning.”[3] So, engaging students in kinesthetic learning (learning through movement), actually helps both teachers and students. When students move, it helps them think better, remember better, focus better, and control their behavior better.

The benefit of kinesthetic learning became real to me when I saw its impact on an active student who struggled with attention. One day, instead of having students work through math problems at their desks, I had them push their desks against the wall and sit on the carpet. Then, as I wrote a math problem on the board, they ran to their desks, worked the problem on it using a whiteboard marker, and ran back to the carpet. We didn’t cover an extensive set of problems, but each student was on-task and enjoyed the lesson – even my really active kiddo.

God has designed our bodies and brains to need movement, and we help students care for the bodies God gave them when we encourage movement and kinesthetic learning in the classroom. It supports an excellent learning environment and our students’ development into all that God intends. It helps us reach students who have difficulty paying attention or sitting still and makes learning fun.

What are ways to implement kinesthetic in the classroom? Here are a few:

Incorporate brain or stretch breaks.
Breaks can easily be incorporated throughout the school day and don’t need to take more than a couple of minutes. They are especially helpful when your students start to “phase out” mentally.

Simple breaks for elementary students are to have them stand behind their chair, hold onto the back of it (to prevent chaos), and pretend to move like an animal (e.g., run like a cheetah or gallop like a horse) or to give them freeze dance time.

Older students could do wall pushups or play 4 Corners, where they respond to a question by going to a corner that corresponds to an answer (e.g., What’s your favorite ice cream flavor – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or none of those?).

Breaks can certainly connect with the content you’re learning. For example, have students jump & squat while blending sounds[4] or reviewing math facts or elements in the periodic table. Here’s an example of 4 Corners for a music class.[5] There are LOTS of options for brain breaks![6]

Make a lesson activity active.
Lesson activities themselves are key times to use kinesthetic learning. Consider what you can do to make a lesson more engaging through movement. It takes a bit more thought and preparation, but it certainly pays off. Here are some ideas:

  • Stations or Centers – Have students rotate through different stations or centers where they learn, practice, or review lesson content at each. Learning stations are often seen in elementary classrooms but are beneficial for secondary classes, too. Examples of activities you could use include listening to a chapter selection in a textbook and drawing an illustration of it; using modeling clay or other materials to create models; sorting or classifying pictures; or playing a game.
  • Gallery Walks – Post pictures related to lesson content around the room. Have student groups move from picture to picture and discuss how the pictures relate to what they’re learning.
  • Dramas – Have students act out lesson content as a class or have groups act out a section of the content for the rest of the class. Dramas don’t have to be only for language or history classes – have students act out math problems or the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Games – Many students of all ages enjoy a bit of friendly competition. Games increase engagement and fun in a lesson and help encourage class bonding. Here is a link to some purposeful game ideas, particularly geared toward secondary English language arts classes, but adaptable for other subjects and ages. Here is a resource of ideas aimed more at younger learners.
  • Gestures – Teach students gestures for various vocabulary words related to lesson content. Have them make those gestures whenever you discuss those words during the lesson or in a review. Here is a video from Whole Brain Teaching about creating gestures.

Again, there are many possibilities to integrate movement into your class.[7], [8]

Take a lesson outside.
There’s something about fresh air and natural sunlight that is good for all of us. Take advantage of nice weather (even in winter) to take your class outside. Have students practice measuring items (leaves, sticks, sidewalk sections) they find outside. Have students walk around a track or field in groups while discussing the development of a character in the class novel you’re studying. Have them construct and test water- or balloon-powered cars for velocity and momentum.

As we seek to create an excellent, enjoyable learning environment where God does His transforming work, let’s not forget to help our students care for the bodies He gave them. Kinesthetic learning activities help us do that – and make for a fun learning environment in the process.

Esther Burnham
Esther works in TeachBeyond’s School Services department as Conference Coordinator. She has taught at the elementary level in the United States, Central America & Central Asia. She enjoys helping teachers develop their skills and confidence in teaching.

[1] Reeve, J. (2019, January 24). Are students sitting too long? The benefits of intermittent activity. Health World Education.

[2] Laskowski, E. R. (n.d.). What are the risks of sitting too much? Mayo Clinic.

[3] Sousa, D. A. (2011). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Corwin.

[8] For even more ideas, see

Photo Credits:
Happy Kids. Shutterstock. Resized.
Students Learning. Shutterstock. Resized.
Two Young Princes. Shutterstock. Resized.
Girls Using Microscope. Shutterstock. Resized.

28 Dec 22
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