How to Incorporate Movement in the Online Classroom & Why it is Important

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Anyone who has worked with children knows that sitting still is not easy, and let's be honest, this is difficult for adults in addition to children! Instead of punishing wiggly students, we need to find productive ways to incorporate movement into every class, even the online ones. Physical activity will not only decrease behaviors in the classroom but will help your students stay focused, and have fun.

Brain Breaks

Young boy with long curly hair crosses arms as a dance move.
Dance Break Gets The Body Moving

Have you ever had a class where everything is going well and then out of nowhere your student loses focus and you are lucky if they can stay in view of the camera? This is a signal that the student is no longer engaged in the lesson. Instead of chastising the student, reprimanding them for their behavior and demanding they return to their seat, take their actions as a signal that they need a brain break and physical activity.

For younger students, you can fire off commands to grab their attention and get them moving. For example, "If you hear my voice touch your nose, touch your toes, wiggle your fingers, jump up and down 5 times..." If you have an older student you can ask them to select a favorite song and have a 60second dance party or challenge them to do a certain physical activity within a specific time frame. For example 25 jumping jacks in 20 seconds. If your student has spent the last few minutes of class running around the room see if they can find you an object in their environment that relates to the lesson material. "Can you show me something blue? Can you find something cube-shaped?". It is beautiful when you can incorporate movement and have it relate to class but when this isn't feasible do not fret. The important thing is that you give your student time to move their body, get the wiggles out, and return to class ready to learn.


Little blonde boy sits horizontally in a chair with his legs propped up on the arm chair.
Sitting Still is Hard

In recent years many teachers have begun to incorporate flexible or alternative seating in their brick and mortar classrooms. Even offices have recognized the advantages and have switched to standing desks so workers can stretch and move their legs. Unfortunately, in the online classroom, you do not have direct control over the type of seat your student has access too, however, you can make a suggestion to the parent if you believe the student could benefit from alternative seating. You can suggest that the child sits on an exercise ball or stands during class. This may be just the thing to keep their body in motion so their brain can focus on the lesson. Andrew Thurston writes in a Boston University publication that "Studies show that when schoolchildren are allowed to stand and move, memory, attention, mood, and academic achievement all improve." He goes on further to quote neuroscientist Justin Rhodes and says “Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain...More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.” (Click here to view his complete article). So, if a parent is hesitant to allow their student to stand or use an alternative seat during class, you can rely on the cold hard facts that movement helps increase brain function.

Group of 4 students and a teacher sit on exercise balls on the floor.
Alternative Seating Options for Children

TPR (Total Physical Response)

Student mimics hand gesture of his teacher. Five fingers are spread wide.
Incorporate Active TPR into Lessons

If you are an online English teacher you have probably heard of the term TPR or total physical response. There are two types of TPR. Instructional and educational and both are great ways to encourage students to move.

Instructional TPR is when you use movement and hand motions to communicate a process or how to do something. For example, you may use your fingers to count out the number of words in a sentence, clap out how many syllables are in a word, or raise and lower your hand to indicate when one's intonation should rise or fall. TPR gives your student a visual to focus on and an action to do as they repeat the sentence or word. By watching and repeating your movements they have a deeper understanding of what is expected and it is an easy way to get them moving. TPR allows you to turn a dull subject into an active one!

Educational TPR is when the teacher and student pair new words with gestures. For example, you can communicate the word ball by rounding your hands and pretending to hold or throw a ball. You can illustrate the verb "swim" or "run" by pretending to do these actions. Encourage your student to follow along and copy the motions. Pairing actions and new vocabulary is not only a great way to get your student moving but it also gives the student a deeper understanding of the word and will aid in their retention of the new vocabulary. Click here to read the full article on TPR and why you should use it in your language classes!


Simple games are another way you can actively review lesson material:

1) Vocabulary Charades:

Play charades using vocabulary words. Take turns acting out and guessing the terms.

2) Dice Game:

Create a 6-sided die and associate each number with a physical activity. If there is time, have the student choose each physical activity. This will increase their motivation and desire to do the activities later. When the student answers a question correctly roll the die and have the student complete the activity.

3) Act it Out:

Set the stage that every time a student answers a question they need to act it out in addition to orally stating it.

4) Hop it Out:

Set the stage that every time a student answers a question they need to hop as they say each word or sentence. They can also easily do another activity of choice (hop on one foot, balance on one foot, jumping jacks, clap their hands etc.). Record how many times or the length of time they are able to do the activity during class. At the end of the class, you can celebrate both their educational and physical success.

Every student you encounter in the classroom is different but in order to be an effective teacher, we need to work hard to engage our students, keep them interested and focused. Incorporating movement and brain breaks into the classroom are easy ways to make your classes more fun and help students stay focused. Whether it is taking a short break and doing something active or teaching the class material in an active way your students will thank you!

A group of smiling children link arms in a circle. Their faces peer down at the camera.

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