Neuroscientists describe something they call the “action-perception loop.” The bottom line to these studies is that movement is necessary for perception—even vision. Cited is the old (and cruel) study of the two almost identical kittens who spend their early months in a basket. One kitten is on a trolley that carries it around and around to get a 360° view of the environment. The second kitty is also on a trolley, but its basket has holes for its feet and it can move on the trolley loop as desired. When taken out of the baskets, the first kitten is blind for life, while the second is normal. This dramatically illustrates how essential movement is for perception to take place.
According to brain research, movement appears to be intricately connected to all forms of thinking and learning and children need to move in order to learn. Movement is a key element in the Sensory Alphabet.
Here are some of my favorite ways to make a lesson more “kinesthetic:”
- Instead of talking or writing to demonstrate understanding, ask students to act, dance, construct or create an active game. This is a great practice to do after reading a fiction or non-fiction selection across the curriculum, reading a written/story problem in math, etc.
- When playing board games, make the game giant-sized or have the children themselves be the pieces that move.
- “Be” the concept: act out, dance or simulate ideas such as an alphabet letter, the forms of matter, a glacier calving, the digestive system, the three branches of government, hyperbole, life cycle of a tree, immigration, etc. Do these in groups and individually.
- Play Charades or similar games with vocabulary words across the curriculum; e.g., division, exclamation point, sell, melt, etc.
- Construct a large-sized model; e.g., for a new species of fish, for a tetrahedron, for a stable bridge, for an eco-system, and so on.
- Have everyone respond to a binary question at the same time by holding up 1 or 2 fingers, frowning or smiling, standing or sitting, etc.
Here’s a word game I like from Patricia Cunningham, a reading expert that can be used with all ages: Making Words (Good Apple, 2001). First I’ll explain a purely visual version of the game and then show how Cunningham made it more kinesthetic and therefore more engaging to more learners:
Visual: Write a word on the board. Ask individuals or groups to write down as many other words they can make with all or some of the letters in the word.
More kinesthetic: Students work in pairs or groups. Each group is given (or makes) a bag of letters on small cards, which altogether spell out a word. The consonants are written in black and the vowels in red. There is a yellow line along the bottom of each card so letters are not turned upside down. The teacher gives hints as to a word she is thinking of; e.g., it has 5 letters, it has 2 vowels, it rhymes with “ate,” etc. The groups confer and arrange their letters to make the word. When they think they have it correctly arranged, they raise hands and the teacher comes to check. She doesn’t stop with the first group but travels to all and gives more hints to groups that are struggling. The group that put their hand up first is asked to write the word in its entirety on another card. After many rounds have been played with many words, the teacher ask the groups to think of ways to classify the words and send a volunteer to demonstrate, without saying what their systems is (singular and plural, parts of speech, start with “p” or not, etc. The other groups try to guess the classification system.
Play the game yourself. Older students can have much longer words.
Notice that the activity has become more like a game. The students are more active and engaged and, because they are in random groups, they can learn from one another.