Red Card, Black Card, Move


The utilization of movement varies from grade level to grade level and from teacher to teacher. I was visiting with a teacher recently, and she mentioned how the use of “brain breaks” is different from elementary to middle school.  Middle school teachers were labeling time to get up and pass in papers or sharpen pencils as brain breaks.  Elementary school teachers were incorporating dance moves or stretching as brain breaks.  I think both, depending on how they are used, or the outcomes of the movements could be considered brain breaks.

I also often hear teachers request the use of movement to enhance content, or the use of movement in conjunction with content.  Many of the activities on this site are, or can be, used alongside the delivery of content.  I also hear from teachers the need for the use of movement in their classrooms to be simple and easy to implement.  This activity is both simple and easily adapted to any content.  A colleague of mine was explaining the activity in the following manner:

Each student is given either a red playing card or a black playing card. In the front of the room, one of the unit’s essential questions was written on a red piece of chart paper, and a second essential question was written on a black piece of chart paper.  Each student was also given a sticky note. When directed, students answered the essential question according to the playing card they received. Students then found a partner with the same playing card and discussed their answers (and made any modification) to the essential question they were assigned.  The sticky notes were then placed on the corresponding chart paper.

This is a simple activity that does not require a lot of thought. It can be modified in many ways. Students could pair up with someone with the opposite color of playing cards and have a conversation. Students could have a large group conversation after dividing themselves up into two large groups.  As the unit progresses, students could be asked to answer the other essential question and repeat the activity.  The same can happen at the end of the unit as a check to see if the essential questions were addressed throughout the unit.

Using movement in the classroom does not have to be flashy.  It can be simple and enhance the normal flow content delivery and classroom discussions; therefore, all teachers should be able to add more movement to their classes on a daily basis.


Catching Cooties to Discuss



This weekend I was sitting with my family at a restaurant as we were celebrating the Saturday basketball games.  My daughter started tearing pieces off the children’s menu. As we started to reprimand her, she informed us she was creating a cootie catcher, also know as an origami fortune teller.  I helped her fold the corners, and she eagerly wrote down the messages inside. We then took turns giving playing with the cootie catcher to hear our fortunes or specified descriptions of ourselves.  Through lots of laughter, my daughter felt a sense of pride, and we were entertained.

The cootie catcher is a simple gimmick that enthralls people of all ages. It is a tool that can be used in elementary, middle, and secondary schools, and it can also be used at conferences. Last week, I attended the AcceleratED and IntegratED Conferences in Portland. During one of the sessions facilitated by Carolyn Kirschmann, the cootie catcher was used as a warm-up to get adults talking to one another. It reminded me of a time I used cootie catchers as a way to introduce an ELA activity in class.  Regardless of how it is used,

Regardless of how it is used, movement can be applied to get students, and adults, talking to one another.  During the workshop I attended last week, half of the attendees received a cootie catcher and the other half did not. Attendees were instructed to stand up and find someone with a cootie catcher. Pairs went through the motions and answered questions to help them get to know each other.  We continued for a couple of minutes switching partners multiple times. Not only did attendees get to move, but the also were able to use a manipulative to engage.

This can be used the same way in the classroom, or different categories and discussion questions can be printed on the cootie catcher to either review or spark larger inquiry. This can be used in any classroom, and once it has been introduced, students can be in charge of creating their own questions for future uses.


17 Quick Cootie Catcher Printables and Lesson Plan Ideas


Flying With Questions

paper-airplanes_shutterstock_43792207-800x460I was talking to a colleague recently, and she passed this idea on to me.  She observed a classroom where one of the teachers developed a movement activity corresponding with a set of questions and paper airplanes.

Each student was given a math worksheet with four problems.  I generalizing, so some of the details may a be a bit hazy, but, overall, the activity is easily modified.  Students were divided in half so that each side of the classroom had roughly the same number of students.  Teachers could also divide students into groups of four and have students all around the room. Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper

Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper airplane. On the count of three, or when the chime sounded, students threw the airplanes into the middle of the classroom. At the teacher’s signal, students went to the middle and grabbed an airplane.  Students unfolded the airplane, made corrections (if needed) to the first problem and then worked on the second problem.  This process continued until each problem was answered.

This activity could have easily been completed with students sitting in pairs or groups for four working on each problem and checking for correct answers.  Modifying the assignment in this way did not require a lot of planning.  The only planning different from seated group work involved making sure students knew how to make a paper airplane.  Throughout the activity, students were engaged and motivated to complete the work.  Plus, they were activating key areas of the brain academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.


Get Outside and Process


The importance of processing information is critical if we want students to understand content.  Too frequently we rush through curriculum in order to meet the demands and complexity of the pacing required of stringent scope and sequence models. Rushing is detrimental to the overall development of information.  The more we cram and rush through material, the more students will not understand, and we will need to reteach.  So, it is actually a time-saver, to incorporate processing time.

I recently read a blog post by Bill Ferriter about the overwhelming desire for students to get outside:

Many teachers tend to be creatures of habit, but the ones that take a risk are often more successful.  Taking a risk can simply be moving beyond the confines of the classroom walls.  In an effort to add processing time to a lesson, a simple action that involves movement is to move students to an outdoor setting.  Posing a question, or a prompt, regarding content prior to moving allows students to process while they move to the new setting.  Adding the physical component of walking to the desired setting while thinking helps activate the neurons in the brain in multiple ways. Walking forces teachers to add processing time that extends beyond seconds. Complex material, intensity of information, and onslaught of ideas require more processing time.  Once students move outdoors, teachers can decide to discuss in pairs, groups, or as a whole group. Or, students can continue move and discuss while walking outdoors.

When the discussion is over, teachers could provide another question or prompt for the return walk to the classroom.  In both cases, students would need to walk without talking to give them the quiet time they need to process.  This would have to be a routine that is taught and expected.


Moving to Process

t78770299When I talk to teachers in multiple disciplines, a common frustration is time and the need to race through the curriculum in order to meet the demands of the curriculum or the complexity of the standards. The fast paced world can create stress and general imbalance in the classroom for both students and teachers.

In order to work through the blockage that can occur in an anxious and stressful environment, it is necessary to provide time for students to process as well as time for them to get up and move.

I often suggest that teachers schedule processing time. This may feel like an add-on to an already overcrowded schedule, but the outcome can actually add time. Students that are able to process not only internalize the concepts be taught, they can begin to think beyond the constraints of a packed curriculum. Processing time also helps to lower stress avoiding students from shutting down possibly reducing the number of minutes needed to reteach or address behavioral concerns.

To further reduce stress and activate the brain, students can be given the opportunity to process while moving. A simple way for students to do so is to have them get up and walk in the classroom. I was in a classroom a couple of weeks ago and the teacher mentioned how she set arrows up in the classroom for students to follow. Students can process and walk in the direction of the circles, or students can walk and process following a specific path. The goal is for them to think. Engaging them in movement while thinking helps as the connections in the brain begin to form.

Once students return to their seats, they can continue to process verbally in pairs, small groups, and/or in a whole-class setting. Again, initially this process takes time, but the payoff is beneficial for all, teachers and students.


Moving to Exit


I was observing classes today, and as always, I left inspired.  One of the best parts of being an instructional coach is the ability to go to several schools and observe multiple classrooms.  Each time I visit a school, I walk away with strategies and ideas that I am impelled to share and use.

Today I noticed a bulletin board in the back of a classroom.  The board functioned as an exit slip board.  Five general questions about the class experience were posted on the board.  Students were to take a note card, answer the question, and slip the note card in the appropriate slot.  The picture illustrates a similar way to use an exit slip, but evaluation is added as students would place the exit slip where they would rate themselves on specific knowledge.

When used at the end of a classroom, students could simply get out of their seats and turn in the exit slip.  If important information was needed to be delivered to the entire class, teachers could have students return to their seats in order to tell students what they need to tell them. This provides a simple shift in the classroom, allowing students to transition physically and mentally to the information they need to hear.

This can be adopted at any moment in the class.  Exit tickets are generally used at the end of class period, but they can also be used at a moment of transition.  By adding simple movement, students are able to adjust and prepare for new content or a new activity.  Plus, it is an easy way to add movement to block classes and to middle school and high school classes.


PD: The Movement Gallery


As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I had the opportunity of co-leading multiple PD sessions. One of our goals was to get the attendees up and moving during the presentation. We wanted to engage them in multiple ways in order to model the different ways to engage the various students in our classrooms. One of the activities we organized is one that can be easily be modified for adults and students in multiple settings. I like to call the activity the gallery discussion.

We hung ten quotes/images around the room. These posters all referenced a specific topic: having a growth mindset. We asked the attendees to silently walk around the space and look at each poster. After a few minutes, we asked them to stand by the poster that resonated with them the most as to how they felt about having a growth mindset. They then discussed with other people who picked the same poster. After a few minutes, we asked them to find a poster that they thought represented how their students viewed having a growth mindset. They had a different conversation with their new groups.

This activity worked as a lead-in to more in-depth material focusing on what it means to have a growth mindset in the classroom. It can easily be adapted to other PD sessions, meetings, and lessons in the classroom. The gallery discussion allowed attendees to move around, engage their minds, talk with colleagues, and prepare mentally for longer period of time.