Physical activity is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions. Activity increases our energy level, engages the brain, and can be a ton of fun. So why not make that a goal for you and your students – use 2016 to get your school moving! The best strategy for incorporating physical activity into our lifestyle is to incorporate activity into many aspects of our day – the same holds true for classrooms. Try and incorporate activity across the school day, not just at one or two scheduled times in the day.
My Classroom Physical Activity Pyramid
My Classroom Physical Activity Pyramid is an easy to understand graphic that communicates the many ways in which physical activity can be integrated into the school day. The broad categories of the pyramid create a flexible structure for tailoring physical activity goals to students and classroom context – in other words, “to make it your own.” The categories of the classroom physical activity pyramid include everyday activities, activity breaks, integrated lessons, active games and celebrations, and physical education. This article focuses on activity breaks that progress to lessons with integrated movement.
Activity Breaks and Integrated Lessons
Activity breaks are brief 10 to 15 minute activities that aim to energize and refocus students. They get students up and moving, but are without specific learning outcomes. Activity breaks are a great mechanism for introducing specific movements or sequences that establish routines. These sequences then are expanded, later, and used in academic lessons. Integrated lessons combine physical activity with academic content. Having students familiar with the general activity allows their minds to focus on the content integration when that time arrives. Here are three of our favorite activities.
GO – GO
GO-GO (Give One – Get One) is an activity where students move freely around the classroom and on command give and get items from one another. The teacher blows a whistle, or gives another signal, and students exchange a beanbag with the student nearest to them. Repeat. The variations are endless, but can include challenges like:
- Exchange with a new student
- Ask students to exchange information like a favorite color
- Exchange “opposites” – use opposite hands or exchange opposite information
GO – GO becomes a teaching tool by adding in content. Think about all the times students brainstorm information and share it with another student. We create lists, identify gaps in understanding, and share information through such a process. GO-GO can add some movement and interaction into the learning process.
To incorporate content, students create a t-chart with the left column titled “Give One”, the right column titled “Get One”. For a writing prompt and nutrition lesson, students list snacks they eat in the “give one” column. Students then walk around to their classmates and ask for one idea to write in their “get one” column. In turn, they give an idea to their classmate from their give one column. Repeat. The list is then used in a lesson exploring and describing snacks using concrete and sensory words. Full MyPlate lessons incorporating GO-GO and other activities are available through the USDA Team Nutrition Resource Page.
ORDER – UP
Students move freely around the classroom or in a classroom track pattern. Blow a whistle, or give another signal, a purposeful number of times. Students form a group of that size. Blow the whistle again and students move freely again. Repeat. Order Up can be altered by changing the criteria of a group as well as the process of creating a group. Here are some examples:
- Alter the size of pairings
- Change the manner in which students pair up, like standing elbow-to-elbow
- Give students a time challenge
- Insert a separate signal for switching directions
Use Order Up to help students sort and categorize information. For a nutrition lesson, give students a food item card. On signal, ask students to pair by similar food items, such as find another fruit. Variations can be to group by food color, and progress to building a MyPlate, with a fruit, vegetable, protein, grain and dairy.
IF – THEN
Students stand in a space – for example, behind their desk – and march in place. IF students hear the teacher say X, THEN they wave their arms. X is a specific type of item in a list of content. Vary the activity by varying the movement or the types of prompts. Here are some examples:
- Change the movement to jumps or toe touches
- Incorporate a second prompt and movement
IF – THEN is a great activity to check students’ understanding of content. Use it with True-False statements, to review parts of speech, or add in math concepts.
Use Routines to Build a Culture
Once you have a few simple activities in mind, it is important to establish an activity routine. Routines cut down on instruction time and increase time on task because students know what to do and when to do it. Three essential elements of an activity routine include the following:
- A stop and start signal
- Equipment distribution
- Student feedback
Take time to build your routine. Try different signals, activity patterns and equipment. Pick what works best for your space and students. One last tip from seasoned educators is the use of quick transitions from activity to activity. Quick transitions keep the activity up, but also keep the off-task behavior down. GO-GO in 2016!
To download a My Classroom Physical Activity Pyramid, visit the USDA Team Nutrition Resource Page.
Marietta Orlowski, Wright State University
Susan Minoughan, Fairborn City Schools
Anna Lyon, Wright State University
Orlowski, M., Lorson, K., Lyon, A., & Minoughan, S. (2013). My Classroom Physical Activity Pyramid: A Tool for Integrating Movement into the Classroom, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 84:9, 47-51, DOI:10.1080/07303084.2013.827556
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health (2010). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.