Movement in Our Classrooms and Beyond


You’ve heard that we don’t have desks. Have you heard that we move?

If you were to observe a class here at IACS, the movement is actually the first thing you would notice. It stands out. How often do you see students and teachers jump, move around like animals, skip, or create the unicorn you see above. Depending on the day and level, movement can be integrated throughout the entire class period.

Sometimes after experiencing one of my classes, people will get the impression that all there is to our approach is jumping around and playing games in Spanish.

Seriously. I hear this a lot.

Is that what you think?

Would you be surprised to hear that there is a lot more involved?

Hopefully, by clicking around on this blog you can see what I mean. Sometimes I actually get defensive about this impression (could you tell?) and I begin to talk about all of the other ingredients to class. I talk about how we integrate literacy, use the national ACTFL levels for goals. describe the communication strategies we practice, how our curriculum is student-centered, and how we create a learning environment that is 100% in the target language. 

All of this is true! But, for the rest of this post I want to embrace the beauty and power of movement in our classes. It is an important part of the uniqueness of the methodology. Additionally, I think it could be one of the pieces of our classroom environment that could easily transfer into other classes. 

Here is a quick lis of how we use movement in our Spanish classroom:

  • To learn and recycle vocabulary
  • Attention/Classroom Management
  • Formative Assessment
  • Communication
  • Transition
  • Play
  • Pairings and Groupings
  • Brain Beaks
  • Community Building
  • To create a context for new vocabulary

I will highlight a few of these now and more in the future:

Attention/Classroom Management- We use movement to help students focus. This has two parts. We will call out a movement that will 1. help students to focus and 2. allow the teacher to easily see who is listening.

For example, we may say hands up,  touch your head, jump or stand on one foot. Doing whatever movement is called out helps students to realize directions are coming up and the teacher can easily see who heard and is listening.

A movement is also used when we see that students are fidgeting or losing focus. When I look around the circle and see signs of checking out, I quickly bring a movement into class to get the blood flowing, the mind focused and back to the topic.

It’s hard to explain this exactly! You need to see it or experience it.

Pairings and Groupings- We have students move around the classroom a lot in order to interact with different people. We may have students move across the circle doing different actions and when they move to a new spot they are new near people with whom they can talk.We may also ask them to make a line in order of their height or how many hours of sleep they got last night and this also gives us a new order to pair and group students in. We may have them dance around the room and when the music stops they have to create a group of three as quickly as they can. There are countless ways that open space and movement can allow for students to interact in many different configurations throughout a single class period.

Play- Movement is fun. We infuse our classes with play through movement that takes students out of their comfort zone and just gives them the freedom to be silly, to be kids. Sometimes we move like crabs, jump on one foot, drive a motorcycle with a friend, move like a spy or create a train with the class. This might seem silly. It is.

I was leading a workshop a few weeks ago and we had planned to do some playful movement as teachers moved between poster stations. For the first round, I was nervous and just had everyone move. For the second round, I thought, what the heck, and added in the play.  We all swam to the next poster. We had all different strokes represented. People had a lot more fun and were more engaged at the next stations. These are adults I’m talking about! So, I continued each rotation with some playful movement and though silly, it worked! (See G’s comment below for an amazing description of this).

Movement can be integrated differently at different proficiency levels

Novice-Low: Moving all the time! I wrote about it here. 

Novice-Mid: After a few months and through the second year students continue to move throughout the class, but they can begin to have longer periods of time without movement and still stay in the target language.

Novice-High-As students approach the Intermediate-Level movement still has a place in the circle, but it is not used in the same way or necessarily as often. The movement is used less for maintaining the immersion environment and more for things like play, transition, attention/classroom management.

Intermediate + – The use of movement can be much more subtle. It’s not used as much for communication but for the other purposes like switching up groupings. I have some classes that actually end up sitting in a circle talking in Spanish the whole time. There are other days when we are moving a lot.

These observations about the different levels are based on my classes. I think it can look differently with different teachers. I do know that if I were given Novice-Mid or even Intermediates who were not used to 100% immersion, I would use Novice-Low movement strategies with them to help understand that it is possible to stay 100% in Spanish.

Well this might be great for Spanish… does it transfer?

I’m really curious to find out how the movement from our circle can be incorporated in other classes. In which activities could it make sense?

Movement could possibly be used to: improve student engagement, build community, create student ownership of the words (or concept), and could also have a role in formative assessment and self-assessment.

One area I see it possibly fitting in is for class discussions in English, History, or Science. I imagine  you could use some of the circle techniques to get students into different groups and talking with different people about the content.

Another possibility is that it works well to bring jigsaw activities to life as well as think-pair-shares. Also, just like Spanish, many classes have new vocabulary, having actions for content vocabulary that are repeated and practiced would help students acquire that vocabulary and own it.

I’m curious, how do you incorporate movement into your class? Is there anyone willing to try a few of these techniques in your class? I’d love to talk with you about how it might fit!