Five Movement Strategies in the High School Classroom

With every lesson I teach, the undeniable connection between physical movement and learning becomes clearer. Brain researcher David Sousa claims that physical activity increases the amount of oxygen in our blood, and this oxygen is related to enhanced learning and memory. A recent Washington Post article suggests that many student behaviors we associate with ADHD may stem from an overall lack of physical movement  — both in and out of school.


However, many high school teachers still struggle to integrate movement into the classroom. I know that as a former English teacher, movement found its way into many of my “special” lessons, but it was often a missing ingredient of daily instruction. For example, when students worked on creating commercials integrating persuasive techniques, searched for books in the library, or carried out debates, movement was inevitable. However, when the main focus of a lesson was reading and writing (as many are in the English classroom), movement was minimal.

I’ve included some strategies that teachers of any content area can use to integrate movement into lessons.  All of these are strategies that I either used or observed colleagues use with classes over the past week. Of course, authentic movement such as performance tasks, problem-based learning, and flexible group work is ideal. However, when you have a lesson that looks “sedentary,” integrating one of these strategies will surely increase students’ learning and engagement.

1. Gallery Walks/Chalk Talks

Sometimes we have multiple texts that students will need to read and analyze in a lesson. Why not post those texts on the walls, and have students rotate around the room in small groups? I have used this strategy with students analyzing primary and secondary documents for DBQ’s (document-based questions) in history classes. One colleague had students analyze magazine ads for rhetorical techniques in her English class.


Gallery walks can also feature student-created texts. They can also be digital. An earth science teacher I work with had student groups create informational Animoto videos on different geographic formations. She then had students participate in a digital gallery walk where they watched the student-created videos on laptops, and took notes on each geographic formation.

Chalk Talks are gallery walks where students are asked to interact with the posted texts. For example, quotes could be posted, and student could post their reactions to them. In a math class, students could solve a problem on chart paper, and explain their process. Other students could then use Post-Its to write comments or critiques of their solution and process.

2. White Board Meetings

White Board Meetings are a strategy I have seen two science teachers use often.  Essentially, students will investigate a situation (often using a data set). Students will then make sense of the problem in a group. They will display their findings on a large whiteboard. Usually, students are required to show information in graphs, pictures, mathematics, and writing.  Once students have had time to include their information on the whiteboards, they present their findings to their classmates.  Students and the teacher can give them feedback and ask them questions after they have presented.

3. North Pole-South Pole/Continuum

This strategy is great for formative assessment of learning and background knowledge. Essentially, one side of the room represents one idea, and the other side of the room represents an opposing idea.

For example, I used the strategy while teaching last Tuesday. My “North Pole” was “I feel extremely confident in how well I can comprehend and remember information in the statistics textbook.” My “South Pole” was “I feel NO confidence in how well I can comprehend and remember information in the statistics textbook.”  Students were asked to align themselves with how they felt. If they felt neither way they would be in the center of the room. Many stood closely, but not completely, to one side, showing the continuum of their confidence. Their responses affected how I presented an array of note-taking strategies, and which students I worked with more closely during the lesson.

4. Musical Mingle

This strategy works along the same lines as Musical Chairs, but you simply ask students to stand. I often develop a series of questions that I want to ask students before the lesson begins (to assess background knowledge) or after the lesson (to assess learning). I ask all of the students to stand. I tell then that when I play the music, they will meander around. When the music stops, they will find a partner to discuss the questions with. Once students have had the opportunity to talk, we then repeat the process.

One caveat to this strategy is limiting your questions. Generally, any more than three or four questions results in some diminished focus.  Once the activity is done, I ask for students to share some of their discussion points with the whole class. Most students feel confident sharing in the whole class because they had an opportunity to clarify and test their thinking with a partner earlier.

5. Stations

Most educators view stations as a staple of the elementary school classroom, but they are also extremely effective in high schools. Stations can be utilized for differentiation. For example, based upon students’ current writing trends, a teacher could place students at station based upon areas they need to practice. Activities can be on paper, or they can be embedded digitally using QR Codes. Other stations may be rotational, such as short writing prompts, different math problems, different poems to analyze, or different activities for new vocabulary or concepts.

Clamoring for more movement strategies? Check out my sequel to this post with five more ways to get students moving.

9 thoughts on “Five Movement Strategies in the High School Classroom

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  6. Carol Moran

    Nice suggestions. I have used the white board meetings and chalk and found that students dialogue much more authentically about the task at hand. 🙂

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