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V.3 #2 Literacy - Up, Up, and Away! Supporting Content Area Learning Through Movement

Many teachers recognize their students’ need to move throughout the day. They offer some wiggle time for younger students and an occasional stretch break for older ones. Many learners welcome the opportunity to get their blood flowing after sitting in the same position for awhile. I know that at times, I have been most grateful for the chance! However, moving while learning is something we rarely witness in classrooms beyond the primary grades. The older students get, the longer they are expected to sit in one place and absorb content. Learning through lecture and note taking is difficult for some. The use of drama and movement is not just for teachers of the “arts”. Both can be incorporated into lessons to enhance readers’ content area literacy.

No, you do not need a classroom the size of a gymnasium. No, you will not spend most of your time creating costumes, lengthy skits, or props. With ordinary supplies like cardstock paper and markers, the possibilities are endless. Just think about getting learners up and out of their seats! Here are ways that drama and movement can easily happen in your classroom to support content learning.


  • Invite groups of students to co-write a skit about the importance of energy conservation and perform it for the class.

  • Define and describe the phases of the butterfly’s life cycle; each on a separate piece of 8½ x 11 inch paper. Have students read them all, take one each, and line up in the appropriate sequence.

Social Studies

  • Write either a state name or a state capital on a piece of 8½ x 11 inch paper. Give one sheet to each student and ask him/her to hold it up for others to see. Have “partners” move toward one another to form the correct pairs.

  • Detail the events that lead up to the Civil War, each on a separate piece of an 8½ x 11 inch paper. Encourage students to create a giant-sized, accurate timeline by placing the events on the floor or by posting them around the room. They can act out events if they wish.

  • Have students demonstrate their understanding of a historical figure’s actions through an interpretive dance.

Content “Neutral” (may be modified to suit a particular content area)

  • Assign students to groups and a few as tour guides. Have each guide take his/her group on a tour of the school to highlight examples of (insert name of theme here) throughout the building.

  • Allow movement while students listen to audio books.

  • Provide students with a safe, wand-like household item such as a feather duster, a flyswatter, or a long wooden spoon. One at a time, each student will embark on a “scavenger hunt”—walking and seeking objects that fit into a category determined by the teacher (Ex: Objects Made of Wood: desk, chair, door, window sill, pencil, etc). Students will tap each object and name it. For a challenge, have a student tap the objects first, and invite onlookers to guess the category.

Words to the Wise

  1. Of course, the physical space must be conducive to movement and the teacher must arrange seating and other learning areas accordingly. As with any other classroom activity, learners must first be taught the rules and routines of movement. I think it goes without saying that safety is of the utmost importance. For example, teachers should have a FREEZE signal firmly in place. Though some teachers opt for shutting lights as a signal, this might create a dangerous situation when students are moving freely about the room. Think this through! Better yet, ask students to contribute ideas. They’ll likely value the signal more if it was decided democratically.

  2. It is also reasonable to assume that this type of learning will not benefit every student. In fact, it might be distracting to some. Others will be drawn to it, but not necessarily learn best using these methods. Students’ differences and strengths should be respected and celebrated. Therefore, don’t expect them ALL to participate in these activities ALL the time.

  3. Keep in mind that these suggestions are not just for teachers. These can be created by parents to enhance at-home learning, homework, and studying.

I remember the day I asked two students to demonstrate the rotating movement of the Earth as it revolves around the sun. Admittedly, there were a few giggles and a few missteps. More importantly, their enactment brought our science textbook to life. Hopefully, these activities will inspire you to think of ways in which content-area readers can move, dramatize, and giggle. Indeed, learning will happen along the way.

Karen Russo, Ed. D. is an Assistant Professor in the Child Study Department of St. Joseph’s College in New York. There, she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses related to elementary education and literacy instruction. Before joining the college faculty, she was an Assistant Principal of a New York City elementary school, a literacy specialist, teacher mentor, and staff developer. Dr. Russo has presented at local, national and international conferences and has published articles on differentiating instruction, enhancing motivation of struggling readers and writers, and effective professional development for teachers. She is an Editor for Insights on Learning Disabilities and has served as a Consulting Editor for Reading Writing Quarterly.

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