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Get moving! How to increase student engagement in the classroom

Amanda ClarkJanuary 8, 2019

Children playing outside laughing together

Most students zone out when they’re just sitting and listening to a lecture, but not when they’re moving and actively engaged in learning activities. By getting your kids up and moving, you’ll easily lighten up your classroom mood and wake up even the quietest students.

Plus, according to the University of North Carolina, movement increases alertness and builds new brain cells that aid in storing information — which, of course, helps students learn.

As a former educator, I know that digging up engaging classroom activities that require movement takes time. And when you’re torn in a million different directions, your time is limited. If you’re looking for a way to keep your students involved until the end of class, you’re in the right place. We’ve designed a list of kinetic activities to engage students that you can easily integrate into your classroom.

5 kinetic activities to engage students in the classroom

Children laughing and running outside

1. Crank up the jams with this mingle activity

As a teacher, you know that your kiddos love music. Mingle is a simple, engaging activity that requires kids to move to music.

I used to set up YouTube, pick a song, and tell the kids they needed to walk while R.E.M.’s Shiny Happy People played. (Yes, it’s old, but it’s also the happiest song ever written.) Once the music stopped, students chatted with the closest person next to them.

During this pause, you ask a question that relates to what you’re studying. After students discuss the question, ask for volunteers to share what they learned. Then crank up the jam again and repeat the process!

If you’re not a fan of R.E.M, students can request songs. But you might want to save Pitbull and Rihanna for YOUR ride home.

Mingle is a remarkable activity — not only is it appropriate for any age, but it’s also a great way to get students talking about any subject. So mingle away!

2. Musical chairs (academic style)

Another activity that requires movement is musical chairs — customized for an academic setting, of course.

Set up musical chairs like you usually would (a circle of chairs with one less chair than students). But when the music stops, the academic activity kicks in. The one kid remaining has an opportunity to get back in the game by answering a question. If the student responds correctly, they’re still in the game. Otherwise, they’re out.

This engaging activity builds upon a well-known game with a twist. It also integrates music that your students love. Again, you can let them request music but may have to turn down Jay-Z.

3. Feature a gallery walk

Lots of schools are now into project-based learning because they realize how beneficial it is for students. But after completing the projects, you need to present them… all 20+ of them. And that can be a headache. After a while, students get bored listening and sharing (even if they’re interested in the topic). One time, I even wanted to run for the hills after hearing 25 timeline presentations on the Civil War.

Don’t worry, that project never happened again. But lots of projects are wonderful to present if the students have varying topics or different types of presentations. And if you teach an awesome project, why not try to integrate a gallery walk? Although there are variations to this activity, I’ll give you the lowdown of how it worked for me.

I usually picked around five students who wanted to present; they would set up their projects around the room in a circle. Then I divided the class into five groups that would each visit one of the students as small audiences. The presenters also had a set amount of time based on the project.

When the time was up, I would give out a long beep, and then the groups would rotate to the right. The presenters stayed put and prepared for the next group.

Gallery walks get the kids moving and provide the presenters an opportunity to practice their skills. As a teacher, I kept a rubric handy and rotated with one of the groups. Then I graded the projects during class. Talk about a time saver!

The gallery walk is an excellent activity for those kids who are nervous about presenting to the entire class — it allows them to sharpen their public speaking skills with a much smaller audience, so there’s less pressure on them.

4. Express opinions or facts with the stand-up, sit-down game

Students have a blast with the “stand-up, sit-down” game. I used it for an icebreaker or when my students were getting antsy. It’s a fun surprise game that you can whip out in a flash with no prep. This engaging activity for students is also super easy. You just ask the kids yes or no questions about anything. If the students think the answer is yes, then they stand up. If they think it’s no, they sit down.

Since I taught English, most of my questions were about a book we were reading. They could be literal or opinion based to spark a discussion. Examples included “Was Romeo in love with Juliet?” and “Did Scout like to read with Atticus?” I could go on all day here. Take my word that this engaging movement activity can spark a lot of learning. Plus, you can use this game for any subject.

This is also an excellent way for students to offer their opinions and get to know each other. Not only can you integrate content questions, but you can also incorporate personal questions that aren’t necessarily related to the content at hand. For example, you could start simple with questions like “Is blue your favorite color?” or “Do you like the Red Sox?”

There are endless variations to this activity, so you’ll have to try it out for yourself!

5. Get moving from station to station

Stations are another way to engage students in classroom activities. They require prep, but once you set them up, all you have to do is sit back and relax.

In this activity, the teacher creates some engaging mini-stations. For this, you need to put on your creative hat! For example, if you’re teaching a math class, you might have one activity that involves putting together some geometric puzzles. The next station might be rapid-fire multiplication tables for a couple of minutes. And the next station could involve plotting functions.

You can customize your stations however you like and then give your students a time limit. They go to a station and then move to the next one when the time’s up. It’s a similar approach to the gallery walk. But instead of presentations, there are multiple academic stations for the kids to engage in.

This fun activity works wonders because the kids have to rotate and move, and it also allows them to learn multiple concepts in a short period without getting bored.

Easily integrate these activities into your curriculum

These learning activities are simple to integrate into the classroom and require little to no prep. Best of all, they’ll jazz up your class and get students excited about learning. And once your kids want to learn, the whole atmosphere of your classroom will change.

So get ready to pick out some jams, whip up some learning stations, brainstorm questions, and get moving!

Want more ideas? Explore our Teacher’s Guide to Student Engagement for more information on the importance of an engaging classroom.

Photo credit: MI PHAM /

Student Engagement