They Shall enter the School room quietly, make a bow on entrance. Shall take their seat & keep the same till noon & the seat that they choose afternoon they shall keep till evening.

There Shall be no whispering, laughing, talking, making of crooked faces or anything in any shape or form that will disturb the school in time of books.

Rules of the Classroom, 1860.

If you’re longing for the good old days when children were required to sit up straight and still “in time of books”, then do not waste your precious time reading this post. The activities I have listed here are all aimed at getting them to move, whisper, laugh, sing, talk and dance in the classroom.


  • When we sit for 20 minutes, blood flows downward. There is a blood buildup in the feet, lower leg and buttocks. One minute of standing and moving around leads to a 15% increase of blood – and therefore oxygen – to the brain. (Sousa, 2011, How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press. p. 30)
  • Stanford researchers found that moving boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking. (Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Oppezzo, Marily; Schwartz, Daniel L. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 40(4), Jul 2014, 1142-1152)

In other words, in order for learners to learn, they need to be able to pay attention, think and be creative. In order to pay attention, think and be creative, we need to get them to move.

These are some activities that I’ve tried out in my classroom. They all involve some physical movement in this or that form and can be easily integrated into the learning/teaching process.

If your classroom is so small that you need a microscope to see the space available for moving around, you might try the following activities:


Teach hand-clapping patterns to accompany a chanted verse. (This is ideal for teaching rhythm and stress):

Have students clap as they speak. Aaaand one-two-three-four (clap-clap-clap-clap), one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four…Betty Botter bought some butter, “But,” she said, “this butter’s bitter! If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter, that will make my batter better….one-two-three-four, keep the rhythm going.

If you have never done it before, watch this British Council’s video on stress timing to get a better idea of how to do this in the classroom.


Get students to do these actions in rhythm: slap thighs, clap hands, snap fingers. Ask students to write down as many synonyms to the word ‘nice’ as possible within 3 minutes and then give synonyms one by one without repeating the words that have been mentioned. After the word has been mentioned, get students to slap-clap-snap. Nice! (slap-clap-snap) Awesome! (slap-clap-snap) Brilliant! (slap-clap-snap). The student who gives the last word wins.

Move like Jagger

While students listen to a song, get them to create a rhythm with finger snapping and hand clapping, or produce some movement to the music. Travel hands, rain hands, jazz hands! (Watch this video to learn some basic moves).

Lip sync

Or get students to lip sync the song they’re listening to.

You can split them into 2 teams (or several small teams) and have a lip sync battle.

Air writing

Pair up students and provide each pair with a set of cards. Student A picks a card with a word and air-writes the word, while Student B jots down and names the word. This activity is ideal for vocabulary revision and spelling.

Air drawing

Split students into small teams and provide each team with a set of cards. One student picks a card and air-draws the picture associated with the word, while other students try to guess it.

If you have some open space at the front of the class (close to the board), you may use it to play:


It’s a game in which one player draws the image of the word of phrase and the other players guess the word. Split students into two teams and get their representatives to draw the picture that corresponds to the words they get. See how Larry Ferlazzo does it here.


It is an acting game in which one player acts out a word or phrase by miming similar-sounding words, and the other players guess the word or phrase. Show this video with Jimmy Fallon to explain the rules to your students.

Finally, if you are lucky to have a big classroom with much space for students to spread out (that a million teachers would die for), you might try these activities:

Onion ring

Split the class into two groups, A and B. The groups stand in two circles, one inside the other. Students in Group A make a circle around the classroom, facing inward. Students in Group B make an inside circle. Each student in Group B faces a student from Group A. Explain the task. Students practice the conversation in pairs. When you call out “Change!”, students in Group B should move to the left and practice the conversation with new partners from Group A.

Running dictation

Post the copies of the text around the classroom walls. Pair up students. Tell students that when the music starts Student 1 from each pair goes to the wall and memorizes a part of the text. Then Student 1 comes back and dictates the information to Student 2, and Student 2 writes it down. When the music stops, students should change roles. The first pair to finish wins.

Take your corner

Place “answer signs” around the classroom, ask students questions (or provide worksheets with questions) and tell students they should move to the part of the classroom that corresponds with their answer – yes/no corners; true-false corners; like-dislike-neutral corners, etc. Once they’re there, ask them to explain why they have taken them.

Opinion poll

Design or get students to design questions of the opinion poll, hand them out (one per student) and ask students to survey as many fellow students as possible within 7 minutes [set your time limit depending on the number of students]. When the time is up, ask students to present a brief summary of the answers given.

Gallery Walk

Post several images throughout the room. Ask students to walk around the room, review each image and make an inference based on the images. They should record their responses on post-it notes as they walk around the room. After they have finished, assign one image per student and ask to make a 20/40/60 second summary of the opinions on the pictures.

Please leave a comment if you have any other interesting ways of making ’em move. Happy teaching!

Further reading: Here’s a great resource on the physical activity in the classroom and 5-minute tasks for the classroom designed by Marc Helgesen http://helgesenhandouts.weebly.com/physical-activity-in-the-elt-class.html

Image credit: Jhayne, Creative Commons


  1. Great activities. They all work very well. My 4th grade students here in Japan really like the opinion pole activity. It ties in perfectly with their regular studies in Math and Japanese class.

  2. Great ideas. Thanks for sharing them. BTW, am reading “Spark!: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain” by Eric Hagerman and Dr John J. Ratey
    (Quercus Books). Good at the science behind why movement is so important.

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