Using movement to help students understand the meaning of science terms






Louisiana Science Teachers Association

Lafayette, LA

October 25, 2002





Paige L. Schulte

Southeastern Louisiana University, Dept. of Teaching & Learning






Body moves

Songs      Chants      Dramatizing      Games      Writing

Typing      Skipping      Drawing while listening    Clapping     Copying

Action rhymes      Finger-snapping      Doodling

Jumping      Simon Says      Pasting      Cutting       Painting

Miming      Role-play      Improvising      Projects     Simulations

Charades     Terms in motion      Interaction      3Movingchallenges

Physical action

Total Physical Response (TPR) developed by Dr. James Asher (1):A teaching technique whereby a learner responds to language input with body motions.  Acting out a chant, or the game 'Robot' is an example of a TPR activity, where the teacher commands her robots to do some task in the classroom. Acting out stories and giving imperative commands are common TPR activities (2).




The following types of activities which focus on meaning can help students acquire language (4):

1.        content (subject matter, new information, reading)

2.        affective-humanistic (students ideas, opinions, experiences).

3.        games (focus on using language to participate in the game)***

4.        problem solving (focus on using language to locate information)  (4, Iruio, p. 5).



***BODY PART CHALLENGE (5)use mat, newspaper, or piece of carpet, prepare in advance a list of movement challenges to verbally give to participants, can range from simple body terms for younger children to more complex terms for older students. You can also call out two body parts to be put on the carpet square at the same time. Try to challenge the problem-solving abilities of students. The following are sample instructions:

-Left foot                                                     -Left Patella)

-Right knee                                -Right Metatarsals

-Forehead                                -Left Metacarpals

-Nose                                        -Top of cranium

-Right Hip                                -Sternum

-Right ear                                -Coccyx


-Chin and right knee and left hand               -Vertebrae and Back of Cranium and Right Tarsals

-Top of head and right foot and both hands    


*Pair and **Group Activities

**SIMULATION:  each student in the group is a molecule in motion, assign a lead molecule in each group, teacher indicates (verbally, picture, flashlight) whether heat source is being added or removed, movement of groups should simulate the correct phase change.  One group can model the movement in front of the class while others assess with thumbs up or thumbs down.  Can also be done as a whole-class activity (6).


**CHARADES:  Each group receives a card with a different science term on it.  Each group must devise a movement that represents the concept. (see list attached).The rest of the class has to guess what it is.


*BODY MATCH REVIEW (7):  can be used with any of the following:

1.  identify body parts      

2.  identify the five senses      

3.  identify the body parts that pertain to the five senses.      

4.  identify organs              

5.  identify organ systems

71        Students are given cards with either a body part or a verb.  Move around classroom to match their card with the correct verb  ex   -Nose smells   -Skin feels   -Ears hear  

72        Can be more complex for older students.  Ex.     -Olfactory structures smell  

     -Integumentary system sweats    -Mammary glands secrete milk.  Once all

      matched, rest of the class assesses each with thumbs up or thumbs down.


Ideas to keep in mind when using movement activities:

c1        Can be used at the beginning of class as an assessment of prior knowledge or as a grabber for the lesson that day, as an activity that reinforces vocabulary or as a check for understanding, or as a review.

c2        Have a specific plan for addressing potential behavioral problems.

c3        Set up behavioral expectations and consequences at the beginning of the activity especially the first time you use it.  

c4        Move from simple concepts to more complex.

c5        Preplan your activity thoroughly.

c6        Begin and move through the movement activity quickly.  

c7        Use pairs or groups to help manage the class.

c8        Make sure the entire class is engaged even if they are not actually performing the movement.  

c9        Use movement activities as a check for understanding.

c10        Give opportunity to do movements individually and as part of a group.

c11        Consistent oral feedback during movement activities helps them remain engaged.

c12        Have students write out in words what they did in their movement activity.

c13        Encourage students to construct their own methods of movement to describe a science concept.

c14        Use probing questions to find out why students used a particular movement to represent a concept.

Physical Science

71        Molecules in motion (solid, liquid, gas)

72        Phase changes (as heat source is added or taken away)

73        Light travels faster than sound (run a race between light an sound students predict who wins

74        Inertia (move quikly with a glass or water, quickly stop)

75        Expansion

76        Contraction

77        Cohesion of water molecules

78        Evaporation-as a liquid warms, some of its molecules move so fast they bounce off into the air.

79        Water boiling

710        Equilibrium

711        Conduction

712        Vibration

713        Magnetic attraction and repulsion:  iron steel, cobalt, nickel are attracted to a magnet, brass, aluminum, tin silver, stainless steel, copper, bronze, gold are not.  Do mix, pair, discuss  Have tags repulsed or attracted thumbs up thumbs down.

714        circuits

715        Conductors and nonconductors: metals are good conductors of electricity, most other solid materials are not.  Students form a circle (circuit)-assign cards to different students (cotton, paperclip)-introduce each to circle, ask class 3will the bulb light?4

Earth/Space Science

71        Rotation

72        Revolution

73        Gravity

74        Horizontal

75        Vertical

76        Types of weathering: physical and chemical

77        Erosion:  wind, water, glacier, gravity

78        Constellations:  each group assigned different one, form it within group, have the other groups guess using chart.  Point out:  the pattern of a constellation depends on the position of the observer in space.

79        Ellipse

710        Solar eclipse

711        Lunar eclipse

712        Different types of faults list them

713        Anticlines and Synclines

714        Igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rocks:  students act out  how each form.  Other students guess, students make chart showing clues for each type.

715        Water Cycle

Life Science

71        Five senses

72        Body parts

73        Body systems

74        Organ functions

75        System functions

76        Ex.:  pulse, circulation, digestion, muscle functions

77        Types of joints

78        Antagonistic muscle pairs

79        Changes in environment or habitat

710        Adaptation

711        Food chains and webs

712        Nitrogen cycle

713        Types of organisms


Closure BrainstormWhat other science in motion terms can you think of?






(1)   Asher, James J.  (1982).  Learning another language through actions.  Los Gatos,  

        CA:  Sky Oaks Productions.




(3)   Total Physical Response Guiding Principles .


(4)   Iruio, S.   Teaching Techniques. .


(5)   Adapted from:  Carpet Square Challenge.  ,4945,31-1-15-39,00.html .


(6)   Adapted from:  Project WET.  (1995).  Project WET curriculum and activity guide.    

       Boseman, MT:  The Watercourse and Council for Environmental Education.



(7)   Adapted from: ESOL Lesson Plan. .


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