Using movement to help students understand the meaning of science terms


National Science Teachers Association

December 4, 2003

Reno, Nevada



Paige L. Schulte


Dept. of Teaching & Learning





TOTAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE (TPR) developed by Dr. James Asher (2):

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. TPR can be used in Science as a whole class where each individual performs the command, with partners, in groups, or as demonstrations in front of the class.  Learning:  Students should respond to the commands quickly, identify appropriate responses in others, and be able to explain why a particular movement represents a concept.

Example commands:

1        Earth skills:  Point north-Point south-Point east-Point west-Place right arm in vertical position-Place left arm in horizontal position-Latitude-Longitude5

2        Show-meConcepts-Specific Landforms:  anticline, syncline; Climates:  desert; Processes:  rotate, revolve, folding, faulting; Erosion:  (wind, water, glacier, gravity )*

Example commands with partners back to back or hands together:

1        The above * can also be done with partners or groups.        P. Schulte-December 4, 2003

2        Magnetic attraction-Magnetic repulsion-North side of a magnet to North side-North side to South

Example commands for groups:  all  * above can also be used for group commands as well as concepts listed on last page.  

H.O.T. Extension-students must give justification for the motions they choose orally or in writing.  Divide notebook:          Motion                                           Reason


SIMON SAYS-use like TPR commands

SIMULATION:  One group can model the movement in front of the class while others assess with thumbs up or thumbs down, or groups simulate, while the others guess. Example:  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.  Can also be done as a whole-class activity (3).

H.O.T.  Writing:  Divide notebooks:     What?                                      Yes/No-Why?

MOTION RESPONSE-students act out an answer to a question a teacher asks in front of class.  The rest gives a thumbs up or thumbs down.  Examples:  Why does the Earth have seasons?

Why is it daytime in some areas of Earth but nighttime in others? Have them explain orally the rest of the class thumbs up thumbs down.  Students take notes or add their own explanations during or after.  Two sides of notebook: _____  Motion        ______________________Explanation  

CONCEPTUAL CHARADES:  Each group receives a card with a different term science term on it and must devise a movement that represents the concept  (Examples: see list attached).  The rest of the class has to guess the term. Discuss the similarities/differences of the movement analogy and the term.

BODY MATCH REVIEW:  can be used in any content area (Adapted from (4) ).  Students are given cards with either a term or a verb related to concept, an analogy with response, problem and solutionů.  Move around classroom to match their card with the correct verb or response.  Once all matched, rest of the class assesses each with thumbs up or thumbs down. Examples: 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

1        -Nose smells   -Skin feels   -Ears hear  

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

       -Integumentary system sweats    -Mammary glands secrete milk.  

H.O.T.writing extension:    Write accurate sentences, scenarios, stories using the matched cards.

               Terms                                      Sentence

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    

                                                                                                           P. Schulte-December 4, 2003



CONCEPT ATTAINMENT: students categorize ideas (yes/no, opposite ideas, cause/effect) to build a concept.                ___________________                   ____________________

                              ___________________                   ____________________

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

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) (6; p. 5)

Kinesthetic Games (7)

FILL THE BOARD (Schulte, 2003):  Teacher poses problem, sentence, conceptů Students line up.  Each must add an idea related to topic until the board is filled.  If cannot add an idea, adds an incorrect idea, or repeats an idea (or use incorrect spelling to enhance challenge) must sit down-or to make it competitive, the last two individuals or the team with the most remaining get a prize.  

REVIEW RELAY:  Set the students in two teams of partners in line, give first set of partners question card. They go to answer station.  Discuss. Choose correct answer.  Get next question

teacher.  Bring back to next pair on team. Continue until both teams finish.  Winner - team that finishes first and/or has most correct responses.


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 formative check, 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.  Supply as much structure as needed for your comfort.

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.  Example:  thumbs-up, thumbs down.

c9        Use movement activities as a check for understanding or to identify misconceptions.

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 and why this movement was appropriate.

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

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

c15        Use debriefing after (non-review) activities to make sure they were meaningful - students made the connection to the concept/content or understood the main ideas.


ACTIVE ANALOGIES: (9)       draw it        act it out       mind map it     describe it with 2 words        make up a rhyme        sing it      make an acronym        make a story        fill the board        review relay           (Schulte, 2003)


                                                                                                           P. Schulte-December 4, 2003






Physical Science (10)

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 (10)

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 (10)

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                                                                      P. Schulte-December 4, 2003


CLOSURE BRAINSTORM (Think-Pair-Share)What other science in motionterms can you think of?      ________________________________________________________________





(1)  TPR Guiding Principles .


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

           CA:  Sky Oaks Productions.


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

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


(4)  Adapted from: ESOL Lesson Plan.



(5)  Adapted from:  Carpet Square Challenge.  

 ,4945,31-1-15-39,00.html .


(6)  Iruio, S.   Teaching Techniques.


(7)  Schulte, P.L.  (2003, November 14).  Social Studies in motion.  Paper Presented at the  

          National Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies.  Chicago, IL.


(8)  Schulte, P.L.  (2003).  Social Studies in motion.  Article submitted to Social Studies & the  

         Young Learner (in review).  Silver Spring, MD:  NCSS.


(9)  Schulte, P.L.  (2003, October 28).  Recognizing and addressing individual differences in  

          the secondary classroom:  Strategies for the real world.  Paper Presented at the

          Tangipahoa Cohort 3 Teacher Inservice.  Hammond, LA.


(10) Schulte, P.L.  (2002, October 25).  Science in motion.  Paper Presented at the State

          Conference of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association.  Lafayette, LA.


Related Web Sites:



                                                                                                          P. Schulte-December 4, 2003