Using movement to help students understand the meaning of SS concepts


National Council for the Teachers of Social Studies

November 14, 2003

Chicago, Illinois



Paige L. Schulte

Southeastern Louisiana University

Dept. of Teaching & Learning






TOTAL PHYSICAL RESPONSE (TPR) developed by Dr. James Asher (Asher, 1982):

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 Social Studies 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        Map skills:  Point north-Point south-Point east-Point west-Place right arm in vertical position-Place left arm in horizontal position-Latitude-Longitude

2        Show-meCharacteristics:  countries, regions, continents-population, economy, culture, landforms, etc.*

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

4        Community/Neighborhood:  Members of community, jobs (younger students)*

5        Citizenship-voting, picketing, peaceful protest, *

6        Historical events:  Boston Tea Party, *

Example commands with partners back to back or hands together:

1        The above * can also be done with partners or groups.

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.

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:  Roles of a productive citizen in the community, geography challenge.  

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  

CONCEPTUALCHARADES/HISTORY CHARADES:  Each group receives a card with a different term historical event on it and must devise a movement that represents the concept.  The rest of the class has to guess the term. Discuss the similarities/differences of the analogy or period in history. Examples: Cultures/Historical Events/Geography challenge/Economic processes

ROLE-PLAY:  Begin with a pre-established problem or topic.  Use simple pantomime scenes, one-sentence scenarios, or more open-ended issues based on your class members (age, prior experiences, etc.).  The topic/episode that is to trigger the role-playing should be presented orally, pictorially, and/or in writing. (Martorella, 1991).  Handout Plan:  Draw-Ink-Move.  Examples:  Periods in History, Members of the Community, Historical Leaders, Major Events, Social Issues, Roles of a Productive Citizen, Moral Dilemma, Geography Challenge: Countries, States, Regions

BODY MATCH can be used in any content area. (Adapted from ESOL Lesson Plan- .):  Students are given cards with either a term or a verb related to concept, an analogy with response, problem and solution….  Move around classroom to match their card with the correct verb or response.  Can be more complex for older students.  Example:  CLIMATE MATCH      

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

               Terms                                      Sentence

FILL THE BOARD (Schulte, 2002):  Teacher poses a problem, sentence, concept, etc.  Students line up to fill the board.  Each student must add an idea related to the problem until the board is filled.  If cannot add an idea, adds an incorrect idea or repeats an idea (or use incorrect spelling to enhance the challenge) must sit down-or to make it competitive, the last two individuals or the team with the most remaining get a prize.  Example:  The 50 states (or can divide into regions), the Western, E, N, or S Hemisphere, countries of Europe, Asia 5Writing:  Pick one of the areas on the board.  Pretend you are a tourist driving through that state, describe what your drive would be like based on where it is located (weather, temperature, what landforms, you might see, etc.).

    P. Schulte November 14, 2003

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

                           ___________________                                ____________________

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


1        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.

2        Have a specific plan for addressing potential behavioral problems.

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

4        Move from simple concepts to more complex.

5        Preplan your activity thoroughly.

6        Begin and move through the movement activity quickly.  

7        Use pairs or groups to help manage the class.

8        Make sure the entire class is engaged even if they are not actually performing the movement.  Example:  thumbs-up, thumbs down.

9        Use movement activities as a check for understanding and a way to assess misconceptions.

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

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

12        Have students write out in words what they did in their movement activity and why this movement was appropriate.

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

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

c5        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: (Schulte, 2003)       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

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



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

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Iruio, S.   Teaching Techniques.  

Martorella, P.H.  (1991).  Teaching social studies in middle and secondary schools.  New  

       York:  MacMillan Publishing Company.

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

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

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

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

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TPR Guiding Principles .