4 Wonderful Move-Around Activities for Teaching ELLs

Scroll down if you want to get straight to the activities 🙂

Moving Improves Learning

As teachers, we have known this for a long time:

Getting students out of their seats and moving around can be hugely helpful when it comes to learning in the classroom. 

It can be easy to forget though and make it a secondary priority. 

“I should get through a certain amount of material first.”

“I am just going to keep pressing on because we have so much to do.” 

We don’t really have time to get out of our seats for a move-around activity.”

But then it gets more and more difficult to keep the students’ attention, or keep them on task. 

I have to be stricter with them, and they get frustrated and lose interest more easily. 

The efficiency of the class goes down drastically. 

It takes me longer to get anything done with them because they are dragging their feet every step of the way.

They become like rusty old engines that haven’t been turned on in a while. 

I have found the following principle generally holds true: I don’t really have time not to get my students out of their seats moving around.

I don’t really have time not to get my students out of their seats moving around.

Kid-Inspired Classroom

The learning benefits of letting my students get their blood flowing and lungs pumping are so helpful that I actually get more done in less time.

If I don’t, even in my most engaging, even when the activities are interesting and student-centered, my students can start to glaze over. If they are really being challenged, if they are really learning, they are going to get tired and need breaks.

When I break up instruction or practices with energetic movements, my students are very different. 

When I send them back to their seats out of breath, they look at me wide-eyed, excited, and focused. 

For the next five minutes, they remember so much more of what they practice. 

Their brains fire off like well-oiled engines. 

Move Around Activity Guidelines

Here are the guidelines I use for my get-up-and-move-around activities:

  1. They are quick. A minute or two and they are finished and you can get back to whatever it was that you were doing. 
  2. Everyone is involved. No one is sitting around waiting. All (OK, most) of the students are out of breath when we’re done. 
  3. They are goofy and fun and seldomly involve winning or losing. 

4 Fun Move-Around Activity Ideas

Here are 4 activity ideas that follow the above guidelines:

1. Exercise dice

A twenty-sided di works best for this. The students yell out ideas like pushups, jumping jacks, burpees or something of the sort and then someone rolls the die. The whole class has to do that many of the exercise the class decided on. Some students take it very seriously, others do their exercise in some goofy sort of way. As long as they are safe, having fun and moving, the activity is a success.

2. Break Time Basketball

I like to hang one of those cheap plastic basketball nets on one side of my classroom and clear the space of desks. We have quick, lighthearted basketball games at break time. The rules are a little different. The ball is soft, so there is no dribbling required. You can pass by just handing the ball to a teammate. You can play with three teams or four and more than one basketball. There is no score, and if you make a basket, another team gets the ball.

3. Running Race

This is a little like Simon Says. Everyone gets into running position next to their desks. When the teacher says go, everyone starts running in place. The teacher calls out different things to do like jump, duck, turn right, turn left, double-time, win, etc. The students have to do what you say, not what you do. If a student messes up, they sit down, or they go to the back of the class if you want them to keep moving even after they are out.

4. Goofy Vocabulary Surveys 

Put flash cards around the class of the different words you are using. Ask silly questions and the students race to the word they feel best answers the question. (Pre-write the questions so that you can start picking up the pace.) If it is a list of nouns like book, table, chair, pencil, etc. You can ask questions like: What do you sit on? What do you like to write with? What do you like to eat? etc. The kids will giggle as they answer that they like to write with their tables or eat their books. Don’t let your student flat-out run, of course and if you have any crazy kids, just have them sit out a few rounds if they are not being careful.

Let me know if you have any more activity ideas in the comments below!

You can also read more on the value of exercise for learning in the following two places:

Timothy Walker’s book Teach Like Finland

Lisa Ward’s article entitled The Secret to Retaining a New Skill: Learn, Exercise, Sleep in the Wall Street Journal


If you’re looking for more activity ideas, check out the ELL Activity Ideas section of the Kid-Inspired blog.

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