Getting Teens Up & Moving: A Vocabulary Activity Involving Movement

In my first year of teaching an especially hyper-active sixteen year old student taught me the importance of promoting movement in my high school English classroom. Andre (not his real name) had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that included requirements for moving, standing, and generally expending energy. Andre and I developed non-verbal cues signaling to me his need to be out of his seat and moving about the classroom. Andre also taught me that he wasn’t the only one who needed to be active because a 90 minute English class + a 90 minute science class + a 90 minute history class + a 90 minute elective often meant active teenagers spent more time in a day sitting than moving unless as teachers we designed lessons involving more movement.

Now, with my own very active son consistently complaining of how little he gets to move in his academic classes, I’m once again remembering Andre and reflecting on activities I used in an academic classroom to get my students moving. Here’s one of my favorites.
Let’s Move: A Vocabulary Activity
1) Identify 10-20 words (approximately one word or phrase for each two students) or phrases associated with the major concept or theme in a text you are preparing to read together and write each word on a different index card.
2) Provide students the title of the text and the list of words previously identified.
3) Organize students in pairs or small groups and ask them to predict what the text they will read is about (based on the title and list of words). This gives provides a chance to activate students’ prior knowledge.
4) Have each student in the group choose one of the index cards containing a word they want to explore in more depth. Instruct them write their own idea of the word’s definition on the back of the card. Then have them consult a dictionary (on their phones or a paper dictionary) to verify the accuracy of their definition. (This is an important step because they will be sharing their words/definitions with others).
5) Have students stand up and move around the room to find a person with a word different from the one on their cards. When they find their first partner, students will discuss the word, definition, and thoughts about how they think the word will be used in the text they are preparing to read. After sharing words with the first partner, ask them to move again and find a second partner.
6) Have students find a second partner with a word different from their original word and different from the word of their first partner. With the second partner, share and discuss words, definitions, and possible uses for the word in the text they will read.
7) Have students find a third partner and repeat the routine.
Note:  I was a big promoter of timers and music in the classroom. Both were signals when it was time to move to the next station or connect with the next partner.
By the time the vocabulary activity ends, students should have been exposed to four brand new words or phrases they will encounter when they read the selected text.  While some might say, “that’s only four new words,” I contend that it’s better for students to learn and understand four new words well than to have a long list of words they memorize for a weekly vocabulary test and then forget. While reading the selected text, students can think about the different words they discussed with their partners and how the words appear in the text. They can also reflect on the conversation about the words to enhance their understanding of the text.
After reading, students can synthesize their understanding of the text as well as their learning of new words with the writing of a single summary sentence. While I never had access to individual devices and had to ask students to write on paper, I can imagine (from my GAFE Summit experience) the technology tools that would allow students to submit these summary sentences electronically.
This vocabulary activity is only one of many that I used to ensure students were active in my academic classroom, so maybe I’ll share others in the coming weeks, but really, I’m curious about the activities you use to ensure students are active during the school day. Will you share your ideas below in the comments, please?

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One Comment
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