Get Your Students Moving

06/09/2015 04:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

"Children enter kindergarten as kinesthetic and tactual learners, moving and touching everything as they learn. By second or third grade, some students have become visual learners. During the late elementary years some students, primarily females, become auditory learners. Yet, many adults, especially males, maintain kinesthetic and tactual strengths throughout their lives." -- Teaching Secondary Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles

Of the three primary learning modalities -- visual, auditory, and kinesthetic -- kinesthetic learning is the least frequently utilized in most elementary and secondary classrooms, by a wide margin. Students tend to get most of their information by listening to a teacher speak to them or by seeing and reading it in print or digital form. Learning that involves some form of meaningful movement comes in a distant third.

While many articles exist on the topic of learning styles, scant data is available that measures how much instructional time is devoted in the main to each modality. The author is relying on anecdotal information and experience, and assumes that this "fact" is truer in middle and high schools than in pre-K and elementary grades.

Perhaps one reason for this disparity is because we think that most students are visual and/or auditory learners. In fact, most of us possess a meaningful capacity to learn information through these two senses. In contrast, most children are assumed to not require touch, manipulation or movement in order to process information.

Another contributing factor, no doubt, to our auditory/visual inclinations is that information can most quickly be transmitted through those modalities. In contrast, kinesthetic learning can demand more of our precious and limited instructional time. Moreover, many educators shy away from integrating much tactile and movement-based learning because they do not really understand what it is, how it works or how to plan an activity that is educationally rewarding that does not compromise their classroom management or sense of control.

The problem with all of this is that, as this report and others suggest, more students learn better with tactile/kinesthetic approaches than through their auditory or visual senses. We must get them moving, touching, and physically connecting in order for their learning to penetrate most deeply. Of course, not only will this benefit our kinesthetic learners, but all of our other learners will gain as well.

So how can we make our classrooms more kinesthetically oriented?

Movement can occur on small or larger scales, depending on the group and situation. Consider beginning class with a brief exercise activity to stimulate learning. During this time, a quick review of previously-learned content can be occurring.

Once class begins, use simple, unobtrusive techniques such as offering students plush toys to squeeze while they listen. Give students who need it the ability to stand or pace quietly in the back of the room during instruction to help with processing and retention. Use a bean bag, ball or soft throw toy when asking questions. This will keep students focused while encouraging movement. Of course, such educational staples as notetaking, written or typed, also qualify. In fact, any computer or tablet use is kinesthetic in nature.

Teachers should do whatever they can to stimulate engaged conversation among students, preferably away from their standard seats. Group them into cooperative arrangements and get them moving, talking and doing. One great kinesthetic cooperative technique is jigsaw. Others include numbered heads together and circle the sage.

Another great way to get students moving is to assign authentic assessments, such as debates, and role play. Not only do these activities provide students with natural ways to demonstrate content mastery, but they also encourage much movement, dialogue and information sharing among students.

One more strategy to consider is active response. Ask questions with one-to-two word answers and invite choral responses. Have all students answer questions using thumbs, fingers (numbering the answer: "1 finger = A," "2 fingers = B," etc.), forming letters with their fingers ("c = correct," "i = incorrect) and other related strategies.

Naturally, all of this is in addition to genuine "hands on" learning, such as scientific experimentation, art, drama and physical education.

Without question, kinesthetic learners are most successful when totally engaged with a learning activity. Our job is to provide them with as many rich, physically-engaging learning opportunities as possible.

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog at