Movement can be an effective method of learning. From learning to count while jumping rope in the playground to acting out a Shakespeare play in a high school classroom, movement can be used effectively for learning. Movement allows more blood and oxygen to circulate throughout the body including the brain. It is also a great way to get disengaged students up and out of their seats so that they can get involved in learning during the long day of sitting still in school.
Researchers have proven that mind-body integration is an effective teaching method. While emphasis on the physical self is downplayed in formal academic models, it is common sense that children often learn best when they engage physicality into their intellectual growth. From the toddler learning adult behavior through role-playing games to the college student acting out a scene of a play, learning is enhanced when both the body and the mind are integrated into the activity. In the real world, athletes mentally rehearse the actions their bodies will perform and people regularly perform the actions associated with their mental state. The link between mind and body has been observed through biofeedback which gives which allows people to alter physiological functioning that had been thought to be involuntary through appropriate training. (Gensemer)
While most people accept the fact that we are a complete person and thus learning occurs best through a marriage of mental and physical activity, this obvious fact is ignored in most classroom settings. Students sit still all day, and only move physically in their physical education classes. But writing teachers can integrate movement into the day so that students will own the process of writing and ideas. By emphasizing the inherent ties between mind and body, teachers can harness the power of movement education in the writing classroom.
If we are required to prove that movement will enhance learning, research shows that increasing the use of the arts including drama-based strategies in the classroom increases both student-engagement and critical thinking skills. Of particular importance to the urban teacher, the most at-risk students benefit the most; “poor children, children with special needs and children of racial and ethnic minorities” (Caterall, Chapleau and Iwanaga) will not only engage in learning but will improve academically when the arts are introduced into the classroom. Anyone who has seen movies like “Music of the Heart” or “Mr. Holland’s Opus” can see that arts education is crucial to the development of students as whole people.
If we are required to prove that movement will lead to higher standardized test scores, research can support that goal as well. Since teachers are required to prove that their students are making progress toward higher test scores, they often throw away anything deemed frivolous or extra in order to make time for ever more test preparation curriculum. Ironically, making time for arts education can actually increase students’ “executive functions” which is a constellation of mental processes that are goal directed and enable individuals to connect both present and past experiences. Students with poor executive function have “low motivation levels, tend to be disorganized, are off task and have problems recalling information” (Meltzer 2007). Teachers of at-risk students will recognize those traits and if arts education can help students increase mental focus and motivation, academic success is more likely to happen. (Walker).
One of the greatest ways to learn about character is to take on the character through skits, improv or dramatic reading. While discussing Voice in Writing, Peter Elbow notes that acting out a text promotes a level of understanding that doesn’t exist if we read silently. He encourages students to give a unique reading, even if it is not the typical one. “Every out loud reading is an interpretation, and, by comparing and discussing them, we bring out different interpretations and also highlight various critical concepts such as implied author, unreliable narrator, irony, and tone.” (Elbow 179) If students can give voice to a character from a static page, they have achieved a sophisticated degree of understanding.
When introducing the counter-argument within an argumentative essay, it is helpful if students can see the real world relevance to arguing and counter-arguing. One way to do this is to incorporate skits that involve arguing about an everyday event. The counter-argument lesson plan gives students an opportunity to write and perform skits that involve every day argumentation such as deciding what movie to see, asking a teacher for an extension on an assignment, or negotiating with a retailer when returning an item. All of these ideas allow students to be creative, but also allow them to see the point in understanding the other point of view when creating an argument.
This lesson is normally done about half-way through the school year when the class is fairly comfortable with each other and they have presented already. It is great if everyone’s inhibitions can be lowered to the point that the groups feel comfortable laughing together when presenting. The teacher should feel free to laugh, too. When used in conjunction with explicit instruction on argumentative writing as described in They Say/I Say: The moves that matter in academic writing and Everything’s an Argument, students will have the greatest chance for success in mastering the argumentative essay.
Bringing props into the classroom and staging a dramatic reading of a text like Beowulf or Macbeth often gets students more engaged than anything else. Even sophisticated 18-year-olds like to hold a wooden sword and act out a stage fight, and this acting makes more of an impact than reading or watching.
Students are also given the opportunity for creative movement when we introduce Macbeth. Students can act out a quick overview of the plot through famous lines when they perform the 32-second Macbeth. This takes almost no time, but gives students some familiarity with the plot and famous lines from the play before we read it in class.
A more detailed introduction to Macbeth comes from acting out plot points and major themes. In this Introduction to Macbeth skit lesson plan, students work in groups to create skits related to themes they will encounter in Macbeth. Groups work for a class period to create the skit and the next day they can bring in props or costumes to act out the skit for the class. The audience votes on the most creative production. I normally award the winners extra credit or a homework pass. Most classes enjoy this activity and the productions are very creative.
Drama and Media Bias
A really creative and relevant lesson plan uses drama to explore media bias in the reporting of a fictional incident. The authors note that this is not an acting lesson but a pedagogical strategy that uses students’ “natural attraction to storytelling and role-play as a platform for the development of academic skills and critical insights into the ways in which media influence our understanding of events” (Albrecht, Bruno and Tabone)
This Media Bias lesson plan was created for college students, but is readily adaptable for high school students who take on the roles of journalists covering an event about race, police brutality and media bias. Students physically and intellectually take on the role of reporters, eyewitnesses and community members in order to develop academic skills such as asking questions, taking accurate notes, speaking in public, working in groups, thinking critically, as well as writing.
Caterall, J.S., Chapleau and J. Iwanaga. “Involvement in the arts and human development: General involvement and intensive involvement in music and theatre arts.” Champions of Change: The impact of the arts on learning, ed. E.B. Fisked 1-18. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership, 1999.
Meeks, Lynn Langer and Carol Jewkes Austin. Literacy in the Secondary English Classroom: Strategies for Teaching the Way Kids Learn. Boston: Pearson, 2003.
Gensemer, Robert E. Movement Education: Developments in Classroom Instruction. Washington, DC: NEA. 1979. ERIC.