4 Ways to Start Class With Movement

If you try this activity with your students, we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Discipline: These activities can be applied in myriad content areas but lend themselves nicely to math since they involve counting and concepts like symmetry. They also can serve as good examples of things we do with movement that are good for our minds, which can tap into social-emotional learning or even brain science. 

Age level: All

Time: 5 minutes to 20 depending on the activity and what you do with it!

Materials: Music can be a nice background for all of these movement activities and is important for 8 Count Dancing

We believe the very best way to start any learning experience is with movement and encourage you to find a way to have students at least stretch for a few minutes at the start of each class – it can make a world of difference in focus and attention!

Count Down Shake Down

This can be done in any classroom configuration. If students are able they should stand for the activity but you can modify the body parts that are shaking depending on ability.

  • Start with the right hand and shake it vigorously 10 times counting down out loud from 10. (10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1)
  • Repeat the countdown and shaking with the left hand. 
  • Repeat the countdown and shaking with the right foot. 
  • Repeat the countdown and shaking with the left foot. 
  • Now return to the right hand and restart the countdown beginning with 9. (9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) Follow with the left hand, right foot, and left foot. 

Repeat the process with 8, then 7, etc. until you reach 1! 


What’s Shaking?

This activity stretches the brain and the body and can be quite difficult to do. You can change the level of challenge by making movements small and keeping just a few things moving at once or making movements large and doing several at the same time. 

Invite students to follow along with your movements and prompts. 

Start by reviewing the right and left sides of the body and asking students to do the same thing you are doing. For example: 

“Everyone hold up your right hand and shake it. Good, now put it down. Shake your left hand. Put it down. Shake your right foot. Put it down. Shake your left foot. Put it down.” 

Now begin shaking your right hand again and speaking directions: “Shake your right hand.” Keep shaking that hand until you see that everyone is also shaking their right hand. “Now add your left foot. Now add your right hip. [Pause until everyone is doing this.] Now take out your left foot. What’s shaking? Call it out!” 

Participants call out “Right hand, right hip.” Then add and subtract more body parts. Here are examples of things you might add varying when you use the right or left side of the body. 

  • Hips
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Knees
  • Fingers
  • Ears
  • Eyebrows

The game is much harder when more than 4 things are moving at once so remember to subtract moving body parts as you add them. 

Students will have trouble keeping track of what’s shaking. If you notice that several students are moving various parts not currently in rotation you can pause and say, “Let’s keep track of what’s moving: Check if you are shaking your… [right hand, left foot, right knee] Good, we’re all on track. Now remove your ____ and add your ____.” 


Bilateral Synchronization

This activity is similar to the above in that it involves doing different things on each side of the body, but the movements are less random than “shaking” a body part. 

Model for the class standing and demonstrating with your right arm first: 

Using just your right arm: 

  • Touch your shoulder. 
  • Reach for the sky. 
  • Touch your shoulder.
  • Reach for the ground. 

Repeat two times. 

Now, using just your left arm: 

  • Touch your shoulder. 
  • Reach for the sky. 
  • Touch your shoulder. 
  • Reach out to the left. 
  • Touch your shoulder. 
  • Reach for the ground. 

Repeat two times. 

Now bring both sides together, starting with both hands on your shoulders. So the sequence will go like this: 

Right Arm Left Arm 
Touch your shoulder.  Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the sky.  Reach for the sky. 
Touch your shoulder. Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the ground.  Reach out to the left. 
Touch your shoulder.  Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the sky.  Reach for the ground. 
Touch your shoulder. Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the ground.  Reach for the sky. 
Touch your shoulder.  Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the sky.  Reach out to the left. 
Touch your shoulder. Touch your shoulder. 
Reach for the ground.  Reach for the ground. 

Keep going for several repetitions and observe how students are problem-solving when they lose track of what one arm or the other is doing. In a debrief ask them what they notice about their own thinking as they try to do this. What makes it hard? What helps it feel easier? 


8-Count Dancing 

The success of this activity depends on a song with a consistent 4-count beat that lasts about 3 minutes. You can probably do this with other rhythms but a straightforward 4-count beat is a good place to begin. We have historically done this with Dancing Queen by Abba but there are plenty of other songs that would work just as well! You will want to put that song on repeat for the duration of this activity so you don’t have to keep restarting it as the dance is built.

  • Play the song for a minute and invite students to move their bodies in time with the music while thinking of dance moves that would go well with the tune. 
  • Explain that volunteers will come up with a dance move that can be done to the count of 8 and new moves will be added until they have come up with a full routine. 
  • Demonstrate with a simple dance move, the first one is important as it will set the tone for the group and to get everyone comfortable with participating and contributing you’ll want something accessible to all – a simple arm movement, stepping back and forth, shoulder shrug, or something along these lines will work well. Remind the group to choose a move that they think everyone will be able to do. You model the move, everyone else does it along with you for the count of 8, then you invite someone else to share a move. “Who’s next?” 
  • A student shares a move and everyone repeats it to the count of 8. You say, “Let’s start from the beginning!” And start with your move for 8, then the one the student contributed for 8. “Who’s next?” 
  • You keep building the dance in this way, learning a new move and starting from the beginning until you have about 8 different movements that you could repeat for the duration of the song. 

Once you have a routine, consider doing that routine with the song for a few days. This helps the class feel ownership over what they created. But then see what happens if you bring in a new song and they build again – this time without you as the starting point.

Standards Addressed by these Activities

Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Older students might, depending on the context of the problem, transform algebraic expressions or change the viewing window on their graphing calculator to get the information they need. Mathematically proficient students can explain correspondences between equations, verbal descriptions, tables, and graphs or draw diagrams of important features and relationships, graph data, and search for regularity or trends. Younger students might rely on using concrete objects or pictures to help conceptualize and solve a problem. Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

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