Socially distanced classrooms are challenging the mental and physical health of our students. Intentionally add movement and conversation with these tips.
Movement breaks and brain breaks are definitely not a new concept in education. However, never have I taught a school year that required brain breaks more than 2020. Due to COVID restrictions, this year I have 14 first graders who are not allowed to leave their seats all day. Six year olds, at desks six feet apart, all day long. No centers, no "find a partner who..." activities, no real group work, not even the option to get up to sharpen a pencil or grab a piece of paper. We have truly no movement naturally built into our day. So, I started the school year by intentionally planning movement breaks and partner activities that would be a part of every school day, to protect the mental and physical health of my students.
I have always actually leaned away from formal brain breaks, like the ones posted on Go Noodle, because they often get students wound up and then require me to lose teaching time to get us refocused. Instead, I have always just built natural movement into our day, with center rotations, group projects, allowing students to get their own materials and work in every corner of our classroom. However, with all of those things being big no-nos, I went into this school year with an intentional plan to give students movement without taking away from instructional time. Here are a few of the things I have done:
"Action Break" Transitions
Even though my students can't rotate through centers, I am continuing to teach through small group rotations. Only this year the students complete the activities at their desks and I move from one small group to the next with my rolling whiteboard. In between each rotation, when students would normally be moving from one area of the classroom to another I have created "action breaks".
For these action breaks, I typed up a list of different actions, everything from basic exercises (like jumping jacks and pushups) to yoga poses (like chair pose and boat pose) to imagination activities (like pretending to drive a car or pretending to hula hoop). I cut up my list and during each transition, I pull an action and the kiddos have thirty seconds to a minute to complete it. This is about the same amount of time that I would normally give students to transition between center rotations, so no lost teaching time and the kids get out of their seats.
Planned Talking Partner Activities
When students are working in centers, they talk to their groupmates, a lot. When these conversations are on topic, they can create additional learning possibilities. This is especially important for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. But, honestly all students benefit from these peer on peer conversations. Additionally, these conversations give students an outlet from the monotony of their own thoughts. Without these built in times to talk, we as teachers need to intentionally build in talking opportunities.
Since groupwork is challenging from a six foot distance, I have assigned each of my students a single "talking partner". This is generally the person closest to them in the classroom. All throughout the day, I ask students questions and they are to discuss it with their "talking partner". This can be as simple as "Tell your talking partner about the work you did on that word problem." or "Tell your partner what you would do if you were that character." However, I also build in specific questions during whole group and small group lessons. As in I write the questions directly into lesson plans. I also put them in my daily slides. This keeps me focused and gives my students a brain break from listening to me. It also gives them a chance to talk and make meaning.
Learning Material Boxes
Since students cannot share materials this year, I gave each child a tote with baggies of basic manipulatives. It has things like red and white chips, connecting blocks, plastic coins, dice, a timer, a clock, etc. I originally created these simply as a time saver so I wouldn't have to sanitize manipulatives each time they were used. However, this has really helped encouraged my students to pull out manipulatives whenever they feel they need them. This increases learning and the metacognition skills to realize when they need manipulatives.
These learning boxes also increase movement. They sit on the floor next to my students' desks, and so each time they bend down to get something, they are more active than if I had delivered those manipulatives to them. Additionally, I use these learning boxes as an opportunity to build in partner talk. For example, I might say "Roll the dice, compare it with your talking partner. Who has more?" Or "Build that word with one chip per sound. Show your talking partner how to spell that word. "
The lack of movement and conversation our kids are experiencing due to COVID is very concerning to me, as a parent and as a teacher. It is not good for anyone's mental or physical health to sit still all day, or to be isolated from their peers. While I understand that this disease is dangerous, the measures we are taking to prevent disease spread are also dangerous. Please, as a teacher, find ways to add movement and conversation into your classrooms, whether you are teaching virtually or face to face. And if you have a great way to add this into the classroom that you'd like to share, please leave a comment with that information. Let's learn from each other to make the best decisions for our students.
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