How To Incorporate Kinesthetic Activities In A Language Class

Photo by  Melody Jacob

Photo by Melody Jacob


Do you remember back in the day when you tried getting students to act out a scene to practice another language? Or maybe you tried getting students to act out every vocabulary word? I wasn’t there to witness the class, but I can guess that your students felt awkward, and you weren’t happy with the lackluster effort.

I’m here to tell you that I’ve been there too.

We’ve all been there. But the good news is that you did a good job in taking a risk, and trying out something new. And, isn’t that what we want our students to do every day?

In this article, I’ll share a few kinesthetic activities that can successfully be used in a language classroom, that will have you happy with the results, and have your students feeling confident and comfortable.

Concentric Circles With High Five

I’ll be the first to admit that the name of this activity is not the most enticing. But, I’ll also tell you that when I used this activity with high school students, and adult learners, I got a whole lot more compliments on my teaching strategies.

In this activity, you need to split the class in half. If you have a class of 30, you’ll have 2 groups of 15. Give each student in one group a piece of paper that has a practice question on one side, and the answer on the other side. (Similar to practice flashcards back when education was completely analog.)

These students will need to get up from their desks and form a long oval facing outward. I would make ample space for this activity at the front of the room, and tell all the students to come to the front.

I’d tell half of them (half of the 15) to form a line shoulder to shoulder. Then I’d tell the rest of the group to stand back to back and shoulder to shoulder. So these students are standing in a long oval facing outward. They should all have their piece of paper with them, and hold it up so that the answer is facing them, and the question is facing out.

Then, the others half of the class needs to come to form an inwardly facing circle, where each student is directly facing a student with a question.

The goal of the activity is for the student in the outer circle to correctly answer the question on the piece of paper. When they do, the person holding the paper gives them a high-five.

The teacher needs to moderate the movement of the outer circle. I would tell my students to only move when I played the music. I would use Pandora or Spotify to play music in the target language. I would watch the class for high-fives. When most of my students had gotten a high five, I would play the music for a few seconds, and this would direct students to move one person to the right (or to the left, whatever you decide).

Then I would stop the music.

This would give all students in the outer circle time to answer the question that their new partner was holding. Again, the new partner would give the student a high-five when they got the answer right. I would play the music when most students had gotten a high-five. The outer circle would all move one person to the right.

And, this is how to bring a kinesthetic component into practice or review questions.

It is important for you as the teacher to remember who the students were originally paired up with. When the original pairs come back together, the outer circle and the inner circle needs to switch off who has the paper. Then the process repeats until every student has had a chance to answer every question.

You may be thinking that this sounds pretty cool, but making all of those analog flashcards sounds like a drag.

It would be, but I use Quizlet to make the flashcards. Either I enter all of the questions and answers into one Quizlet “study set”, or I give a student extra credit to do it for me. Then I print the set single-sided in the “large” format. I cut the questions into long strips along the solid line. This way when the paper is folded along the dotted line, The question is on one side, and the answer is on the other.

Quizlet also facilitates my next kinesthetic activity, so read on!

Review With White Boards

In the above activity, you know that all of your students have had at least one shot (probably more) at answering all the questions in a practice set. But you don’t know how well they all really know this information.

This is when it’s important to give a check for understanding as a class. I like to follow the concentric circles with high five with a review session with individual white boards and dry erase markers.

For this activity, you will first need to find an affordable set of white boards and dry erase markers. I know some teachers who find material at a home improvement supply store (like Home Depot), find the materials that can be used to make a white board, and ask someone at the store to cut the material to the proper size. If your school doesn’t have a budget, do this.

If your school has a small budget for you to work with, has reasonable prices for a set of dual sided 9” x 12” student white boards with markers and erasers.

Wherever you get your whiteboards from, make sure that you have enough so that every student in even your largest class will have their own whiteboard, marker, and eraser. It is also important that the whiteboards are double-sided. Over the course of years, one side may be unusable, and having another side to use will increase the boards’ longevity.

Now to describe the activity.

As the teacher, you need to project onto a screen the same Quizlet set of questions that your students practiced in the previous activity, and put the set in the “flashcard” format so that the students will first see the question. If you have speakers connected, play what the question is. I like to do this because Quizlet has native speaker voices in their software. This gives a good model for my students, and it saves me from talking so much.

Give the students time to write the answer to the question on their whiteboards, and make sure they don’t say anything.

Once they’ve all have had time to write the answer, tell them to show you the answers on the count of 3. If you do this activity a lot, you’ll get tired of saying the same thing. So I suggest recording your voice so that you can play it using speakers. I have used Vocaroo to get a link to my audio recording, so I wouldn’t have to repeat the same thing dozens of times.

Make sure that the students all show you their answers at the same time, or the check for understanding won’t be valid, and the excitement of the activity will stay high.

When all of the students are holding their white boards in the air, you need to vocally count all of the students who got the answer right. In my experience, any student, whether they are 15 or 50, wants to be counted. So they will make sure that you see their good work. This also allows you to know what percentage of students get the answer correct.

If more than a handful of students gets the question wrong, mark the “star” on Quizlet to save it later for review.

Repeat this process until you answer all questions in the set (there shouldn’t be more than 15 or 20). Then go back to all of the questions that were starred, and review those until all students answer every question correctly.

This act of writing the answer and holding up the whiteboards gets students moving, and amps up the excitement. You will also see students being more confident in their abilities as they can take risks with the language without any penalty.

Gallery Walk

This activity was hands down a favorite of so many of my students. One student had been asking for a while to do this activity, and I kept telling her that I had run out of the necessary supplies. So, one say she asked to go to the bathroom, and she came back with all of the supplies that I was missing. (She then told me that it paid to know people… she was all of 16 years-old as the time.)

So, what supplies do you need to do this activity?

You need largish poster-sized paper, about 6 per class. You need colored markers, I like Crayola, and you need tape so the paper can be hung on a wall.

The idea is for students to work in groups and visually illustrate vocabulary words and expressions that they need to know for the learning objective. Each group of students will have a different set of words or expressions to illustrate, and only that group will know what their words or expressions are. This step should take about 20 minutes to complete.

Then one student from each group needs to be the “gallery curator”. This means that they are responsible for taping the “artwork” that the students have just done to a space on the wall that you have designated for them.

Ideally you want all of the “artwork” from each group spaced out evenly around your room, so that when the “visitors to the “gallery” (your classroom) visit all of the “artwork", they will have enough space to walk around.

At this point, only the “gallery curators” should be standing up and at the wall. The rest of the students at each group should still be seated. Tell these students that they are all “art patrons” and they love to talk about art, and how they interpret the art. Their job is to walk around the gallery to the various pieces of “artwork” and talk about the art in the target language using the vocabulary and expressions that they need to learn for this present learning objectives.

To manage the movement of students, tell the “art patrons” to stand up next to their own artwork with the “gallery curator”. You will play music to indicate to them when to move. This means that they will move one piece of “artwork” to the right (or to the left, you can decide). Everyone one needs to stay with their group, except for the “gallery curator”.

When the “art patrons” are analyzing another group’s art, the “gallery curator” needs to use the target vocabulary words to engage the “patrons” in conversation, and this should all be in the target language.

Make sure that the only time that students move to another piece of artwork is when you play the music. You’ll want to make sure that students are at each piece of artwork for three to five minutes, but this depends on the level you are teaching. Once the groups of “patrons” have been able to visit all of the piece of “artwork”, have the students take down their artwork, and sit down.

While students like this activity, a common complaint is that whomever is the “gallery curator” doesn’t have a chance to practice the vocabulary of the other groups. This is why I like to follow this activity up with the “review with whiteboards” described in the previous section.

Culture Rotation

The crux of a language class is learning the language. But all language teachers know that language and culture cannot be separated. When studying culture, there is a never-ending supply of information on cultural figures and locations. As I say on the welcome page of this site, it’s important to study alternative histories, because there is always another story.

In this activity, you need to divide the class into two. Give each student in one group a person, place, or artifact of culture that is necessary for the present set of learning objectives. I pass these broad topics out on small pieces of paper to make classroom management easier. Let’s call this Group A.

All of these students will need to stand along the perimeter of the classroom. To make this possible, you’ll have to push the desks away from the wall. If there still isn’t enough room, maybe you can go into the hall or outside for this activity.

All of the students who are sitting, let’s call them Group B, will have to pair up with, and face someone at the wall. To start the activity, the person in Group A needs to tell their partner the topic. The person in Group B needs to say everything they know about that topic. If time permits the two can have a conversation about that broad topic. If the students are advanced enough in the target language, they should speak in that language.

You as the teacher need to play music after a few minutes, and this will indicate students to move to the right (or to the left, whatever you tell them). With this activity, they keep on moving until the music stops. So the person in Group B may pass a few people in Group A, and they will be able to move (hop, step, or dance) until the music stops.

Whomever each person in Group B is in front of, when the music stops, that Group A person, needs to say their topic. The person in Group B needs to say everything they know about this new topic. Again, if time permits, the two can have a conversation.

You as the teacher need to play music for students in Group B to move around the room till they get to a new partner.

Make sure that each student in Group B is able to speak to each student in Group A. Once this happens, the students need to trade places, and whoever student B trades places with, they now are responsible for that cultural topic.

Now all students in Group A need to follow the above process. This will allow for all students to have conversations with every student, and converse about “as much as they know” about all of the cultural topics.

This is a great activity to review at the end of a unit. To close the activity, you can ask students to share on a Padlet or a Nearpod Collaborate board the most interesting fact they learned for the lesson. All such Padlets or Collaborates can be saved to review for the mid-term or final exam when the time comes.

Summing It Up

This article gives four strategies to get students moving. If you pace your units out, you may be able to structure your classes so that every class, or nearly every class, your students are moving while they are learning about language and culture. This has all kinds of benefits for memory, and of course if makes learning more fun!