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How to Successfully Activate Your Classroom

Here at Amaven, we could extoll the benefits of active learning until we're blue in the face. Okay fine, we do.

We believe dynamic, physically engaging learning is the future of education. And we want members of our Healthy Schools Programme to be at the forefront of its inevitable evolution. We also know, from the work we do with primary schools, that most teachers think physically active lessons are a great idea. They're just not sure how to to get started.

There are understandable concerns about what it means to 'activate' a classroom, particularly from a practical perspective. For decades, successful teaching has been equated with stillness. If you can get your pupils to sit without fidgeting and focus on a central point like a whiteboard, you must be doing something right. But is this really the case?

Can - should - children be learning while their bodies are active? Click here to read our blog on the impact of physical activity on learning outcomes.

We've got some top tips for active learning that show creativity doesn't have to mean chaos in your classroom:

1. Talk to Your Pupils First

One of the easiest ways to get children interested in change is to involve them in the process. Carefully explain what it means to have an 'active classroom' and how activating your lessons might benefit their learning. Inform pupils there will be a trial period. If behaviour expectations are not met, you might decide they're not ready for this 'grown up' next step.

Be clear with your expectations. Treat 'out of chair' activities as you would any other by using verbal warnings as a preliminary strike. The point of active learning is to be energetic, but it'll take time for pupils to learn how to focus their energies. It's important not to treat the experiment as a failure at their first loss of control. 

2. Start Small and Simple

You don't have to dive straight in with games of classroom twister. You can help pupils get accustomed to dynamic learning by adding non-locomotor activities first. Ask children to stand up and perform a simple action (spin around once) each time they speak to yourself or the class. Or introduce a soft ball which must be thrown between those who'd like to speak.

Use simple changes, then graduate to movements which require pupils to travel around the room.

3. Progressively Increase the Difficulty

When you trust pupils to get out of their seats and follow movement instructions during lessons, there is no end to the variety of activities and actions you can use. Premium members of the Healthy Schools Programme get access to a library of physical activity resources including challenge checklists, classroom games, movement posters and dance and yoga videos.

Click the link to visit our FREE RESOURCES section and browse the many activities designed for use in the classroom. 

4. Regularly Ask for Feedback

Just as it's important to involve pupils in the introduction of dynamic learning activities, it's also valuable to seek their feedback. Together, you can discover which activities are fun and impactful for fact retention. Ask plenty of questions. 'Did you feel this activity helped you remember the information more?' ' Did this activity distract you from the lesson's learning goals?'  

6. Experiment with Content Based Movement Activities 

The more creativity you can bring to your active classroom, the more memorable the lessons will be. Where possible, try to integrate movement activities with the lesson's content. For instance, creative pantomime activities are always popular; if you're talking about a great historical journey, act it out in the classroom. Learning about the life cycle of a frog? Bring it to life with movement!

If you need inspiration, read our blogs on active ways to teach number skills and easy ways to hit the 60mins activity target

7. Pause When Pupils Get Overstimulated 

There will be times when your pupils get overexcited and forget they're supposed to be listening and following instructions. When this happens, stop all movement as quickly as possible. It may be helpful to establish a 'freeze!' and response process for this. Once the children are still, explain the problem and the fact you're going to give them a second chance to get it right. 

Before you restart, we recommend conducting a short mindfulness exercise such as 60 seconds of deep breathing, counting backwards from ten or conducting a yoga style stretch. This will bring your pupils back into the calm, focused state of mind required for effective learning.

8. Consistently Enforce the Rules

We think it's important to stress the impact of dynamic classrooms on behaviour. Studies show children who have problems focusing often benefit the most and see the biggest improvements from active learning. So, it's crucial teachers don't immediately resort to exclusion from these activities when disciplining pupils.  

Persistent rule breakers should be temporarily removed from activities to prevent other children from getting distracted. However, we strongly discourage teachers from withdrawing individuals from dynamic activities as punishment for actions not related to the lessons themselves. If anything, steps should be taken to keep persistently disruptive pupils in active lessons though we realise this won't always be possible.