Ideas for More Physical Activity In The Classroom

Ideas for More Physical Activity In The Classroom

Doctor’s Orders For More Movement
Overwhelmed student needs a movement break with targeted physical activity so she can return to the classroom ready to learn
I need a Sensory Path Break!

As promised, today is all about ways to incorporate physical activity into the classroom. Refer back to my previous posts to learn why movement and physical activity is an increasingly important part of the school day. I’ll provide some examples and resources for classroom physical activity built into lessons as well as physical activity outside of formal instruction such as movement breaks between lessons. Remember the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recommends children and adolescents ages 6-17 should do AT LEAST 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. They even go further to break this down based on categories:

  • Aerobic – “Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.” Children & adolescents can do a combination of moderate & vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity or just vigorous intensity. 
  • Muscle-strengthening – “As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.”
  • Bone-strengthening – “As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.”

As well as helping students meet this 60 minute national recommendation, ideally, classroom physical activity should also address these categories. Luckily this is easily done as most activities fit into more than one category! This link will take you to the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd edition. These guidelines contain recommendations for both adults & youth (preschool age, school-age children, and adolescents). For more information on physical activity for youth check out Chapter 3 pages 46-54 of this document. Also take a look at the chart on pages 51-52 for specific examples of activities that fall into these categories!

Now that you’ve taken a gander at that chart hopefully you see which type or category activities fit into and that a lot of these activities fit into more than one category. Something you also may have noted is that a lot of these activities (kayaking & cross-country skiing lol) are not appropriate for a typical classroom setting. So let’s discuss some that are!

Activity Breaks Get Students Active and Ready to Learn

Activity breaks are bouts of movement with the purpose of engaging students, increasing focus, and decreasing certain behaviors (spacing out, fidgeting, & excessive talking). They can be high intensity to rev up the class’ energy if they are feeling sluggish or can be slow & calming in order to wind down. They can occur at the beginning or end of the day, before/after tests, between lessons, before/after transitions to/from other classes or lunch, or really anytime the teacher feels that the class needs it. They can be as quick as 1-5 minutes or longer depending on what the students need and each activity break can include several different activities. Great activities for these breaks include:

  • Dance party with music (freestyle or following along with a video)
  • Running in place
  • Marching in place
  • Squats
  • Push-ups (wall push-ups, knee push-ups, regular push-ups)
  • Planks (regular, forearm or on knees)
  • Mountain climbers
  • Burpees
  • Vertical jumps
  • Squat jumps
  • Hopping up & down on one foot
  • High knees
  • Jumping jacks
  • Windmills (regular or backwards)
  • Standing elbow to knee taps (utilizing opposite extremities i.e. left elbow to right knee)
  • Stretching
  • Breathwork & meditation
  • Yoga
  • Balloon keep up (with hands or challenge them to utilize any body part other than hands)

Truly the possibilities are endless! Feel free to use anything on this list, come up with other ideas & activities, or let the students pick for themselves. The point is just to get moving and have fun!

Looking for Sensory Path Products that incorporate these movements?

Physical Activity Built Into Lessons Makes Learning Fun and Memorable

Physical activity built into lessons is utilizing movements within the lesson itself to keep students engaged, increase retention of the information, improve understanding of the information, increase focus & concentration, and improve cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, organization, and abstract problem solving. There are so many different ways to do this and activities can be modified based on the age of the students, the subject matter, and potential cognitive/physical impairments. 


A great way to work on math concepts such as counting, whether this is by 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 10’s, or recognizing & identifying even/odd numbers is to have the students do this with repetitions of an activity or exercise. For example, having them perform jumping jacks or windmills while counting by whatever number. You could also have them count and perform a jumping jack, squat, or vertical jump only on even or odd numbers. You could work on fractions or percentages by having them play a throwing or kicking game (cornhole could be fun here) where they have to make the ball/bean bag (whatever you choose to use) into a target and then track how many they make and how many they miss. You could work on addition or subtraction by having the students stand in groups and add or subtract by students joining or leaving a group. 


An awesome way for students to stay engaged while reading is to have them act out what’s going on in the story or you could even have them come up with their own story as a class taking turns adding onto it by acting it out. While reading aloud to the class you could decide on a set of exercises to perform when they hear the subject, verb, adjective, and objects (indirect or direct). For example, the students could squat when they hear the subject, jump when they hear the verb, run in place when they hear the adjective, and stand on one leg when they hear the object of the sentence. When practicing writing you could even do something as simple as taping the students paper/worksheet to the wall and having them stand while completing the assignment so their body has to be more engaged than if they were just sitting.


A great way to talk about plants and other parts of the ecosystem is to have a scavenger hunt where students find a list of items and then once found discuss them. Having a class garden that students can tend (think about all the good movement you’d get here with them squatting, pushing/pulling, lifting/carrying, etc.) is also a great way for them to understand the processes of photosynthesis, understand how food is grown, introduce them to a variety of fruits, vegetables & herbs, as well as promote healthy eating habits & better nutrition. When discussing Newton’s Laws of Motion have students throw or kick balls (a game of bocce ball would be perfect here) to demonstrate these principles. You could also pull out some floor mats and have students bump or push each other (nicely, obviously) to demonstrate these concepts. For anatomy & physiology have your students trace each other’s outlines & then tape it up on the wall, allowing them to either draw or construct with craft supplies the various organs, muscles & bones. 


An excellent way for kids to learn states & their capitals or countries & their capitals is by reciting them while performing some type of activity/exercise like jumping jacks, windmills, running in place, burpees, etc. You can also have students discuss and learn about different historical events such as (WWI, WWII, etc.) by playing war and performing the daily duties & activities of the soldiers (see In The Trenches in the Energizers Social Studies document – link below). To promote understanding of the cardinal directions as well as latitude & longitude, tape a latitude & longitude grid on the floor of the classroom (you may have to rearrange things a bit); assign each direction a different movement (example: north – snapping, south – clapping, east – stomping feet, west – pretending to use a lasso) and have students ONLY using these movements direct a member of their team to a designated place on the grid. 

I hope this was enlightening and helpful for y’all. I wanted to demonstrate just how many ways there are to incorporate movement and physical activity into instruction no matter the subject matter, age of the students, and/or physical capabilities (all of these can be modified)! Again, the sky’s the limit here so if you can dream it… you can do it! I have provided a bunch of resources below for even more ideas that you can use directly or just use as a jumping off point to come up with some of your own. 

See y’all next week!


Catherine C. Skelton, PT, DPT

Pediatric Physical Therapist


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