Five ways to add movement to your virtual classes

When it comes to learning, we have known for a while now, that movement trumps sitting1.  Finding ways to build movement into activities in the virtual classroom is more challenging than in the in-person classroom. This means that we trainers need to be more deliberate in including learner movement as often as possible.

Research shows that moving around increases our blood circulation, which carries oxygen and glucose (energy for the the brain) to the brain more quickly – thereby increasing brain activity and improving cognitive function.  We also know that the release of neurotransmitters and BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) help with memory, attention and motivation. You can find out more about research into the link between movement and cognition in the excellent article: Physical Activity and Cognition: Inseparable in the classroom2.  

Movement can also be a great way to introduce a bit of fun into the classes – silly waves, disco moves, animal impersonations – you name it!   However, as some of my learners have pointed out: these activities are great fun if you’re working from home, but might not be so be so well received in the open plan office alongside your colleagues! 

So encourage your virtual class learners to move! Below are five activities you can use to bring movement into your virtual classroom, whether your learners are live-streaming from home or from the office:

1. THE WINDOW BREAK

Each learner moves away from their screen to stand by a nearby window or outside door (open if possible) for about 90 seconds.

They focus on a point in the distance, and breathe slowly in and out three times taking exaggerated deep breaths. At the end of the 90 seconds, return to screen.

This activity can be extended to a window reflection activity, where the learner reflects on a question they will ask or an answer they will share when they return to their screen.

2. 3D THINKING

Each learner is tasked to go and find a 3D object not immediately within reach to represent a specific concept. They have up to 2 minutes.

The concept can be the same for everyone in the class – eg find an object to represent the concept of “put the learner at the centre of the learning” or it could be more individualised – eg find an object to represent “the most important thing you have learned so far”.

Learners present back to the group, holding up their object and explaining the significance.

The activity can be modified to learners gathering supplies and then building a 3D object, from modelling clay, small bricks, pipe cleaners, paper clips etc. This requires more time: 5-8 minutes.

3. LEARNING WALL

Each learner identifies a nearby wall, whiteboard or cupboard door to put up a blank poster (eg A3 sized).  It must be at least a few paces away from their monitor.

Learners draw an appropriate title and outline – eg of a lightbulb/treasure chest/toolbox to capture key ideas, concepts or tools.

At various points during the training, the facilitator should pause and give learners 1-2 minutes to capture a key concept on a sticky note, get up, review previous sticky notes and add this new one to their poster.

An alternative to this is to provide/ have learners create a treasure chest or box suitable for index cards.  Again, it should be positioned a short distance away from their seated position, for them to get up and add to throughout the session(s).

4. WALK AND TALK

In this paired activity, learners switch the video streaming off, and take the two-person ‘breakout room’ conversations on the move – or even choose to switch to a mobile phone call instead!

Walk and talk is a simple way to introduce movement into 5-10 minute discussion activities when reference materials are not required – it could be a lap inside the office building, or a short walk outside if internet/phone reception (and the weather) permits. 

5. FORGET-ME-NOTS

Each learner is asked to make a note of a follow up action, or an important point they want to remember after the training, on a sticky note.

They then have 1-2 minutes to move away from the screen to place the note somewhere they will notice it when the session is over– eg on the fridge door/tea bag supply/lunch box.

SUMMARY

Remember, the whole point is to create ways for your virtual class learners to move! If you found these ideas helpful, please share your own movement tips with your colleagues – the more we can encourage learners to move around while learning in our virtual classes, the better!

And finally… REVIEW ACTIVITY

Before you go – let’s do a one minute review activity. Do a standing or seated stretch, and have another look at these five pictures.

Can you remember which activity each one represented?  

Which one do you think you’ll use first…?

1 ‘Movement trumps sitting’ is one of six brain-based learning principles introduced by Sharon Bowman in Using Brain Science to Make Training Stick

2 Frontiers in Education article “Physical Activity and Cognition: Inseparable in the classroom” by Anya Doherty and Anna Forés Miravalles, 2019

Illustrations in this post by hachikoart.