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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

Kinesthetic Review

The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.

Oftentimes lethargy drains away cognitive energy. Students stuck behind desks, shackled to their chairs by worksheets, can make careless mistakes merely because of boredom. To rejuvenate students and amp up their processing ability, teachers can ask students to stand up next to their desks. Encouraging students to move and respond to teacher queries can take any set of review questions and turn them into an enjoyable activity or even a game.

Kinesthetic review works best with questions that have a finite number of answer choices rather than completely open-ended ones. The questions can be created by the teacher, pulled from a textbook, or even come from chapter review exercises. The teacher asks students to stand either next to or behind their chairs and listen to the questions read aloud. Based on prompts given by the teacher, such as, “Raise your hand if you agree with this statement,” or, “If you think the answer is A, point to the door,” students visibly demonstrate their selection through their actions or motions.

Why It Works

Many decades ago, teachers and other learned individuals did not know of the strong connection between learning and movement. Neither the educational nor scientific communities believed that an increase in the latter could strengthen the former. Now, advances in neuroscience have highlighted the link between the two again and again. The area of the brain most closely linked with motor control is the cerebellum. This portion of the brain, which contains nearly half of all the brain’s neurons, not only processes movement but learning as well.

Movement improves memory and retrieval. By incorporating kinesthetic activities with topics or concepts, information is encoded with extra tags that can be used later for recall. Imagine that someone is looking for a tweet from a certain person. One way to find the tweet would be to look at that person’s Twitter profile and scroll through his or her tweets. An easier way might be to search for that person’s name and hashtags included in the tweet. Using body movements to process learning is like adding multiple hashtags to a tweet. They allow the information to be recalled through a variety of tags later on.

Additionally, oxygen is essential for brain function. Physical activity increases the blood flow, and consequently the oxygen, to the brain. For teachers to provide students with every opportunity to learn and later recall and apply any learned knowledge, they must commit to acting on advances in neuroscience. While sit-and-get worksheet packets might help with classroom discipline (and even that sentiment is easily challenged), they do nothing to create multiple links or tags for new learning that can be used for recall and retention.


Asking students to participate in kinesthetic review requires very little planning. Here are a few tips for making it a seamless rollout for everyone.

1. Have the questions or statements that students will respond to preplanned. These can be taken from a chapter review, teacher’s edition, or even generated from question stems found through online searches. By thinking about the questions ahead of time, teachers can ensure that they are varied, rigorous, and relevant.

2. In addition to planning out the questions, teachers should also be aware of how they want students to respond to them. Some questions might only have two possible responses, such as true or false. Others might be multiple choice and offer four different answer selections. Even some open-ended questions can be used, especially if they require a numerical response. Knowing ahead of time how students will respond will keep this strategy moving at a fast clip and minimize down time. Some possible responses are: If you agree with this statement, raise your left hand. If you think the answer is A, hold up one finger; if you think the answer is B, hold up two fingers, etc.

3. Decide if and how students will work together to answer the questions. Some might be basic recall questions, and so rapid, individual responses might be most appropriate. Other questions might be deeper or require multiple steps to process. With these types of questions, students would benefit from working with a partner or even a group before showing their answers.

4. Plan for asking follow-up questions to students after they have responded to the question. If over 95% of the students all respond identically, it is probably safe to assume that the students have a firm grasp of the content being questioned. If, however, there seems to be a divide among the responses, there might be a golden opportunity to briefly extend the learning. Allow students a chance to converse with others that responded similarly and discuss why they answered the way they did. One representative from each group could then be given 30 seconds to share their group’s findings. This would allow teachers a glimpse into the thought processes being used by their students and provide an opportunity for reteaching if needed.


Mrs. Johnson knew that her pre-k students needed to move constantly. With so much energy, trying to keep them contained was like trying to keep the sun from setting. She didn’t worry over it too much, however, because she didn’t try to limit their movement. In fact, she has incorporated some type of movement into most of her learning activities. Today she wanted her students to continue to work on directionality terms, including in front, behind, and next to.

To facilitate this, she found an image online of several objects her students should be familiar with. The image contained five basic school supplies: glue, scissors, crayons, watercolors, and paper. Displaying this picture on her screen, she planned on asking a series of questions to her students relating one object with another. To show their understanding, the students would either jump in front of, behind, or next to their spot on the carpet.

To keep the students engaged but safe, she rearranged some of their carpet spots. Normally, their spots were adjacent to each other for story time and the morning message. She wanted to give them enough room to jump safely, so she spread the students out throughout the classroom.

“Listen up students. Today we are going to practice the positional words we’ve been learning this week. If you are on your regular carpet spot, please sit down. If you are in a new spot off the carpet, please stand up,” Mrs. Johnson began. As the students sorted out her directions, Mrs. Johnson helped the few students who were confused. “Everyone look at Ja’Leah. Is her new spot in front of, behind, or next to her regular spot?” The students shouted out an answer and Mrs. Johnson led them in a short discussion explaining why Ja’Leah was next to her usual spot.

“Thank you, Ja’Leah, you can sit down. Now let’s look at Dimitrius. Think about where he is now. Is he in front of, behind, or next to his normal spot? Whisper your answer to a friend,” Mrs. Johnson instructed. She continued this line of questioning until all her students in new spots had been discussed and were sitting down.

“Now we’re going to play pretend. Everyone please look at the picture on the screen in front of us. You see a bottle of glue, a pair of scissors, a box of crayons, watercolors, and a piece of paper. Pretend you are a little tiny insect on the scissors. If you wanted to jump to the paper, which direction would you jump? Stand up and take a teeny-tiny jump in that direction and let’s see if we can get there.”

Mrs. Johnson helped the few students who struggled. “Now, can someone tell me the position of the paper in relation to the scissors?” After some discussion, the class decided that the paper is behind the scissors. “That’s why you all took a tiny jump backward. The paper is located behind the scissors. Everyone take a tiny jump back to their starting spot. Are you ready for a new jump?”

“Pretend you are a tiny insect on the glue. You want to take a tiny jump to the scissors. Which way would you jump? Take a teeny-tiny jump in that direction,” Mrs. Johnson said. The activity continued with Mrs. Johnson giving positional directions and the students jumping based on the prompt. After each jump, she helped the students craft a statement that described the two objects in relation to each other as in front of, behind, or next to.


Kinesthetic review is simply the joining of body movements and academic content. In that regard, the possibilities for tweaking this strategy for various uses are virtually limitless. One of these variations could be students working with a partner to create a physical representation. For example, if the teacher is conducting a quick review and displays a question with four answer choices on the board, the students could talk together about the problem. When the teacher asks the class to show their answers, the pairs could team up to create the letter A, B, C, or D with their bodies.

While most kinesthetic review experiences are centered around predetermined responses that students will use to communicate their answers, there are other options. Sometimes, teachers will get more information from students if the questions they ask are more open-ended. For example, teachers might ask students to show them a trapezoid or how the main character was feeling at the climax of the plot. Both questions have a correct answer but the methods for demonstrating those answers aren’t given to the students. This opens up the door for rich discussions around both student responses and their interpretations.

Another way to open up this technique is to have students use their arms to signify their level of agreement with a statement read by the teacher. If the teacher says, “The issue of slavery was not one of the causes of the Civil War,” the students could point their arms at the floor to signify their disagreement with the statement. Students could point their arms to the sky to signify their complete agreement with the statement, “The Civil War changed the course of American history.” Finally, certain statements, such as, “The North’s victory can be attributed to an advantage in political leadership,” are only partially true. Students could point their arms straight ahead, halfway between agreement and disagreement, to signify their response. The teacher could then extend the discussion with students, having them justify their responses by including resources, population, industry, and economy as additional factors for the North’s victory.

Modifying This For Virtual Learning

I know what some of you are thinking - this would only work in a traditional classroom setting. We're restricted by laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads.

You are only restricted by the limits you place on yourself.

Now, more than ever, do kids need to be up and moving. Kinesthetic review works so well in digital learning environments precisely because it's unexpected. Have your students stand up and give themselves space to move. Ask questions and provide them the opportunity to answer with their bodies. Since their at home, take the response up a notch. Have them jog in place, spin around, and do five jumping jacks to answer a question.

This works for teachers as well. Instead of hunching over your laptop for 6+ hours a day, stand up and model the kinesthetic responses. If you're afraid that you'd have to should to be heard, invest in a Bluetooth microphone that works with your laptop or desktop computer. A $30 investment can free you from your office chair, increase student engagement, and even help you earn your steps goal for the day!

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