Theodora Papapanagiotou

Movement, Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT – Theodora

The Body Learns
Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapanagiotou

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”  Confucius

When you read a title like this, you might wonder: can the body actually learn a foreign language?   You know that when we learn something, we use our brains, but what about our body? Is it possible?

You can’t possibly imagine how many different kinds of people there are around us! Some enjoy learning by exposing themselves to music, some prefer to categorize the things they learn, some are just a natural talent in acquiring language, and others, like me, are totally kinaesthetic.

What does kinesthetic mean? This is actually a Greek compound word, which derives from “κίνηση” (movement) and “αίσθηση” (sensation, feeling).  As kinesthetic learners, we have to actually feel the word and we can’t restrain ourselves on a chair or behind a desk during the whole lesson. We lose interest, we get bored, and eventually we stop paying attention. Using movement in our classrooms cannot only benefit kinesthetic learners, but the other types of learners as well.

First of all, it is fun to do different things than to do grammar and vocabulary exercises all the time.  Students remember the fun they had and in this way they do get to remember what they have learnt better.

When we are happy, our brain releases the so-called happy chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphin. As a result, when we learn with pleasure, our body seeks to create these chemicals. This is definitely a win-win situation for both the teacher and the students.

What can you do to bring movement in your classroom? You can do a lot of simple as well as complicated things, depending on the students, the space and the time available.


You can use TPR (Total Physical response).

Play pantomime to consolidate vocabulary:  You have a bag with word-cards. It can be anything, animals, professions, adjectives, a combination of adjectives and nouns, verbs.

Have them create a story, using movement, describing things in

detail using their hands and going around the room!

Use running dictation. Instead of the boring dictation of words or a text, stick a sheet of paper on the classroom door, or even outside and have a competition  – which team is going to finish first the text correctly.

Hide objects and give hints to the students, so they can find them or make a treasure map.

Use a ball to make the students speak. The student who has the ball has to talk for a specific time, let’s say 30 sec or a minute about a subject. Or you can use it as an ice –breaker / introduction in the beginning of the school year.


Use Can Use Music

Use songs to practice vocabulary or act out stories based on the song.

Use songs to teach adjectives. I use the song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and have my students mine the meaning of the adjectives.

Have students choose a song and have them create a whole performance based on it – playing a little sketch, dancing, drawing, or even combining all these together. This would be a great show for an end-of-the-year event!


You can use Yoga

Give simple Yoga instructions to students while demonstrating the exercise so that students can learn movement verbs and body parts.

Use Yoga breathing techniques to calm your students down at the beginning of your lesson, especially if you work with young children.

What can you do to bring movement in your classroom?  Whatever you do, do it, and have fun yourself first. The fun you have will be contagious.


Join Theodora and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live from July 20th to August 17th 2014.


Connect with authors, iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

Published by

Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapanagiotou is a teacher of EFL and DaF (German as a foreign language) in Greece since 1992. She has worked in various language schools in her hometown, Thessaloniki and with various levels and ages. In the past few years she has been working as a freelance teacher and taking parts in conventions, webinars and online courses, trying to become a better teacher.

36 thoughts on “Movement, Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT – Theodora”

  1. “Kinesthetic learning” can be very beneficial for young learners who love movement, activity, and rhythm. However, theoretically speaking, it is believed that once we use actions to teach language, we make an attempt to activate the right hemisphere of the brain thought not play a great role in producing and comprehending language.

    1. Ahhh Sharam! Not just for young learners! I have taught students from 3-80 yrs old and the one way I was able to reach the 80 yr old was when I got her up and moving to a jazz chant! She finally got the lesson!

      1. Hi Judy, I totally agree with you, some of my older students need a greater stimulus which they can work with to enjoy and remember the vocabulary. Last week I used one of Jase’s rap videos for my students. They loved it so much that I had to play it three times for them because they were so enthusiastic to learn the words from the rap.

  2. Great ideas, Thoedora! Kinaesthetic learning helps learners release excessive energy, relax, engage and learn. The whole body is engaged in learning. Plus, it is fun, thus more memorable!

  3. A really interesting article! The truth is I’ve always been afraid of using movement in my teenagers classes of 15-25 pupils. My fear is that I will totally lose control of the class!

  4. I let my students move around to finish a project with their classmates while looking for or getting their materials together. A couple of years ago with had monthly Toefl-rallies, and the students enjoyed it while actually revising the Toefl skills.

    I have also had students draw objects or shapes, based on what another student mimed…


  5. When teaching children, you definitely can’t ask them to sit and listen to you. All children seem to be kinesthetic, because all they want to do is moving around the class and doing something. So teacher needs to accommodate all those things so that the children can enjoy learning in class. I once taught a class of 30 children and found it hard to make them sit still and listen to what I had to say. But then I realized that why didn’t I use those energies the children have to reach the today lesson’s goal.

  6. Using pantomime, music and pictures are my favourite ones in my classes , not only for teens but also adults. Both groups like them.Since these kinds of activities help the brain to work much better and learning process take place stronger.

  7. I always try to add something kinaesthetic to all my lessons, even the business classes. The laminator has been my best friend as it allows me to make durable, touchy-feely, materials.

  8. Well, I want to share one of the activities I use. My students are very young (6 – 11) and this is the activity we all like. I use it when other things don’t work :). First, I tell them to pretend they are sleeping (close your eyes, sleep, sleep…), after several seconds I wake them up (by clapping), we put our clothes, go to the bathroom, wash our faces, go to the kitchen, eat, back to the bathroom, brush our teeth, say hello to our parents, grab our schoolbags, walk to school, say hello to our friends, sit at our desks and than I say: It’s time for school or It’s time for English. Sometimes I change things we do (say hello to mum, dad, sister if we do the family unit, or eat banana, apple, sandwich if we learn about food, run/skip/ jump to school etc).
    Thank you for this post, it explained TPR very well and although I often tell my student when we make exercise to breath deeply, yoga didn’t get on my mind. Students will like it, can’t wait to go back to the classroom to use it.
    And I totally agree about the music. Songs are the things students not only like, but also remember for a long, long time…

  9. Definitely TPR is necessary in learning. Human on the whole is an action animal, and language is more so TPR. It can be quite imposibe to speak without gestures and more so our body send out infinite messages to our listener and speaker. Communication is more so body language than speech – can’t stop the body talk. What do you think?

  10. Although the field of ELT is still struggling with the scientific reality of learning styles, ELT cannot leave us with their empty place, that is, it is hard to ignore the role they play in helping teachers and learners with language teaching and learning. Kinesthetic learning is not only bound to young learners, adults in my classes take benefit from it as well. As a teacher trainer, I believe all teachers, either experienced or novice, use it even implicitly in their classrooms and when it becomes explicit in their eyes they just understand how usefully it can support the teaching practices. Besides, putting the oft-cited story of the association between the brain’s right hemisphere and physical capability of learning aside, bringing kinesthetic learning in the classroom, teachers also introduce fun and excitement to their teaching.

  11. I absolutely agree that bringing movement in the class makes learning fun and enjoyable not only for young learners but also for the adult learners.

  12. I totally agree with you. But the problem in my country is that the number of learners in each class is big and using activities that make the learners move may create noise and bother other neighbours .

  13. I totally agree with you, Theodora:) TPR is very Important in the classroom, esp. with young learners who can’t just see and memorize a word, or a phrase. I do a lot of dancing, miming, acting in the classroom, and my kids like repeating after me, and that helps them remember the words better.

  14. Thanks for such beautiful post Theodora Papapanagiotou.TPR is very Important in the classroom and i think it works with all types of learners specially young ones. And all children love movements in or outside the classrooms like games, activities. So, totally agree with the post.

  15. Thanks for this info. Interesting topic it was. Body language-thats why the students remember teachers actions may be. I remember in my childhood I remembered my teachers actions rather than speech and remembered what sentences my teachers did in which actions. I use running dictation in my class Speaking about the songs my students remember the songs as if the song lesson was the best lesson

  16. Dear Theodora,

    Thank you for the inspiring post.

    In my opinion, learner movement and the heady excitement it brings can be really conducive to learning (particularly in young learners). I myself am not a kinesthetic learner but I have enjoyed activities entailing movement. Once I was doing a BC Train the Trainer Course, and there were times our trainers asked us to make posters during a workshop and I can vividly remember how we enjoyed the competition, the drawing, the poster presentation. So, in learning activities involving movement, there is always something for you to learn even if your learning style is not dominantly kinesthetic.

    Thank you again.

    All the best,
    Omid 🙂

  17. Very inspiring. As my students are teenage boys I often worry that they may get too out of hand, but I will stil try this. Even in groups they may be too noisy.

    Thank you.

  18. This blog has really been quite useful to make the connection clearer for me between kinesthesia and language acquisition. I’ve always used songs and chants with actions as well as games with motions and movements in my classes and have noticed that students seem to enjoy it more than non movement classes. I’ve always thought that students’ response to the lesson was because they perceived it as “fun” with less academic value. Now, I understand that movement and motions can stimulate language acquisition in a good way.

    I will definitely be making a conscious effort to use movement and motions more often in the classroom.

    Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *