Brain boosts: active ways to improve student achievement

When you think about ways to improve student achievement, does providing students with physical activity come to mind? It should. Active students have better concentration, fewer behavior problems, and higher performance on reading, writing, and math tests.  

Brain scans pre and post activity

 Image from Active Living Research’s “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance,” based on research by Dr. Charles Hillman, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

These two brain images, taken from the top of the head, represent the average amount of students’ neural activity during a test following sitting and walking for 20 minutes. The color blue represents lower neural activity, while the color red denotes higher brain activity in a given region. So students who walked prior to the test showed more brain activity.

Experts recommend peppering the school day with brain boosts, short bursts of physical activity lasting as little as 3 minutes or as much as 20 minutes. Luckily, you don’t need to be an accomplished athlete or physical trainer to lead this type of physical activity break. You just need tools and resources:

Online videos

Students can continue learning while moving to curriculum-based videos at sites like GoNoodleGeoMotion and Activity Works.

Facilitated activity breaks

The American Heart Association and Fuel Up to Play 60 have created more than 100 quick activities to do in any classroom. Here are two examples:

  • Take a Tour: Lead students on an imaginary tour of a different country or state in a charades-like game. For example, take a tour of Texas: march to the Alamo, climb an oak tree, climb Guadalupe Peak, swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Create other simulations that point out various landmarks within any state.
  • Mix it Up: Create a dance sequence one move at a time by calling out a move. Add one move each time through the sequence. Moves could include- stomp left, high five, jump twice, spin in a circle, squat, etc.
Students using math to move

Students participate in a Math In Your Feet workshop using whole body learning. Photo courtesy of Malke Rosenfeld, author of Math on the Move.

Get more resources

Brain boosts are one strategy teachers are using to make their classrooms more active and, as a result, their students more successful. Learn more about this and other innovative strategies in our guide “Active Students Achieve More.”

Active Students Achieve More: 3 Ways to Get Kids Moving. LEARN HOW