I feel like the topic of wiggly students is something that's not addressed nearly enough. Or maybe it's addressed in conversations sprinkled with developmentally appropriate research (“children need to move!”) and theory (“kinesthetic learners learn when their bodies are in movement”).

But HOW exactly do you address wiggly students in the classroom?

I know it can't be just me.

Or maybe it is. Either way, I've definitely had classes where the entire group feels the need to move and the two minute brain break during a fifty minute class wasn't nearly enough.

As a teacher, I often took it too personally when a student was not making progress. I know that isn't necessarily helpful, but if you're a teacher reading this, I'm sure you know how it feels.

The first place I look for solutions is my content presentation and pacing. These questions helped me reflect on what was working and what clearly wasn't:

How long are students maintaining attention during an activity?

Let's say a reading content block is fifty minutes and students can maintain attention for about ten minutes. The reading block can be broken into five activities to support students' attention spans.
Wait, I have to plan FIVE reading activities for EVERY lesson?

It sounds like a lot, but it isn't actually five different activities. I strive to include as many modalities as possible during lessons – not only does it increase engagement and attention, but it also has been proven to help make learning “sticky” (retention). This means you could teach from ONE lesson plan using multiple modalities to introduce, explore, and practice the content.

How can I incorporate different modalities within the same lesson?

This is the fun part – not just for students feeling restless, but for you, too! A lesson could begin with a “hook,” like a video, read aloud, or presentation of a problem to solve. Next, incorporate technology, like an interactive slideshow, for guided practice. Then students can get up and move to independent work followed by hands-on centers to apply what they've learned. Wrap up with a fast-paced review game that gets the students up and moving.

This is more of a preventative measure than solution, but it's important. Remember that I mentioned those two minute brain breaks? They actually are VERY helpful, but in my own teaching, I found I waited too long to use them. I was waiting until the symptoms of the “wiggles” started before utilizing them.

The well-timed brain break

I highly suggest incorporating those quick breaks BEFORE the wiggles began. I know it's REALLY hard to interrupt the lesson flow, but a well-placed brain break can help the lesson be much more effective than waiting until everyone's feeling restless.

It's helpful to remember that a brain break is intentional and serving an important purpose in student development (vs. viewing it as a “reward”).

Now this last solution is one I came up out of sheer desperation when the first two solutions weren't quite enough.

I learned about this solution with my reading intervention group that met twice a day – once before lunch (Guided Reading format) and then again after recess (phonics intervention). I used to say silent prayers for outdoor recess so they could expel some of their extra energy. #sorrynotsorry

Finally I decided to join them! Why push back on all that energy? I mean, it wasn't exactly working, so I started to look for opportunities to teach the content using movement.

Once we started seeing results in both engagement, learning, and attitude (for all of us), I was HOOKED!

Learning + Movement

What kind of activities did we do? There are so many creative ways to combine learning and movement… musical chairs, Around the World, Red Light Green Light, and one of our favorites:

Three solutions to teaching a classroom full of wiggly students. Here's what worked for my own energetic reading intervention groups - hope this helps!

I did learn quickly that there still needed to be some structure in place during these movement games as we were still learning about impulse control.

Overall, adding movement was successful and my students also gained valuable social interaction and experience with following directions.

I hope you find these solutions helpful for your own wiggly students! Check out more classroom movement ideas here:

Three solutions to teaching a classroom full of wiggly students. Here's what worked for my own energetic reading intervention groups - hope this helps!

Hi there.

I'm Jennifer!

I’m Jennifer and I was a special educator in the elementary school setting over the past decade. I entered the classroom every day dedicated to making learning inclusive AND engaging.

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