October 4, 2013

7 Reasons to Incorporate Movement, Songs, and Stories into Your Teaching

Guest blog post by Steve Reifman

Several years ago I started reading about the results of recent brain research and its implications for student learning. The more books I read, the more my interest in this topic grew. Before long I came across a wide variety of recommended teaching practices, and I eagerly incorporated them into my classroom instruction. Without fail, three types of effective, brain-friendly strategies consistently stood out as unusually engaging and powerful - those involving movement, songs, and stories.

Children simply reacted differently to lessons and activities that included elements of movement, songs, and stories. In fact, the entire classroom environment became transformed and the learning gains immediately evident. Because of my belief in the promise of movement, songs, and stories as learning catalysts, I began a quest to find, adapt, and create as many activities as possible that incorporated these elements. In this post I describe seven reasons why these types of activities have such a strong impact on both student learning and the classroom environment.

I want you to have access to the activities I describe below, so I'm offering a free sampler of my new book that includes these lessons mentioned below. You may want to download the Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories Sampler and refer to it as you read about the strategies.

  1. Forges an Emotional Connection
    Educator Jeff Haebig explains that emotions drive attention and attention drives learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories resonate with children on an emotional level, engage them deeply, and enable them to make a personal connection with academic content. As a result, they pay closer attention and remember more. One of my favorite examples is “The Story of Peri Meter” because kids love hearing about this unique individual whose personality helps them understand the concept of perimeter.  
  2. Builds Self-Esteem
    Students who tend to experience difficulty with more traditional forms of learning usually find greater success with activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. For example, I have found that participating in “The Synonym-Antonym Sidestep” and “The Jumping Game” (see sampler) will do more to help children learn synonyms and antonyms than several days’ worth of paper-and-pencil instruction on the same topic. With this greater success comes greater confidence and improved self-esteem. We, as teachers, can capitalize on these moments of success to create a carryover effect to other parts of the school day.
  3. Improves Team Bonding
    Many kids are fortunate enough to experience the happiness and satisfaction that come from being a valued member of a successful team - playing Little League baseball, performing in a youth orchestra, or acting in a school play. Our classrooms can provide the same kind of bonding experience with the addition of activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. Students feel a greater sense of “connectedness” to the class and to one another. I have noticed this to be especially true when we sing “The Book Parts Song,” and our other learning tunes.
  4. Adds Novelty
    As adults, we appreciate a clever turn of phrase on a billboard or a unique combination of ingredients on a restaurant menu. The same holds true with children and their classroom learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories score high on novelty value, and kids love it when their teachers present information in a way that is a bit out of the ordinary or off the wall. For example, my student love it when I wear a Hawaiian shirt and play Hawaiian music as I describe the “Multiplication Hula” strategy for correctly placing the decimal point when doing multiplication problems involving money.
  5. Involves Multiple Learning Modalities
    Typical paper-and-pencil schoolwork addresses only two of the “intelligences” popularized by Howard Gardner, the linguistic and logical-mathematical. Movement, songs, and stories also address these intelligences and bring into play the bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and spatial, among others. The more modalities we reach, the more successful students will be. We hit the “Teaching Grand Slam” when children participate in activities, such as “Place Value Jumping Jacks,” in which they see, say, hear, and move through the content at the same time.
  6. Creates Memorable Experiences
    Educator Dave Burgess says, “Lessons are quickly forgotten; experiences are remembered forever.” Infusing classroom activities with movement, songs, and stories turns potentially dry academic lessons into engaging, multi-modal experiences that kids will remember and talk about with their family and friends. For example, my students’ ability to locate ordered pairs on a coordinate grid increased dramatically when I stopped providing mere explanations and started taking the class on a “virtual field trip” to the local farmer’s market where they could walk through an actual grid and select fruits and vegetables of their own.
  7. Increases Enthusiasm for Learning
    In addition to all the other academic and social-emotional benefits I have described, these activities are an absolute blast. Playing active games, singing songs, and sharing stories puts smiles on children’s faces, enriches their days with excitement and joy, and helps make school a happy place for them.   
Teaching is a difficult, demanding job, and we need to find pleasure in our work to be at our best in the classroom. Movement, songs, and stories can really help our students learn, and what’s even better, we can all have fun along the way. These activities create situations where children are completely focused and well-behaved, work with purpose, and learn enthusiastically. I’m not sure how we can beat that.

Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker with almost 20 years of classroom experience. He has a Master’s degree in education from UCLA, and has traveled to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar. Steve has written several books, including an award-winning middle-grades mystery novel, Chase Against Time. His newest book for educators, Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning through Music, Songs, and Stories has just been published by Brigantine Media. Check out Steve's website at www.stevereifman.com


  1. I love these ideas! It's hard when you don't have similar teachers on your grade level or in your school, but this just solidifies the fact that I am trying to create memorable learning experiences for my students!

  2. Love the place value jumping jacks. I will use this great movement when teaching place value.

  3. I have always found that adding info to songs/music helps students retain the skills/content taught. Some great new ideas I will definitely try!

  4. I agree that music, movement and song help kids learn. I use songs to help mt 3rd graders memorize their multiplication facts and it really works

  5. I use music as they enter the room and during math stations. I would love to try these ideas, especially the jumping jack place value.

  6. I love the hula multiplying decimals activity! I can't wait try it with my fifth grade class. I am so buying this book if I don't WIN!

  7. The music math activities, as well as the other subjects, do cover an involvement with different learning modalities. I often work with different grades, stages, and ages. This covers that in a fun, inviting way while covering the Common Core.

  8. I have been learning together with my special needs students for 16 yrs. We use every modality we can find to help our bodies and minds work together to create connections! I LOVE teaching still and would be so excited to use this book as a resource to help my fellow teachers recognize it's possibilities and help them implement it. Wouldn't it be fantastic to see the light bulbs flashing everywhere!

    1. Thanks! Remember to post your comments on my Facebook page, too, if you want to enter the contest! The link is in the post.

  9. Thanks love it. I am a new teacher so I need plenty of resources

  10. Thanks for everyone's comments, and I've let Steve know about them. Just remember that if you want to enter the contest for his book, you have to visit my Facebook page and write your comments there, too. The link is in the blog post above or you can go to http://www.facebook.com/teachingresources to find the contest post. Thanks!

  11. I agree that music and movement trigger learning that kiddos remember. I love the place value jumping jacks. I would love to share these ideas with the teachers I work with in our K-6 buildings!

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  13. The first time I heard anything about brain research was from a fellow teacher about eight years ago. I was intrigued. I have found that almost always my lowest performing students have trouble with the cross overs. I use them every year and I try to read and find out as much as I can about brain research and strategies online, in my spare time. We all know that teachers have an abundance of spare time. I drive through a busy mountain pass to get to work. I live 47 miles from my school and there are a lot of commuters who travel the I-15 through the Cajon Pass. It takes me between 45 minutes and 1 hour each way which does not work favorably on my already overloaded plate. I have found a lot of research online but not many strategies that help me with ways to implement this into my teaching. The samples in Steve Reifman's book are amazing! They are exactly what I have been searching for and I hope all teachers embrace his work. His blog was very insightful and reassuring because I do use some of the strategies and ideas that he embraces, and sometimes (most times really) it counters what the officials are screaming at me to do (TEST PREP, and more TEST PREP!). I would love to have a copy of his book. I would use it and cherish it. My students would benefit for years to come. I would also love to meet the man who found the time to create such a wonderful resource.

  14. I so agree with the importance of song and movement in learning. I have a class that is very hard to keep focused. These ides would help me to keep them engaged

  15. I really appreciate your wonderful comments, and I am so glad you are finding the ideas in Rock It! to be helpful. It is so important to keep our students engaged, focused, and enthusiastic about their learning, and movement, songs, and stories can help us in that effort. In case you're interested, I will be having a #RockIt "Twitter Chat" tomorrow night from 9-10 p.m. Eastern time to delve more deeply into the use of movement, songs, and stories in the classroom, and I would like to invite all of you to participate. I will be sharing some ideas from the book and encouraging you to share your ideas as well.

  16. I LOVE the idea of the farmers market activity. I teach Grade 4 and we are doing mapping right now. Hopefully if the weather cooperates, it would be fun to do a huge grid outside and get the kids to move through the 'market' !! I have a very active bunch this year and they love any chance to move and dance.

  17. Everything you share here is spot on in my own experience. I formalized BP for classrooms because students kept thanking me with happy statements like "Your song lyrics are stuck in my head, changing up my thinking, and saving my life!" It's quite motivating when one's own peanut gallery keeps reporting in with enthusiasm.

    I wish my own teachers had mixed math with movement or melodies. Math makes me cross eyed to this day. Maybe I could of been a contender with a little more rhythm attached... Love your ideas. You rock. Laura too! Can't wait to pin, share, tweet this!

  18. Have you tried any of Ron Brown's songs? My students love his math cd.

  19. If you like this and teach a foreign language, you should check out the Accelerated Integrated Method. I have used AIM for 12 years to teach French in Canada. the creator of AIM, Wendy Maxwell, in developing her thesis, spoke about how music, drama, dance and movement accelerate the learning of a foreign language and she created a systemic methodology for doing so.


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