George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Casey Middle School

Grades 6-8 | Boulder, CO

Fit Lit: How Movement Impacts Learning

Students at Casey Middle learn more (and feel good about it) in a combined language arts/fitness class that boosts their cognition with aerobic and anaerobic activities.
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Fit Lit: How Movement Impacts Learning (Transcript)

Teacher: You guys can do it.

Student: So this is my third one, right?

Teacher: Yeah.

Teacher: Justin!

Alison: Movement is good for everyone. It helps everybody learn. They can learn while they're moving and they can learn after they've just been moving a lot.

Student: You can barely ride the bike.

Val: It's really this fitness class combined with language arts. For three days of the week, it's fitness and then language arts, about 45 minutes apiece. And then two days, it's all fitness in one and then all language arts. Aerobic exercise definitely boosts our capacity to retain information, boost our memory and the speed, we can take in and then rework information. Anaerobic affects more mood and it's a stress reliever and it kind of calms us down, so it's more of an emotional benefit.

Sarah: And we go for hikes, we do these 5Ks, we do yoga. We've had them get with a partner, talk about your topic while they're walking around the soccer field or jogging with a partner, talking about things from the book they're reading.

Alison: It's teaching them that you don't have to sit and think to figure something out. You can move and think and figure something out.

Ethan: After this class right now, we're going to go up into language arts and we do this because there a lot of studies that if you exercise before you work, it really gets your brain going.

Sarah: By far the best days are when we have a really concise, challenging fitness workout and we get them up here and boom, get them into journaling. And you can just sort of tell when we've hit the sweet spot.

Val: They're tired, but not exhausted. There's just a certain alertness in that class that shows up.

Student: In some cases, like with the workforce--

Val: Something happened that we didn't predict, and that is that they are really good to each other. They're just a team and they've pushed each other and they've encouraged each other in this physical way. And they've played games and had to play by rules and had to be inclusive. Then they come into this class and that just continues.

Haley: I can concentrate better after I do a workout, like doing a 5K or running for ten minutes. And it helps me with my next classes in the day.

Technology was a big part in the nineteen fifties. Technology started to change and it was being brought into homes.

Sarah: I think the time will come that it will be a no brainer that every class will get to where we just have more movement in school, that's where it's going.

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  • Producer: Kristin Atkins
  • Field Producer: Sarita Khurana
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Fit Lit: How Movement Impacts Learning

Fit Lit is Casey Middle School's fitness class combined with a language arts class. Students take a 45-minute fitness class followed by 45 minutes in language arts. Teachers have found that the right amount of movement before an academic class will help students focus and better retain information.

Studies show that aerobic exercise boosts our capacity to retain information and the speed at which we take in and rework information. Anaerobic activity affects mood and helps to relieve stress, providing calmness and focus. Whether it's language arts, math, or science, movement can impact learning in any subject area abilities.

How It's Done

Class Structure

Students are enrolled in the Fit Lit class five days a week. On three of those days, they take a 45-minute fitness class followed by 45 minutes of language arts. The other two days, there is a 90-minute block of either fitness or language arts. This arrangement allows teachers to be flexible with content and activities that are better suited for longer periods of time.

Types of Activity

Casey MS utilizes all of the space available to them, including the gym and the outdoor track and field. Activities include team sports, individual fitness challenges, group fitness routines, running, yoga, and stationary and elliptical bikes. The class usually starts with some kind of warm-up followed by a focused fitness activity.

Levels of Integration

How the Fit Lit program integrates language arts content with fitness will vary from unit to unit. For example, students might:

  • Go for a jog while discussing a book they are reading.
  • Read while exercising on stationary bikes and elliptical machines or while stretching on a yoga mat.
  • Exchange ideas and reflections with partners while walking around the outdoor track.
  • Walk on their own while memorizing a poem.

Teachers can get as creative as they want in finding ways to integrate fitness with their subject area. Regardless of the level of integration, the benefits of movement preceding any subject will benefit students.

Finding the Right Teachers

At Casey, Fit Lit class is co-taught by two teachers, both certified as language arts teachers, but also with a passion for fitness and fitness instruction. Having two teachers allows for a larger class size as well as more frequent small-group instruction. While one of these teachers has gone on to earn a certification in fitness, there are other ways to achieve this end. For example, a language arts teacher might partner with the current fitness teacher.


Students can take the Fit Lit class as an optional alternative to their regular fitness and language arts classes. Any student is welcome to sign up, and no fitness levels are required.


The ideal time for a fitness class is during the morning, followed immediately by the language arts class. This will give students the greatest benefit for the rest of their day, as morning exercise so often does. If the morning is not available, the basic structure of having fitness precede language arts is key to this program.


The idea behind Casey's Fit Lit class came from research showing how exercise impacts the brain. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain, by John J. Ratey, is a foundational text in this area of research.


Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

When I first heard about this program, I thought it was a bit weird. How can you read books while jogging? :) But that was not the case obviously. It makes complete sense that physical activity can reinvigorate your brain for learning and it can teach you that learning doesn't have to just live in the classroom.

Some more helpful research I found:
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine asserts that "children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active."

ProjectBasedIzzy's picture
Constructionist in Practice

I absolutely LOVE this idea. I find myself reading a book, sometimes writing a blog post or doing something constructive while I'm on an exercise bike. I didn't even think this would be useful for reading literature.

I'm wondering how to find resources for schools that don't have as much funding. How would that work?

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

There are ideas in the "How It's Done" section (it's the middle tab under the video) that don't cost anything, including:

*Go for a jog while discussing a book they are reading.
*Exchange ideas and reflections with partners while walking around the outdoor track.
*Walk on their own while memorizing a poem.

If you're interested in gear, like yoga mats or elliptical bikes, you could crowdfund for them, but I feel like that would be hard sell, as you'd have to convince people of the benefits. Not impossible, just difficult.

How fortunate that there's a great video you can show people. ;-)

Leelee's picture

I love this idea as I am transitioning into the education world from 12 years in fitness. You don't really need much or any equipment at all. You can walk anywhere. Squats, planks, sit ups, pushups, jumping jacks are all examples of body weight exercises students can do anywhere. Yoga can be done standing or sitting in a chair, and simple stretching exercises as well. I hope to integrate this into whatever I end up teaching next year! I am a firm believer in movement!

Shalaya_S's picture

I love this idea! This is a great strategy for kinesthetic learners. I recently started working out more which caused me to take my notes to the gym. I noticed that I was retaining information better but I thought it was because I was studying more. Also, physical activity allows the children to release energy and stress.

Jessica Ann's picture

This looks like an amazing program! It also appears to allow for many opportunities for student's of different abilities. What accommodations do you provide to allow all student's to participate, no matter their ability level? Are there any participants with moderate or severe disabilities? Also, did you receive any government funding with this program. I saw stationary bikes and things like that, which I'm sure are incredibly useful. How were those acquired?
Thank you for sharing this!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Jessica Ann, Edutopia will tag someone from the school to try and answer your questions. In the meantime, I suggest seeing if there are any private schools or prep schools in your area. Often times they have exercise equipment that they replace every few years due to donations and they either sell or give away the slightly used equipment. Yard sales, Craig's List and classified ads have all sorts of equipment for sale. Often times they will accept reasonable offers. Send out emails to families and post wanted signs in the community because many times you will find someone VERY willing to donate a piece of exercise equipment that is currently a clothes hanger for a spouse. ;) Possibly check with sporting goods retailers in your area or gyms to see if they have anything that is close to end of life for the gym, but would be useful in a school. Sometimes hospital wellness centers will have connections to grant funding to be utilized for these sorts of community uses. I hope this helps.

Jessica Ann's picture

Mr. Thomas, thank you for the information. It was very helpful. I will look into the local districts policies about accepting donations for fitness equipment and what the private schools in the area offer. Also, thank you for the information about Edutopia tagging a connection with the school, I was unaware of that ability.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Hey Jessica. From what we recall, all abilities are welcome in the program. One of the program's key characteristics is that it measures fitness through things like heart rate. So, for example, instead of being forced to run a standard three laps, you'd get your heart rate up. (The program has individual heart rate monitors for each student.) This approach allows all kinds of fitness levels to participate.

We'll reach out to the school staff to try and get answers to the rest of your questions.

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