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French teacher Nicole Goepper is famous—for dancing with her students in the school courtyard. But even inside the walls of her northern Virginia classroom at Fauquier High School, kids are on their feet.
“I truly believe that there is something in our brains that connect words with movement,” says Goepper, who references research showing how movement cements recall and boosts mood, helping to improve the well-being of students. Goepper saw this firsthand when she faced postpandemic declines in student mental health.
Goepper incorporates movement every chance she gets—from pairing new vocabulary with gestures, to acting out French accent marks, to the pièce de résistance: going outside to dance.
“Usually we dance in the middle of class. I use it as a reward for something we’ve done in class [kids get to pick which French pop songs they want to dance to], and I almost use it as a transition.”
The benefits? “It’s a brain break; it gets them moving, gets their hearts pumping, and that blood is going up into their brain. And it’s like a primer, getting them ready to go [back inside to] learn more stuff.”
But it’s also a cultural connection, “which is a huge piece of learning and understanding of world language. When I introduce any new song to them, there’s always, you know, who is singing it? Who is this person? A little backstory of the artist. And then just the general meaning of what’s behind the song.” Students learn about the song’s relevance to French and French diaspora culture.
Finally, although it’s a well-established fact that movement benefits younger students, Goepper believes it’s just as beneficial for high school students. “There are kids who in the beginning don’t want to put themselves out there,” admits Goepper. “But then they realize that it’s fun, and they feel left out if they’re not joining in with us. I win over 99 percent of them.”
For more ideas on incorporating movement into learning, read Sarah Gonser and Stephen Merrill’s article for Edutopia, “More Than a Dozen Ways to Build Movement Into Learning.” To dig deeper into the research around movement and learning, check out the resources below.
- Christian Andrä, Brian Mathias, Anika Schwager, Manuela Macedonia, and Katharina von Kriegstein’s research on how learning foreign language vocabulary with gestures and pictures enhances memory for school children (2020)
- Lawrence Shapiro and Steven Stolz’s comprehensive review of studies on embodied cognition (2019)
- Panagiotis Kosmas, Andri Ioannou, and Panayiotis Zaphiris’s research on embodied learning and its effects on children’s memory and language skills (2019)
- Spyridoula Vazou, Panagiota Gavrilou, Evangelia Mamalaki, Anna Papanastasiou, and Nefeli Sioumala’s study on the integration of physical activity and its influence on academic motivation (2012)
- Christopher R. Madan and Anthony Singhal’s article about using actions to enhance memory (2012)