Movement Breaks in Your Classroom

Feb 8, 2017 · 4 min read

What is active learning and why does it matter?

Sitting in a chair all day is not necessarily the best way to learn. Crazy notion, right? I know I certainly did not enjoy sitting still for eight hours a day when I was at school.

Since the late 19th century in America, “school” for young people has meant sitting in desks, listening and watching a teacher, and some writing. While we’ve evolved from the “Fashion School Desk” in 1881 to the wraparound desk of the 1970s, active bodily movement still isn’t a large part of classroom life.

This sturdy desk made of wood and cast iron was popularized by the Sidney School Furniture Company starting in 1881.

Thankfully, active learning has spun into classrooms around the country. Studies show that classroom designs that support active learning lead to “higher engagement, the expectation of better grades, more motivation and more creativity.” We need to break apart the thinking that physical movement is PE territory. No matter your subject, there are countless ways to incorporate movement into your class.

How do I get started?

Let’s start with the individual learner. Movement breaks help students monitor and regulate their behavior, leading to better engagement. Have students with fidgety fingers? Introduce movement by giving them stress balls or small toys to play with, or place rubber bands between leg chairs for them to pluck. You can also have students use movements to physically act out learning concepts, such as a complicated story plot or a physics concept.

For groups, quick games, stretching, and energizers are great ways to get students to move in the classroom for brain breaks. Need to change the layout of your room for a new activity? To maximize efficiency, get your students moving furniture — have them help reset the learning space! Here are a few of favorite room examples to get students moving:

1. Get Vertical! Make spaces at different levels within the room.

This cozy reading loft at High Tech Elementary Explorer is a great example of a multifunctional space for socialization and contemplation. The varying levels allow for exploration, play, spontaneity, and opportunities for healthy interactions between students as they navigate the space together. Creative furniture pieces like the ones here motivate students to move around more and find a space that suits their needs. No room for a permanent space? Let the students build a mini fort in the classroom with desks, chairs and soft materials like mats or blankets!

2. Experiment with high tables for collaborative project work.

Design39’s project-based learning studio shows that any space can be transformed to support movement within the classroom. The tables are set up with enough space around them and at standing height to encourage students to move around, collaborate on projects, and check out what other groups are doing.

3. Expand your learning space by taking it outside!

At High Tech High Chula Vista, students can move freely between indoor and outdoor spaces, especially to experiment with woodworking projects. This outdoor workshop is equipped with electrical sockets and an open air workspace — students are able to work with power tools without causing disruption and let sawdust fly as they please. The large windows also allow students to stay within sight, while also maintaining a sense of autonomy.

Want to make movement permanent?

Letting your students “loose” may sound scary at first, but we are here to help. If you’re ready to make active learning a permanent feature of your school community, reach out to our design team at

How do you integrate movement breaks in your classroom? Show us your hacks and layouts on and tweet us at @HackClassrooms!


Designing 21st century learning spaces


Written by

learning is changing, classrooms have not. let’s make room to learn!


Designing 21st century learning spaces

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