5 Ways to Get Students Out of Their Seats

I've learned over the years that it takes simple, active sentences to get teenagers to do just about anything, especially if they're not fully engaged. Something as simple as, "Stand up, and find a partner," can take two or three tries before most of the class is in motion (assigning partners helps, of course). But I don't let any of this get to me because I know that the movement, in this case, is going to add to the engagement throughout the activity and for a good 7-15 minutes after, depending on what's happening.


I've been trying harder this year to design lessons that avoid the slump that occurs when the instruction is too teacher-centered or sedentary – the two often go together. A few tricks for getting kids up and moving, however, was not enough, for me. I had to make a list and try some new things.

My New Trick

After figuring out how to embed Poll Everywhere into Google Slides, without leaving Google Slides, I got really excited over the efficiency. But I was soon saddened because the kids were still sitting, moving very little. I'm not saying that history should be like a physical education class. That's too far. I'm just not happy with a sit-and-get approach for too long. That's why I decided to add movement to Poll Everywhere (see below).

In general, movement ideas are usually simple. The Poll Everywhere idea was so simple that I was inspired to think of more to add to my "few tricks." Here's a list of ways I've been getting my high schoolers up and moving.

1. Stand and Share

I love to teach note-taking and observation skills. Since my students often need to learn observation skills for interpreting visuals, I have them list words that describe their observations. It's particularly helpful when I show them a photo, cartoon, map, and a chart or table. As the slides progress, students add descriptors to their list.

Next, they stand and read the items on their list. As each student reads their list, the others mark their own lists to ensure that no words or phrases are repeated when it's their turn. Students sit when there list is completely crossed off.

This is another activity that probably has several names (made this name up). And it doesn't need to be done with paper. The image below shows the potential for using Google Keep.

2. Scavenger Hunt

At the beginning of any history course, I send my students on a scavenger hunt. It asks students to count certain things in the school, like trees in the courtyard, for example. It's always a great conversation on accuracy and interpretation when we get all of the data together.

Send your students off to find objects in the school that relate what they are learning. Have them measure things to use as data for equations. Or perhaps you could do something more abstract, like instructing them to write a five-word reflection and sending them off to find words in different places that match words from what they wrote in their reflection. It will promote repeated review and provide a different environment for thinking about the lesson content.

This activity provides added benefit beyond the time frame of the lesson because areas of the school will now possess a new meaning as they walk the halls, day after day. 

3. Tell Me, Show Me

This one is easy to set up. After giving a few slides of notes, I usually ask a question or two. Sometimes I add two slides, each with three vocabulary terms.

Students stand and facing each other with one facing away from the screen. The goal is for the student facing the screen to describe the word so the one facing away can guess. Every so often, I flash the lights, signaling that students need to go silent. The describer now needs to act it out while the guesser writes potential answers on scrap paper.

The debrief is usually about sharing what was particularly challenging and what was not. This promotes students teaching peers because they often have different struggles.  

4. Move To Choose

Usually ideas for movement come to from staring at tired faces (at 10:30 a.m.). I realize that teenagers are naturally like this, but that's no reason to not try to overcome the slump.

It was a U.S. History II lesson on propaganda posters that gave me the idea to add movement in this way. (Actually it was some professional development that gave me the idea, but you know what I mean.) The slide presentation had about eight posters, and students were to decide if the posters were positive, negative, or neutral. 

The left side of room was negative, the middle was neutral, and the right side was positive. As a new poster was projected in the screen, my students moved to the area based on their choice. 

I've also tried this with embedded Poll Everywhere questions. Only this time, the students moved to one side or the other based on their confidence level. I used the right, left, middle options, and it showed me more than whether or not they can answer a multiple choice question correctly. 

5. Gallery Walk

Hang student work or stimuli on the wall, inside or out, and instruct students to walk the different items and complete whatever tasks are necessary. I don't know if this also called a carousel or not. Call it what you want. The point is that students are moving, reading, thinking, writing, and often feeling more free to ask questions.

This sort of activity often works better with a particular note organizer. I prefer to project the style that's required on the screen and require my students to copy it, as opposed to handing out a worksheet. After they learn a few organizers, I have them choose one that best serves the documentation needs.

Have any ideas? Share them in the comments below.