Getting a rise out of pupils

29th August 2014 at 01:00
How telling stories on stairs can help struggling students

IT is a special experience to have a group of hard-to-reach students follow you as if you were the Pied Piper while they learn about the structure of a story. I tried this method with a group of children last year and it worked fantastically well.

A freezing Minnesota winter caused schools in my area to close for seven days. After a week off, some children inevitably struggled to catch up, so at spring break we invited the students who had fallen behind to attend an extra week of school. We had to find a way for these pupils - who didn't like school at the best of times and were supposed to be enjoying a holiday - to have fun while they were learning.

It was a chance to hold more interactive classes and to use kinaesthetic teaching techniques. It's really important for children to get moving and use their bodies - they understand things better if they can feel them, and this is particularly vital for memory-making.

I was looking at the layout of the school's stairs when I realised that I could use them to teach my class about the "rising action" of a narrative. Using the tale of Goldilocks as an example, we started in the basement, where I explained the story's exposition. As we climbed the stairs to the next level, we built on the structure of the narrative, until we reached the tale's climax at the top of the building. Then I explained the "falling action" of an ending, and we finished back in the basement where we had begun.

The children all understood the concept of narrative structure; they could discuss it intelligently and they had fun. This lesson demonstrates perfectly the benefits of incorporating different styles into our teaching.

When my students sat their standardised tests after spring break, they had not lost momentum like they would have done with a week off - they were in an even better position than some of the children who were already getting good grades. It was amazing to see disengaged pupils having fun at school. One of the most satisfying things about the experience was watching my students on the first day back after spring break - they were beaming just as much as the children who had spent the week in Florida.

Hopefully this is a class they will still be talking about in high school. "Do you remember the time Mr Strecker made us run up and down the stairs?" they will say - and they will remember what they learned.

Casey Strecker teaches at Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis, US. He was talking to Rachael Scraer

top 10 kinaesthetic resources

1 Healthy competition

This investigation-style resource will get students on their feet, discovering key French phrases about sport and healthy living.


2 Saturation point

Students demonstrate the circulation and oxygenation of blood in this lively class game.


3 Helping hand

Try the "phonic hand" approach in your classroom: increase sentence awareness and segment learning by doing "the robot".


4 Trench warfare

Stick the sources on the wall and immerse your class in this activity on life in the trenches of the First World War.


5 Line rave

Use music and fast actions to teach children about parallel and perpendicular lines.


6 Literacy live

Keep students engaged in literacy lessons with this Teachers TV video on kinaesthetic learning.


7 On rotation

Get the whole class involved in this practical demonstration of night, day and different time zones.


8 Count on me

Use this simple presentation to teach younger children about how helpful their hands can be when counting.


9 Cutting circles

Try a colourful circle-rearrangement activity to help students grasp the main circle theorems.


10 Bard work

Introduce Shakespeare's life and works with this series of quick-fire activities focusing on factual recall.


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