Deirdre Moore | April 2014

Moving to Learn: Using Movement to Bolster Reading Comprehension

I believe that play is so important to learning.  I also just love to play games. I especially love STEAM Challenges. They not only include problem-solving, critical thinking skills, and creativity, but they are FUN! I had so many STEAM program education challenges that I wanted to try out in my classroom, I couldn’t decide which one to do first. So… I decided to pick a few classrooms warm-up activities and introduce them all at once! But, with an added playful splash of randomness. Here are 3 creative ways to introduce STEAM Challenges in your classroom!

Here are 3 Creative Ways to Introduce STEAM Challenges.

All techniques begin with these procedures

I love to read.  I love creating the pictures in my mind as the story unfolds, creating my own movie of the story.  I never cease to be amazed when I am working with students on mental imaging and encounter students who really seem to have a difficult time creating those pictures in their heads.  Being able to mentally create the images and manipulate them in the mind greatly benefits readers in comprehension and is a hugely important skill for our students whether they are reading comprehension about fiction or nonfiction, science texts or math story problems.

Reading Comprehension

I also love to move and am a huge believer in experiential learning.  That’s why I was so fascinated to learn about a reading comprehension and intervention developed by Arthur Glenberg of Arizona State University called Moved by Reading Comprehension which was created to help young students embody what they read to aid in comprehension.  In an interview Arthur Glenberg explained that not all readers draw upon their life experiences to make meaning from text.

Even if early readers learn to relate the words in the text to the pictures in a picture book the syntax, the “who does what to whom”, may not be understood and that really is the key to comprehension.  His approach is to have the students use PM or physical manipulation not only to associate objects with the word that represents the object but also to use the objects to act out the meaning of sentences and aid in comprehension.

Glenberg’s research involved not just PM but what he called CM or computer manipulation so students were manipulating images on a computer screen to experience the syntax of the words in the sentences as they read rather than manipulating actual physical objects.  The next step was to have students use IM or imagined manipulation so they were not given actual or virtual objects but merely instructed to imagine manipulating the now familiar objects.  When he compared students who utilized PM or CM and IM to those who merely reread text he noted that the comprehension could actually be doubled.

Those who had been trained to act out the sentences in the story with actual and virtual objects and then to translate that to merely imagine the manipulation demonstrated better comprehension.  When applied to a math story problem context with older students, those students who utilized PM were much more likely to be able to weed out extraneous information and create reasonable and accurate answers.

Some of you may feel that this is all very obvious but as educators we need to remember to take nothing for granted.  We cannot assume that the students before us, regardless of their age, have actually mastered this skill of imagined manipulation.  While some readers may have learned this skill very early on, others may not and it is those readers who will experience great difficulty across the curriculum.  This is yet another area where research reinforces the effectiveness of Arts Integration.

Visual art skills can be taught so students can create the important objects in a story with materials like clay or paper and paint or they can design the objects on a computer.  Performing arts skills can be taught as the students reenact the story using the props, puppets or objects created or computer animation can be taught so students can demonstrate the syntax of who does what to whom.

Once students are rooted in this approach they can intentionally begin to create those images and manipulations in their minds to help them comprehend text and solve problems independently.  Any time new ideas and vocabulary are introduced this method of acting out is useful.  Models, pictures, and diagrams are helpful but it’s the manipulation that is key. If the students have a visual picture of the objects and concepts then they need practice manipulating them.  By guiding students to act out the story, process or problem you actively engage the students, increase every student’s chances of increased comprehension and more accurate solutions and empower them to learn more effectively and independently.

  • Divide students into “Teams”
  • There should be the same number of teams as STEAM Challenges being used. Ex. 4 STEAM Challenges, 4 Teams.
  • Materials for each challenge should be placed in a paper bag along with a card explaining the challenge prompt. Bags should be stapled closed so nobody peeks.
  • Each team should be given a number to determine their order. I do this with numbered wooden craft sticks. After the groups are made, they choose a stick to determine their order.

1. Yankee Challenge Swap: Like a Gift Exchange

  • Bags of materials and challenge prompts are placed in one location. Students cannot look inside them.
  • Team 1 picks a bag. Then Team 2, and so on until each team has a bag.
  • Teams open their bags and read their prompts out loud so that all teams can learn about the other challenge options.
  • Team 1 decides if they want to keep their challenge or steal a challenge from another team.
  • Team 2 then makes the same decision. Continue until each team either keeps or steals.
  • BEGIN!


  • Teams can participate in a second round of keeping or stealing
  • If you add more challenge bags than groups, teams can either keep, steal, or grab a “mystery bag.” If a team grabs a mystery bag, then they must keep it. This is the risk.

2. Scavenger Challenge Hunt


  • Numbers challenge bags of materials
  • Numbers challenge cards
  • Hides challenge cards around the room


  • Team 1, searches the room for a challenge prompt card. Then Team 2, and so on until each team finds a card.
  • Pick up the challenge bag with the same number on their prompt.
  • BEGIN!

3. Roll of the Dice or Game Spinner

Roll of the Dice: Must have 6 Challenges


  • Numbers the challenge bags 1-6
  • Provides the die


  • Team 1 rolls the die and that number is the challenge bag that they get. Continue to Team 2, and so on. If students roll a number that has already been taken, they roll again.
  • BEGIN!

Game Spinner:


  • Numbers the challenge bags
  • Makes a homemade spinner with the number of challenges. Ex. 4 spaces for 4 challenges, 6 spaces for 6 challenges.


  • Use an existing game spinner and have the same number of challenges ready


  • Team 1 spins and that number in the challenge bag they get. Continue to Team 2, and so on. If students spin a number that has already been taken, they spin again.
  • BEGIN!

More Helpful Links

What STEAM Challenges have you used in your classroom?

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.