Teaching Speech Communication Using Physical Activity
Joan E. Aitken, Ed.D.
In preparation for a six-week summer program at an alternative high school, designing the 2.5 hour-blocks for each course loomed as a challenge. The students in the program attended an alternative high school due to a lack of success in attending a traditional high school. Likewise, their need in attending a summer program arose from a lack of success in courses offered during the traditional academic year. Additionally, these students had special needs due to learning difficulties or emotional and behavioral disorders. In short, the students enrolled in this program were in need of something beyond the usual instruction they had been receiving.
With the theme of Move It or Use It, students were encouraged to focus on using movement in the learning process. Typically, alternative schools fail to adequately support the physical activity needed by their students (Kubik, Lytle, & Fulkerson, 2004), so this seemed to be an opportunity to help students learn the value of physical activity in addition to the required curricular content of speech communication. The basic idea was to be a movement educator as well as a regular instructor. Thus, physical activities were designed as general instructional strategies that could work in any course. Within the objective of teaching speech communication, a variety of strategies were developed. The goal was for students to demonstrate the learning of speech communication principles through physical activity.
Integrating physical education or movement activities in the classroom has an array of potential benefits. With a little creative thinking, the communication teacher’s predisposition to use physical activity in learning can be expanded to benefit student health and increase mental stimulation. Kovar, Combs, Campbell, Napper-Owen, and Worrell (2007) made a case for encouraging students to be more active because of national health concerns. They also suggested that physical movement stimulates brain activity to improve learning. In addition, as students develop physically, they can better develop mentally. For example, if a student cannot skip then that same student probably cannot read, because physical and cognitive development works together.
Most educators count on the infrequent instruction of a physical education teacher to provide instruction that can be integrated across the curriculum in virtually any class. The movement educator, however, is a teacher who seeks to use physical activity in any classroom for the purpose of increased engagement, increased learning of curricular content, and increased student physical activity for health.
On an activity and engagement scale, most students probably would rank speech communication educators positively. Speech faculty make their students stand up to give speeches, gesture to add meaning, and join together for group problem solving. Speech teachers have used physical activities to teach nonverbal communication long before the strategy was popular in other fields (Herman & Kirschenbaum, 1990). Communication and physical activity go together.
The importance of movement and communication are part of the fundamental philosophy of Montessori education, for example, because of the constant movement typical of a young child (Woods, 2000). Research suggests that physical activity integration may help communication skills for any student, including those with special needs (e.g., Jobling, Birji-Babul, & Nichols, 2006; Waugh, Bowers, & French, 2007). The fit is clear. Unfortunately, as students grow older, they are offered fewer opportunities for physical movement in the classroom. Perhaps because older students become more able to learn through more passive means, educators simply decrease physical learning activities. Yet, students of any age feel more engaged when they are physically active.
Teachers can start with break exercises, such as cross-body movement activities designed to increase blood flow to different parts of the brain. Unfortunately, high school students may think they are too cool to move. So, students are encouraged to use physical activities clearly integrated into the learning concepts set forth for the class. The following are some ideas for teachers to integrate physical activity into the classroom.
Beach Ball Toss
Obtain a package of small beach balls. Use a permanent marker to write a concept to be studied on each color. Students toss the ball to each other. Wherever their thumbs land becomes the principles the students need to discuss orally. The same approach could be used for impromptu speech categories.
Wall Hall Quiz
Put a test question in large print on a piece of paper. Hang each question of a 5-10 item quiz, from one end of the hall to the other. The students walk around, so they can see the questions to answer on their own paper. The teacher can encourage students to discuss the questions while they answer them. Note: a classroom located in an empty corridor will prevent disturbing other classes. For other situations, the teacher may want to put the questions up around the classroom.
Hula Hoop to Teach Personal Space
Teaching nonverbal communication principles is a natural for movement education. Harper (2006), for example, suggests having students demonstrate walking as a springboard for discussion about nonverbal communication. Students from different cultures or with special needs may have difficulty understanding the concept of personal space. Your school’s physical education teacher may have hula hoops you can borrow for your students. By holding the hula hoop at waist height around the body, walking around, and having conversations, students have movement education about the parameters of personal space.
Put students in two rows of seats facing each other. Place inexpensive full-length mirrors length-wise, having standing students balance the mirrors on the desks. Students can practice mini speeches. The students will be able to talk to each other over the mirrors, but they can also see themselves in the mirrors. By having a student in front of them, the student will have a target audience member. The mirrors will allow students to actually see their facial expressions while they practice their mini speeches, so they may become more aware of how nonverbally expressive they are during their speeches. Standing, working together to hold the mirrors, and using more vivid facial expression will engage the students physically.
Got Your Back
After working with a list of communication vocabulary or principles, tape words to the back of students. Have students walk around and give each other clues/hints regarding the principle or word. When the student guesses the word or principle on his or her back based on the clues/hints provided, put another term on the student’s back.
Obtain packages of small foam planes or Frisbees. Use a permanent marker to put some of the general principles being studied on each plane. Fly the planes to the students until each student or student pair has a plane. Give students time to look up the principle and write a definition or relevant information on the plane. Students then fly the plane to each other, read the content, and ask other students to clarify until they are confident they know each principle.
Appraisal of the Activity
The suggested activities are provided to generate ideas regarding how speech teachers can incorporate physical activity in the communication classroom. The possibilities are broad. There is nothing like a round of speeches on sports and health to generate a little movement. My first group work under a parachute silk helped me think of new ways to teach collaboration.
The negative side of integrating physical activity is the potential for rowdy or aggressive behavior, so the teacher may need to work with students to establish ground rules for appropriate noise levels, physical touching, or other behaviors.
The activities engaged most students, and they helped them to retain information. When reviewing the benefit of the activities, I referred to previously learned information based on the physical activity, which seemed to serve as a clear prompt for students.
Harper, V. B. (2006). Walking the walk: Understanding nonverbal communication through walking. Communication Teacher, 20(3), 61-64.
Herman, G. N., & Kirschenbaum, R. J. (1990). Movement arts and nonverbal communication. The Gifted Child Today, 13, 20-22.
Jobling, A., Birji-Babul, N., & Nichols, D. (2006). Children with Down Syndrome: Discovering the joy of movement. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 77(6), 34-38.
Kovar, S. K., Combs, C. A., Campbell, K., Napper-Owen, G., & Worrell, V. J. (2007). Elementary classroom teachers as movement educators (2nd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
Kubik, M. Y., Lytle, L., & Fulkerson, J. A. (2004). Physical activity, dietary practices, and other health behaviors of at-risk youth attending alternative high schools. Journal of School Health, 74(4), 119-124.
Waugh, L., Bowers, T., & French, R. (2007). Use of picture cards in integrated physical education classes. Strategies, 20(4), 18-20.
Woods, C. S. (2000). The cycle of movement. Montessori Life, 12(4), 21-23.
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