Bringing exercise into primary school lessons

Written by: Niamh Hunter | Published:
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Bringing more physical activity into lessons and teaching can help us to get children back on track this year, says year 4 teacher Niamh Hunter

The 2020/21 pupil cohort is becoming more familiar with learning in class bubbles as schools continue to navigate their way through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since March 8, some children have settled in well and are starting to make progress. There are others though who need a little more support to catch up with the learning they have missed.

With virus transmission rates fluctuating in many parts of the country, schools are continuing to focus on supporting their pupils, while managing social distancing requirements to reduce the chances of infection. Contingency plans are being put in place too, so that learning can continue from home in the event that cases are identified and pupils are required to self-isolate.

It is a challenging environment for all. So what can schools do to make learning fun, meaningful and socially distanced?

Active learning in practice

One approach we have taken at Holy Family Catholic School is the introduction of more physical activity in lessons.

Active learning methods are becoming increasingly popular for helping children to make progress in school. It means that children can learn subjects such a maths or English while on the move, rather than sitting at desks. For example, a teacher could teach a group of children to tell the time by getting them to become numbers on the clock in the playground or we might arrange a treasure hunt to help pupils solve maths problems.

We have found that incorporating more activity into lessons not only helps to keep the children moving, it can improve their progress too.

Make learning fun

The key advantage of injecting more activity into the school day is that children enjoy the tasks so much they do not even realise it is a lesson.

A simple maths lesson can be transformed into a competition where pupils race to answer numerical fraction questions. For every correct answer, each child is permitted to jump one step closer to winning a prize.

“Danger Island” has proved to be a hit for addition and subtraction in our school too. The children use their arithmetic skills to solve maths problems and run across the playground to escape.

In another maths session, we divide the children into three teams, each placed apart with marbles marking social distancing requirements. Pupils run over to pick up a question card, then run back, put the card in a hoop that represents the correct answer, and do not touch it again. There is no sharing or rummaging through equipment, which helps to minimise the risk of infection.

For a more active English lesson, children might work in teams, playing charades to act out the meanings of new words or become dictionary detectives to spot misspelt words strategically placed around the school’s outside spaces.

Our pupils have reacted very positively to the active learning sessions we have introduced. They help the children to feel that the school is a safe zone where they can forget about what is going on with Covid for a few hours.

They are happy to be interacting with one another while they learn and can still collaborate on tasks without having to be too close to each other for a substantial period of time.

Supporting home learning

The benefits of active learning can be extended beyond the school gates too.

Schools often need to help families provide learning from home when children are considered too vulnerable to attend classes in person or if cases of the virus are identified and pupils are required to isolate from their peers.

The active learning sessions used in school can be adapted for use at home. They not only help parents to break the monotony of learning alone for children, but they can also prevent pupils from falling behind. We have had some very positive feedback from the parents who have used the plans with their children.

Learning through play

The language of learning for children is play which forms an essential part of their development. By combining physical activity with lessons to develop a more active approach to learning, it can only be positive for children and their mental health in these difficult times.

Not one of my pupils has told me they do not want to participate in the lessons, even the less outgoing children. It makes every child excited to learn.

  • Niamh Hunter is a year 4 teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in Surrey, which uses Teach Active lesson plans. Teachers can access 50 lesson plans in English and maths for free for a trial period. Visit

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