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A win-win!
Weaving movement into learning the secrets of the code.

Learn how integrating movement and explicit instruction of the reading/spelling code can be a win-win! (Originally published on Nancy's Blog, Aug 2019)

Attention educators! Attention parents!

Attention health professionals!

We are missing a golden opportunity!

Consider that reading is the most important skill a child will learn at school (Adams et al.) and that  children benefit from systematic instruction that teaches the connections between the letters and sounds (Buckingham & Castles).


Consider that children must be able to decode to be able to comprehend text (Simple View of Reading) and that many repetitions may be needed to achieve reading/spelling mastery of the code (Ladder of Reading) – more repetitions than some published programs allow for (Denton).


Consider that ALL children need to move more!  (CACAP)

Consider those students who especially need opportunities to move, especially those with ADHD and DCD.


Consider that students K-3 are young children and young children naturally want to move!

Currently, there is abundant research in BOTH these areas of research – but a gap between!

Aug 2019 - Gap.png

Few reading experts are current with the science showing children need to move!

Few movement experts know the science on how a child learns to read!

My message: Let's integrate these two areas of research! A win-win!

Aug 2019 - Bridge Gap.png
My chart below shows the many advantages of using movement during code-based instruction and practice...


Aug 2019 - Movement chart.jpg
... and the green and red colour-coding in my chart ties to my Ladder of Reading
Ladder of Reading - March 2020.png

Research grounding my movement chart is listed at the end of this post. 

Please read these important points first:

  • This is not about “learning styles”. This is about the fact humans are born to move,  that children require physical activity for both physical and cognitive health (Hillman,Erickson, & Kramer), and that schools have a critical role to play in enabling physical activity to happen (American Academy of Pediatrics)

  • Children love moving! It is the adults who need to get their heads around the need to need to move more and recognize that using skill-based movement during lessons and practice can be both effective and FUN for all! (National Reading Panel Summary p. 11)  

  • Bringing more movement into the classroom does not diminish the need for recess and LOTS of unstructured playtime outside school hours! 

  • Some schools have begun to embrace the need for more movement. What I see happening? Time is being carved out of the Language Arts block for laps around the gym, double recess etc. The movements do not overlap with academic skill mastery, so precious minutes are not used effectively! We need to teach teachers how to combine movement into code-based instruction and practice!

Movement and explicit instruction of the reading/spelling code...let's integrate these needs! A win-win! 👏🏼

Are you the principal of a school or superintendent of a district? Are you the head of an organization promoting the need for children need to be more physically active? Care to join me in moving this forward? Contact me!


I wrote a book called Secret Code Actions™ showing how to weave movement into any program providing explicit instruction of the alphabetic code - have a look! My YouTube channel shows some of the movements I have created. Check it out! My dream is to see children using movement as part of reading and spelling lessons and practice across Canada –and globally! 

Let's make it happen!

-Nancy Young (August 2019)




Here's my chart again – NOTE THE ADDED FOOTNOTES connecting to the research below.

Aug 2019 - Movement chart footnotes.jpg

1) Movement is vitally important for health


  • Research strongly shows the need for movement in a variety of environments. The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth (ages 5-17 years) are the first evidence-based guidelines to emphasize the need for "integration of all movement behaviours occurring over a whole day" and state "the benefits of following these guidelines far exceed potential risks" (CSEP)

  • The global childhood obesity crisis  a pubic health concern in Canada (Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care) and globally (World Health Organization), and physical activity is a key component in the prevention of obesity (World Health Organization)

2) Learning to read requires learning the written code that represents spoken words            

  • "The English written language is an alphabetic code in which spoken language is codified by symbols (letters)" (p. 10); systematic instruction in this code (phonics) is essential for students with learning disabilities (dyslexia), intellectual disabilities, and students whose first language is no English (Hempenstall)

  • All children should receive evidence-based reading and spelling instruction, not just those with diagnosed exceptionalities (Lyon & Chhabra)

  • Children with poor reading skills are at much higher risk of school failure (Hernandez

  • Explicit teaching is necessary, as is repeated exposure to orthographic patterns, in order to achieve automatization of reading skills (Treiman & Kessler)

  • There is a direct link between reading skills in kindergarten and poor behaviour in grade five if weak reading skills are not addressed (McIntosh, Sadler, & Brown)

  • The treatment of students with emotional and behavioural disorders often does not put enough priority on weak academic areas that may be affecting the behaviour (Wehby, Lane & Falk in Lugt)

3) Movement & learning 

For all children: 

  • For school-age children, “participation in a single bout of exercise has favorable consequences for cognitive function” (Hillman, Kamijo, & Scudder p. S26)

  • The effect of inactivity is less efficient cognitive as well as motor performance (Leisman, Moustafa & Shafir)

  • Physical movements can affect our ability to remember (Madan & Sanghal)

  • An increase in on-task behaviours has been linked to short periods of physical activity (Whitt-Glover, Ham, & Yancey

  • Learning enhanced by increased physical activity within educational settings “…might be indispensable to obtain optimal cognitive performance in children” (Jansen & Pietsch)  (p. 60)

  • Using the classroom to combine academic instruction with physical activity may provide the ideal location (Donnelly & Lambourne

  • Educators need to incorporate movement into the school curriculum beyond the physical education class (Lagarde & LeBlanc)

  • Using the classroom to combine academic instruction with physical activity is an efficient use of time (Sallis)

For children with special needs: 

  • Exercise is a do-no-harm intervention for those who have ADHD  (Child Mind Institute)

  • A lack of opportunity to move may be particularly disadvantageous to children with: 

    • Attention issues (Aaron, P. & Joshi. M. (2012). Why a component model of reading should drive instruction, in Expert Perspectives on Interventions for Reading International Dyslexia Association. 

    • DCD/dyspraxia (Baldi, Caravale, & Presaghi)

  • There is evidence linking the mitigation of ADHD symptoms with an increase in physical activity (Gapin, Labban & Etnier)

  • Children with ADHD need to move yet children with ADHD are currently expected to “ still and stay seated, pay attention, concentrate, be quiet, and follow directions” (Harlacher, Merrell, & Roberts (2006) in Gapin, Labban, & Etnier p. S71)

  • Physical activity is an effective strategy for improving some deficits associated with ADHD in young children and does no harm (Hoza et al.)

  • Exercise has a positive effect on executive function (Tomporowski, Lambourne, & Okumura

4) Motivation and engagement: 

  • There is moderate to good evidence that “…physical activity during the school day improves attention to task.” (Mahar)

  • Motivation is a part of learning to read, and reading progress in turn affects motivation; motivation is linked to self-concept and self-efficacy, and a lack of these (due to repeated failure) affects both concentration and persistence in overcoming obstacles in learning to read (Coddington & Guthrie; Morgan & Fuchs)

  • A review of the literature examining the relationship between school-based activity and academic performance found “favorable associations with some indicators of cognitive functioning (e.g. attention/concentration); academic behaviours (e.g. classroom conduct); and/or academic achievement (e.g. test scores). No negative relationship with academic performance was found” (Rasberry et al. p.S17)

5) Mnemonics: 

  • The concept of quick and easy retrieval of important information is fundamental to a mnemonic strategy, but the repetition of the mnemonic is essential several times on the day it is introduced and on each day following (Scruggs et al.)

  • Mnemonic strategies are highly enjoyed by students (Scruggs et al.), and that enjoyment has been linked to increased engagement in the task  and teachers also enjoy teaching through the use of mnemonics (Fontana, Scruggs & Mastropieri

  • Mnemonics have proven to be particularly valuable for children with learning challenges (Scruggs, Mastropieri, Levin and Gaffney

  • Mnemonics have been found to be a valuable instructional tool in teaching many of the components of reading and spelling (Sayeski; Treiman & Kessler)

  • "...anchoring the sound to a grapheme…with a key-word mnemonic, mimics the way alphabet writing was invented." (Moats, Speech to Print, Paul H. Brookes, p. 206)

6) Multisensory instruction: 

  • Methods of instruction for children with dyslexia are multimodal, including "using hand gestures to support memory for associations" (International Dyslexia Association)

  • Multisensory approaches have been linked to improvements in phonological awareness and decoding (Joshi, Dahlgren, Boulware-Goode

  • “Activation of sensorimotor pathways through the use of remedial strategies involving the fingertips, hand, arm, whole body and/or vocal speech apparatus during symbolic learning can make circuits necessary for speech recognition more easily established and accessed.” (Farrell & Sherman (2011)  Multisensory structured language education. In Birsh, J. (Ed.) Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills p. 35)

  • The effectiveness of MSLI in teaching reading and spelling may simply be "the effect of various sensory and motor experiences on attention and recall" (Moats & Ferrell, 1999, p. 15 cited in Schlagal p. 165)

  • "A growing body of behavioural and neuroscientific evidence supports the claim that perceptual and action-based simulations play a role in the comprehension of language." (Kaschek et al. p.2)

7) Make learning fun 

  • It is “...critical for teachers to understand that systematic phonics instruction can be provided in an entertaining, vibrant, and creative manner.” (National Reading Panel Summary p. 11)  

  • Physical activity within the classroom can increase the enjoyment of the learning process (Evenson, Ballard, & Ammerman)

  • Include activities which are "active, engaging... the brain responds to novelty" (Moats, Speech to Print, Paul H. Brookes, p. 209)


Nancy Young B.A., M.Ed. (Special Education)

Reading, Spelling, Writing Specialist & Educational Consultant

British Columbia, Canada

Author of Secret Code Actions™


Creator of the Ladder of Reading infographic

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