Low-Stakes Kinesthetic Activities for the First-Year Writing Classroom

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Kim Lilienthal.pngGuest blogger Kim Lilienthal is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research interests include co-curricular writing, reflection assessment, and service learning in composition.

Emily Jo Schwaller.jpgGuest blogger Emily Jo Schwaller is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research areas include digital reading experiences and communities, feminist literacy, and composition feedback practices.

The First-Year Writing (FYW) classroom is an ideal space for community building because of its often smaller class size, student-centered focus, and process-based models of learning. For first-year students, building a community of peers and social support networks is essential to their holistic development at a new university, as “involvement creates connections...that allow individuals to believe in their own personal worth” (Schlossberg, 1989). Kinesthetic activities facilitate this community building and involvement because they require students to work together outside the scope of a traditional classroom environment.

Further, kinesthetic activities allow students to engage their bodies and become involved with the knowledge making process because minds and bodies are always linked (Fleckenstein, 1999). In a Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) program, it is important to help students see writing as similar to other learning processes (e.g. labs, experiments, conferences). In this blog post, we suggest various ways we engage our students in active learning in order to emphasize WID principles and to reinforce how writing is present and important for everyone.

Note: Each activity contains a hyperlink to detailed instructions and materials.


Activity Idea: Rhetorical “Infomercials”

In this unit, students apply rhetorical concepts by creating infomercial skits. Each group advertises a silly product, such as a “mustache glitter” for “wizards who want to appear magical,” to an imagined audience. The audience determines which infomercial is the most rhetorically effective based on the appeals they learned. Once each group has judged the infomercials, we discuss why certain appeals or rhetorical moves were effective and how similar moves can be incorporated into writing. This activity helps introduce the rhetorical analysis assignment, reinforce rhetorical concepts, and build a community.


In this unit, students accommodate a scientific journal article into an article for a popular magazine. To help students understand how to translate scientific methods for the general audience, they develop instructions for paper airplanes and then exchange with other students. We test which airplanes go the farthest, and not surprisingly those with diagrams and clear language always win. This allows us to debrief about how images and clarity enhance audiences’ understanding of complicated scientific processes.

Business Writing

Activity Idea: High Intensity Interval Writing

Inspired by high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, designed to provide maximum physical activity in minimum time, high intensity interval writing allows students to practice several writing skills in a short amount of time. In this unit, students write a recommendation report for an imagined community partner organization with suggestions on how to improve their website’s rhetorical effectiveness. They rotate among stations, completing a small component of the report based on the evidence provided to them. At the end of the activity, each team has a skeleton of a recommendation report to use as a guide for their own reports. We debrief by discussing the skeleton reports’ level of success.

Social Sciences

Activity Idea: Living Burkean Parlor

To help students overcome the barrier of “entering the scholarly conversation” as individuals, we create a Living Burkean Parlor so students find themselves physically inside the abstract idea of an unending conversation. Students are divided into groups and one person from each group volunteers to leave the room. Each group receives a conversation topic or question to spark vigorous discussion, such as “If you get away with committing any crime, what would you do?” After conversation is rolling, the people who left the room return to their groups. Without knowing the topic, and without being explicitly invited into the discussion, they attempt to contribute something new to the conversation based on what others are saying. To debrief the activity, we talk about the challenges of joining a conversation without knowing the topic, the strategies used to join the conversation, or whether the conversation ended up changing. From there, we introduce students to the idea of Kenneth Burke’s unending conversation, and prime them to enter it themselves in their next assignment.

Concluding Thoughts

Kinesthetic activities allow students to socialize while building knowledge fundamental to their success in the collaborative classroom and workplace settings they will encounter.

Students’ anonymous feedback on such activities has been consistently positive:

  • I got to bond with my classmates, which helped me feel comfortable and allowed me to have a better learning experience.”
  • “Making the class more interactive, like the activity of making the commercials for different audiences, helped me learn.”
  • “The [HIIT] stations activity was one of the most important pre-writing activities I did; it gave me a lot of new ideas.”

What kinesthetic activities do you include in your classroom? Join the Macmillan Community to tell us in the comments below and start a conversation!

About the Author
Roy Stamper is Senior Lecturer in English and former Associate Director of the First-Year Writing Program in the Department of English at North Carolina State University, where he teaches courses in composition and rhetoric. He is also academic advisor to the department’s Language, Writing, and Rhetoric majors. He has been recognized as an Outstanding Lecturer in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and is a recipient of NC State's New Advisor Award. Prior to his current appointment, he worked as a high school English teacher. He has presented papers at a number of local, regional, and national conferences, including the Conference of the Council of Writing Program Administrators and the Conference on College Composition and Communication.