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Cross-Body Movements: What are they and how can they help increase student focus and retention?

Educators are always on the lookout for the perfect teaching tool that will help their students remember yesterday’s lesson, improve motor skills, stay focused, and help rein in their student’s energy. Cross-body movements are fun strategies to reach these goals. Cross-body movements engage both hemispheres of the brain. Many scientists like to think of the brain as a blender. In order to digest information, we blend it up.

When both the left and right hemispheres are used, the easier it is to remember the digested information. One of the easiest ways to engage both hemispheres of the brain is to cross the mid-line in our bodies. Picture an imaginary line that runs from our nose to the floor. While standing up, touch your right hand to left foot. You just crossed your mid-line!

Here is an example of a cross-body movement while you practice skip counting by 7s!

Criss Cross for 7s

  1. Right hand to left foot. Whisper “one”.
  2. Left hand to right foot. Whisper “two”.
  3. Right hand to left knee. Whisper “three”.
  4. Left hand to right knee. Whisper “four”.
  5. Right hand to left hip. Whisper “five”.
  6. Left hand to right hip. Whisper “six”.
  7. Clap. Shout “SEVEN”!

The Math & Movement Training Manual for Elementary Schools has over 250 movements like the one above to energize students. Use these math-movements to wake up a child’s sleepy brain, liven up faculty meetings, or just to feel better during your day! Your students (or fellow teachers!) will receive rigorous and intentional math practice while engaging in physical exercise!

Frequent cross-body movements help develop strong motor skills which aid in balance and improve reading and writing skills. These movements are easily integrated into daily lesson plans or can be used as brain breaks throughout the school day. Many teachers report increased test scores on concepts that incorporated cross-body movements!

How can movement stimulate new brain growth?

Multiple studies have confirmed that exercise stimulates brain growth. According to Carla Hannaford, PhD, author of Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head, “The more closely we consider the elaborate interplay of brain and body, the more clearly one compelling theme emerges: movement is essential to learning. …Movement awakens and activates our mental capacities. Movement integrates and anchors new information and experience into our neural networks. Moving while learning increases learning.”

Additionally, Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain states‚ “I cannot underestimate how important regular exercise is in improving the function and performance of the brain. Exercise stimulates our gray matter to produce ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain.” This refers to the brain chemical BDNF (brain-derived-neurotropic factor). Exercise stimulates the brain to produce extra BDNF which is used to enhance the development of new neurons (and their connections).

Math & Movement is based on research that suggests that moving during learning facilitates muscle memory, an important factor with younger children whose abstract thinking skills are not fully developed. It is also based on research suggesting that cross-body movements integrate the left and right hemisphere of the brain. Cross-body movements are when the left arms or legs cross over to the right side of the body or right arms or legs cross over to the left side of the body. These movements wake up a sleepy brain and help to cement newly learned material in the memory.

Consider adding movement to your next lesson

Check out the Math & Movement Training Manual e-book or hardcopy for some fun ideas on how to add movement to your school day! Learn more about active math and the programs Math & Movement offers at here.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for the insightful and authoritative comments on authenticated scientific research into the value of movement in stimulating brain growth. I am a semi-retired mathematics educator who is now engaged in teaching at a nearby performance arts high school, replete with dancers, musicians, theatrical students. I wish to dispel their beliefs that “no one really needs math anymore!” I am looking for resources about the “mathematics of exercise” to identify mathematical formulas that apply to the various bodily movements.

    1. Dr. Wright – Thank you for your comment and for your service to your community as an educator! Your comment has inspired us to do a new blog post (or series of posts) on some of the research that supports movement and learning as well as the importance of math. I would be happy to let you know when those are up on our site. Until then, we thought you might enjoy this book: ‘Limitless Mind’ by Jo Boaler. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything else!
      -Korie (

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