The Body Matters in Language Teaching

May 2020

Sometimes we need to take a step back from the brain and look at all the ways the body impacts learning. In this issue we explore how sleep, movement, and general health affects students in the classroom. 

Watch before you read...

In his TED Talk, Michael Kuczala, tells us “learning does not happen from the neck up. It happens from the feet up” (If you have trouble with the sound, turn on the captions or open the transcript.) Movement is connected to learning. So is sleep, as Barbara Oakley tells us in the second video. Julia Daley gives us a wonderful overview on how body and learning are connected This is followed by an article on how walking induces creativity, by Brian Birdsell. We know blood flow affects cognitive function and memory, so we asked our veterans about ways to add movement to language classes. It’s not as hard as you might think. Movement advocate Kevin McCaughey wrote the intro for us. Then, Jarrod O’Flaherty takes us on a delightful journey showing how he discovered his kids need physical exercise more than English proficiency, and that the former can help the latter. Paul Wadden reminds us not to overlook sleep as a part of learning, and, for dessert, Maggie Reagh brings us back to our origins with a look at Forest Bathing.

In the Plus section, one of the gurus of movement and language learning, Bill Acton, tells us a story about fighting in Korea.

Our Thoughts on How the Body Matters

Why The Body Really Matters Julia Daley

As a member of the editorial team, I would like to make an apology: in our zeal to share knowledge of our students’ minds and brains, we neglected to bring our readers’ attention to another critical facet of learning: their bodies. The last time we’ve seriously focused on the body was in July 2018, in our Exercise issue, and prior to that was in our back-to-back Sleep issues from January and February 2018. As 2020 has so brutally reminded us, our students’ health is intimately connected with their learning.

Think Tank Articles

Walking and the Wandering Mind: How Movement Enhances Creativity Brian Birdsell

Hippocrates, a Greek physician who practiced some 2,400 years ago, famously wrote the line “walking is man’s best medicine.” Since then, writers and philosophers have similarly expressed the power of walking, not only for physical health, but for mental processing. For instance, Friedrich Nietzsche is credited with saying, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” while Ralph Waldo Emerson described walking as “gymnastics for the mind” and the avid walker Hemmingway stated that “I would walk along the quays when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.

Easy Ways to Add Movement (aka raise blood flow) to your Deskbound Classes By: Kevin McCaughey & Think Tank Staff

Introduction by Movable Class advocate Kevin McCaughey. Read his article.

A few million years as hunter-gatherers have ensured that our bodies were designed for movement. Even if movement doesn’t help us think and learn better (which it very likely does), it’s much healthier than sitting around without a break. I’ve been involved in many workshops where teachers in Africa and Europe found great joy in getting active with English, even when it’s silly. 

Re-equipping our Classrooms for a Better Learning Experience Jarrod O’Flaherty

While giving my daughter a tour of my alma mater last year, we wandered into my old engineering department and passed by one of the lecture halls I used to frequent. Peering through the glass door, I saw that the tiers of flimsy, vinyl-clad planks and jittery overhead projector of my day had been replaced with well-padded, ergonomic thrones and two (or was it four?) massive, flat-screen displays. Oh, my! How fortunate my successors are to enjoy such luxuries!

Sleep, Exercise, and Peak Performance in the University Paul Wadden & Elena Wadden

Air, food, water, and sleep. These are the four basic needs of the human body. University students—and their teachers—usually do fine on the first three, but the last tends to be a problem. We know the physiological importance of sleep from a rich diversity of research studies. In biology, for instance, a team led by University of Chicago scientist Allan Rechtschaffen found that “all rats subjected to unrelenting total sleep deprivation died, usually after 2–3 weeks” (as cited in Gonzales and Gadye, 2015).

Forest Bathing - Shinrin-Yoku: Teaching about Stress Resilience & Immunity during COVID-19 Maggie Reagh

I first learnt about Forest Bathing a year ago, just before visiting Japan as a faculty exchange for Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada. I was surprised to learn that Shinrin-Yoku originated from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s (Longhurst & Takemasa, 2018), not from a country like Canada known for its lush forests, vast oceans, and majestic mountains. But after I learnt more about their hectic lifestyle, it made perfect sense that the Japanese people needed to learn the art of relaxation through visiting forests far away from the stresses of a typical urban life.

Think Tank Plus

Overnight Improvement in Conversational Rhythm: Taking the Gloves off! Bill Acton

(An earlier version of this story appeared on the HICPR blog.)

The great Arthur Lessac, in what became known as the “Lessac method,” captured what I think is the quintessential notion in truly embodied language teaching: Train the body first! Haptic Pronunciation Teaching is based on that idea: First teach learners a gesture or set of gestures that in some “visceral” or metaphorical way mimic a set of sounds—THEN attach the sounds to the gestures.

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

One of our authors, Jonathan Schacter, is making podcasts, Lost in Citations. Another of our authors, Marc Helgesen, is interviewed by him.

Lost in Citations

Citation 6: Helgesen, M. (2019). English teaching and the science of happiness: Positive psychology communication activities for language learning. Tokyo: ABAX ELT Publishers.

One more Forest Bather

Why sitting is bad for you

– Murat Dalkilinç

MBE Logo

The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

Curtis H. Kelly                Skye Playsted   



Get issues delivered to your inbox at the start of each month!


Stop receiving issues in your inbox.

Reader's Survey

Take a short survey to help us learn more about our readers!