Michael F. Opitz

Using Fitness Literacy Lessons Focused on the Whole Child

Nine years ago, I was talking with an elementary school principal about scheduling my university tutoring class in his school. Among my concerns was making sure that the children to be tutored did not have to miss recess. His question, "What recess?" was startling and sparked my journey to better understand the importance of how paying attention to the whole child is a sure way to help them to maximize their full potential as readers. Just what, I wondered, could I—a reading professor by profession with a personal fitness-training avocation—do to join the chorus of the many different agencies to address children's optimal wellness in an effort to ward off childhood obesity? The answer to this question culminated in a book I wrote entitled Literacy Lessons to Help Kids Get Fit and Healthy (Scholastic, 2010). In it, I offer several fitness literacy lessons, of which FitLit is a part.

What Is a FitLit?

FitLit is fitness literature that spotlights the multiple aspects of health and well-being. I have assembled a vast array of children's literature titles that fit this description, but other forms of text can also be considered as FitLit (e.g., magazines, electronic text). FitLit is a new way to connect fitness and literacy that helps children go far beyond simply reading about fitness topics. This is where the fitness literacy lesson enters the picture. It is a three-part lesson in which the teacher first involves children in an activity that relates to the fitness topic children will be reading about. Once children have engaged with the activity and have developed some questions about what they did and how it might contribute to their overall health, the second step of the lesson involves transitioning into reading. At this point, children might read different texts about the topic or the teacher might engage children with a read-aloud that brings awareness to the activity they completed before the reading began. The third step is to help children take control over their own health by providing them with ideas for what they can do both in and out of school to monitor their own health.

You might wonder why I advocate doing more than talking with kids about fitness and the importance of staying healthy, so allow me to explain. In short, children learn by doing rather than being told. As with any learning that has staying power, they need firsthand experiences in order to discover why being healthy is important to their overall well-being. We want children to know why they are doing what they are doing; we want them to be meta-cognitive. Consequently, each fitness literacy lesson is designed to help children apply what they know about all areas of literacy (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing) to become more cognizant of their overall health and how to become more savvy consumers.

Bend A Little: A Sample Fitness Literacy Lesson

Bend A Little! is a lesson I designed to help 3rd graders understand the importance of flexibility in their thinking as well as in their physical movement. This example uses the text Yoga Pretzels by Leah Kalish and Tara Guber (Barefoot Books, 2005).


Phase 1: Setting the Stage

  1. Gather the class together in the whole-group meeting area (or at desks).
  2. Distribute the knowledge rating form and provide time for students to complete it independently.
  3. Once finished, ask "Now that you have seen the words that are going to be included in this lesson, what do you think you will be reading about?"
  4. Tell students that their thinking shows flexibility and that being flexible is good because it broadens our minds and keeps us open to new ideas. Then state, "And being flexible also has a lot to do with how we move, too!"
  5. Tell students that they are going to be learning how to do some yoga exercises and ask, "Why do you think it might be important to be flexible?" THINK/PAIR/SHARE
  6. Ask for volunteers to comment.
  7. Demonstrate how to do the dragon stretch.
  8. Repeat but this time, have them join you in the stretch.
  9. Tell students that they will now do the same for one another.


Phase 2: Transition to Reading (small groups of five)

  1. Provide each group with a card.
  2. Read the card to yourselves.
  3. Provide time for reading and for practice.


Phase 3: After Reading (what to do beyond the school day)

  1. Call all back together. In turn, have each group teach others their exercise.
  2. Have students return to desks and direct them to take a look at their knowledge rating. Say something like, "Now that you have experienced doing some different yoga exercises, let's take another look at your knowledge rating."
  3. State, "Now you can rate yourself again using another color of pen or pencil."
  4. Remind students of the importance of being flexible in their thinking and in their movement.
  5. Show and explain the form for tracking at-home yoga practice.

Michael F. Opitz is professor emeritus of reading education from the University of Northern Colorado where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses and supervised doctoral dissertations. Currently he is an author and literacy consultant who provides inservice and staff development sessions and presents at state and international conferences. He also works with K–6 teachers by planning, teaching, and evaluating demonstration lessons focused on different aspects of literacy, including integrated fitness and reading lessons. He is the author and coauthor of numerous books, articles, and reading programs. Connect with Opitz by liking his page on Facebook and by e-mailing him at Michael.Opitz@unco.edu.

Comments (3)

Carol Stern

November 30, 2011

For PreK children, Dr. Suzy Lederer’s CD “StoryBook Yoga” integrates simple Yoga poses with popular picture books.

denise darval-chang

December 8, 2011

is there a sample lesson for 8th grade?

Jennifer Bridges

December 9, 2011

My colleague, Dr. Karen Weiller and I wrote a curriculum for Pre-K children called Alphabet on the Move that might be a really nice lead in to what you have here in the FitLit curriculum. The same IRA standards of literacy are employed in Alphabet on the Move as in FitLit, however, the children are learning letters and words instead of sentences and paragraphs. Keep up the good work! smile

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