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Walk the Talk

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, Barbara Tharp, MS, and Sonia Rahmati Clayton, PhD.
Walk the Talk

© Cathy Yeulet.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 30 Minutes


Students learn that physical and mental activities can be improved with practice by repeatedly walking while reciting a poem.

As part of this activity, students visit the PowerPlay exhibit at the Children's Museum of Houston. This lesson is best conducted before going to the Museum. Also, prior to the visit read "Teacher Tips," to plan the visit, and to learn about alternative options for conducting the activity without a Museum visit (see PDF).

This activity is from the PowerPlay Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades 3-7, the lessons are easily adaptable for other grade levels.

The PowerPlay project is a partnership between Baylor College of Medicine and the Children's Museum of Houston.

Teacher Background

The Children’s Museum of Houston’s PowerPlay exhibit is designed to reinforce healthy behaviors and help young people discover new ways to become more physically active. By introducing students to new activities that require practice to master, this investigation will help students experience the differences between well-learned movements that seem almost automatic and new movements, which require more concentration to do well. This activity should be completed before your class visits the Museum.

Many of the body’s movements happen without our having to think about them. Some of these automatic movements, such as breathing, beating of the heart, and movement of food through the digestive system, help to keep our body functioning properly. Other actions, such as reaching down to pick up a pencil or walking across the room, require us to make a conscious decision. Movements like these are called voluntary, because we—or more specifically, the cerebral cortex, or “thinking” part of the brain—must make a decision to carry them out. The cerebral cortex chooses how to proceed and then sends a signal out along a motor neuron (nerve cell that delivers signals from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles).

These decisions and communications take time. As you become skilled at a given movement, you gradually are able to perform it more rapidly and smoothly than you could at first. Well-learned movements are guided by another part of the brain, called the cerebellum. Eventually, with practice, you can carry out some repetitive, rhythmic voluntary movements without much concentration at all; they become almost automatic. Examples might include walking, running, bicycling, jogging, skating or dancing. The cerebellum coordinates many of these movements, leaving the cerebral cortex free to carry out other jobs. Practice also improves performance in other kinds of tasks that require memory, such as playing a musical instrument or learning a list of names.

Objectives and Standards

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Objectives


3.2.A-F; 4.2.A-F; 5.2.A-F 

  • Student uses scientific inquiry methods during laboratory and outdoor investigations.

3.4.A-B; 4.4.A-B; 5.4.A-B

  • Students know how to use a variety of tools, materials, equipment, and models to conduct science inquiry.


3.1.A; 4.1.D,F; 5.1.E

  • Students will recognize and explain ways to enhance and maintain health and recognize and perform behaviors that reduce health risk throughout their lifespan.

3.11.F; 4.11.B; 5.9.D-E

  • The student recognizes critical-thinking, decision-making, goal-setting, and problem solving skills for making health-promoting decisions.

Materials and Setup

Materials per Student

  • Science notebook

Procedure and Extensions


  1. Conduct this activity in an area free of obstacles. Have students select a partner and walk quietly, making a large circle around the perimeter of the space.

  2. After a few moments, ask students if it was difficult to walk in the circle. Ask, Did you have to practice before you were able to do this?


  1. Ask each set of partners to walk again in the circle. But this time, have one student in each pair tell a story or recite a poem (e.g., “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) as they walk together (2–3 minutes). Ask, Was it difficult to walk and talk at the same time?

  2. Have students switch roles and repeat step 1, using the same story or poem.

  3. Next, change the walk for one partner in each pair. Have this person walk two steps forward (so that the heel of one foot is in contact with the toe of the other foot) and one step backward in a straight line, while reciting the same story or poem used before.

  4. Again, have students switch roles and repeat the previous step.

  5. Ask, What was the difference between the two walking patterns? What role did balance have in the walk? Talking? Thinking about the steps?

  6. Have students record their impressions of the investigation in their notebooks and draw conclusions about the results. For instance, they should explain which walk was easier, which was most difficult, and why this might be.


  1. Lead a class discussion about students’ experiences with the two walking activities. Ask students to identify which elements of the assigned movements were most difficult, and why they think this is so. Emphasize that the act of simple walking has been “programmed” into students, so it seems almost like an automatic function. Thus, it was easy to tell a story or poem during “normal” walking. However, it became harder to recite something when the “thinking” part of the brain was occupied with carrying out the new way of walking.  

  2. Ask students if they ever have watched a toddler learn to walk. Some students may even have seen video of their own first attempts to walk.

  3. Ask students how they could improve their performance on this activity. Encourage them to consider if/how practicing might help.


Over a period of several days, have students practice walking in a straight line while reciting the alphabet backwards. By the end of the experiment, students should observe an increase in speed and accuracy.


Ask, What situations can you think of in which it would be very important to be able to walk, run, ride a bicycle, etc., without having to pay attention to those movements? Have each student write a short paragraph describing one such scenario.

Handouts and Downloads


Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Grant Number: R25RR022697