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Improve spelling test performance with exergaming

It’s midafternoon in the third grade, time for a spelling test. You might picture fidgety, drowsy children confined to chairs. Not so in Lori Switzer’s classroom in southern New Mexico. Instead, students jump to their feet, ready to dance and laugh with Nintendo Wii’s Just Dance game.

At two Southern New Mexico elementary schools, standing up and getting active before spelling tests shows promise as a way to improve focus and concentration. “My students got very energized and alert with the dances before spelling tests,” says Ms. Switzer. “They excelled at their tests and retained the knowledge ”

There are several ways to organize exergames use for a classroom. Students can leave their regular classroom, walk to the exergames lab, and dance a couple songs before returning for their test. Or, with a Wii in the classroom, maybe on a portable cart, students just stand up from their desks and dance a song or two in place.

Rowdy dancing may seem like a distraction to students, but teachers say just the opposite. They see clear improvement in focus and attentiveness after exergaming. They also report feeling more alert themselves after dancing with the students.

Curious as to whether this effect would show up in test scores, the New Mexico teachers designed an experiment. For nine weeks, students took their tests as usual, without exergaming, and then for nine weeks they did one or two Just Dance songs prior to sitting down for the tests.

The resulting data are under analysis. Meanwhile, Central Elementary is continuing the program, and dedicated teachers continue to measure students’ spelling test performance. Quantifying this effect is an important goal – for now, teachers are pleased by the increased focus and concentration their students show.


Making It Work:

–       Students can dance in place without using an activity mat.


–       Activity bursts are perfect before tests, in the middle of long assignments, or as a reward for an entire class when they have focused well on assignments.


–       Set up the system so it’s ready to go, then mute the game or turn off the television. When you’re ready to begin, it’s a matter of turning on the screen and starting gameplay.


Schools with broadcasting capability to each classroom can facilitate the whole school doing a dancing game together without having to distribute controllers to every classroom or student.

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Funding Information

© 2013. NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Research Initiative (Grant #2008-55215-18837).

About Us

The Exergames Unlocked project includes a multi-state team of accomplished media education researchers, exercise physiologists, medical professionals and doctoral students. Contributing members are researchers in their fields and have helped launch the use of exergames as tools to combat obesity in their communities and beyond. New Mexico State University researchers and their partners have been funded to research the impact of exergames, develop specific recommendations for exergame use, and implement exergaming programs. As part of that project, this website provides access to resources based on research, sample projects, and input from the exergaming community. For more information, contact the project director: Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, Professor, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service
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Why Exergames Unlocked?

Why Exergames Unlocked? Exergames are videogames that encourage physical activity. Here, you’ll find the best and most effective exergames, as well as strategies and recommendations on using them with different audiences and in different locations.