How Do We Keep Kinesthetic Millennials Engaged in the Classroom?

By Stephanie White, PharmD

As educators, “active learning” is easier said than done effectively. There are traditional ways of active learning, such as incorporating patient cases and think-pair-share, that students tend to enjoy. Millennials need something new and exciting to maintain their varying attention spans. While appealing to audio and visual learners is great, the kinesthetic learners may benefit from incorporating touch, as well.

Often, our lectures lack the true “hands-on” learning that is much needed.1 Kinesthetic learners need help in the application of the material, in order for the information transfer process to occur most effectively. Hands-on learning can help stimulate students’ critical thinking and retention. But how is this achieved?

The answer lies with one of our basic needs…food. In pharmacy school, I remember eating during class, which also helped me pay more attention. Since students are often eating in class, why not make the food they are eating part of the learning experience?

How do I incorporate food into a clinical lecture?

As an example, I gave a lecture on incorporating medication synchronization into the pharmacy workflow. In more traditional active learning, I could have made a patient case and given the students pill counts so that they could determine how to synchronize the medications so they all lined up. To go beyond the ordinary, I took the lecture a bit out of the box.

I purchased the sharing size bags of M&Ms and each color of the M&Ms represented a different medication. Then, in pairs, the students’ goal was to synchronize the medications. Thus, the students had to separate the M&Ms by color, as if a patient brought in all of their medications mixed together. Then, they had to count them and determine the quantity that the “pharmacy” would need to fill in order for the patient’s medications to all run out at the same time the following month. The students had the liberty to determine the synchronization date and ultimately could eat the candy when finished. I think this was more successful because the students engaged more of their senses. In addition, it was something out of the ordinary.

Sticking with the idea of food in lecture, when I taught osteoporosis, for the section on proper calcium intake, instead of just stating the facts, I brought in cheese cubes, orange juice, and almonds. I asked the students how many cheese cubes made up one serving size of calcium (roughly 300mg). Students stated answers outloud ranging from 3 to 20 cubes. We did the same with the amount of almonds and juice. Then, the students were able to eat and drink the items. While the food was going around, we discussed how it takes roughly 24 almonds or 6 pieces of cheese for a serving and how these concepts need to be relayed to patients in terms patients understand. Thus, eating 6 cubes of cheese may make more sense to a patient than saying to have 300mg. The students were able to visualize the serving size and ultimately weeks later retained that information when questioned.

What about other activities for kinesthetic learners?

When I teach, I aim to have an activity or something to break up the didactic portion roughly every 10 minutes.2 While the synchronization activity took over 10 minutes to complete, the calcium activity took just a few minutes. I still use more traditional forms of active learning, such as patient cases and polling. However, I aim to have at least one out of the ordinary activity per lecture. This has led to students showing up because incorporating the sense of touch and taste is a unique classroom experience. The students miss out if they solely rely on the recorded lecture.

One idea to engage student learners is to incorporate demonstrations. In a nursing school setting, an anatomical re-creation served as the basis for active learning. Some students were part of the structure of the heart, while other students circulated through the structure. To demonstrate how the heart contracts, the students that were part of the heart structure would step forward to mimic the heart changing size. This process was used to illustrate pharmacological effects of medications and congestive heart failure.1

Other ideas include role play or drawings. For example, when teaching about how to counsel patients, students can act out both positive and negative interactions instead of only stating how to counsel a patient.

Overall, the students responded very positively to these examples of unique but meaningful active learning during lecture. Whether it is through incorporating food, or other activities oriented to the kinesthetic learner, there are several ways to break up lecture, engage the students, and maintain active participation in a large group setting. Given this information, what are you going to do differently to actively engage your kinesthetic learners?

Special thanks to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for allowing me to express my creativity in teaching and guest lecture in a variety of different settings.


1. Wagner EA. Using a kinesthetic learning strategy to engage nursing student thinking, enhance retention, and improve critical thinking. J Nurs Educ. 2014; 53(6):348-51.

2 Wilson, K. and Korn, J. H. “Attention during lectures: Beyond ten minutes.” Teaching of Psychology. 2007; 34(2):85-89.

Author Bio:

Dr. Stephanie White is a PGY2 Ambulatory Care Resident at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Stephanie received her doctorate from Mercer University College of Pharmacy. Her professional interests include diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and pain management. She also has a passion for teaching both patients and students. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys traveling, baking, kickball, tennis, running, and enjoying the local festivals of Little Rock, AR.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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