When you lift weights in the gym, you often to take a break between sets to let your body rest and reset. Similarly, when you ask your students to do “heavy lifting” mentally in your class, you should give them a brain break approximately every 15 minutes. This allows information and skills to settle into the brain while a different part of their brain or body takes over briefly; moments later, students can return to their academic task refreshed and refocused.
Read below for examples of 10 brain breaks you could try in your classroom:
2. Brain gymnastics: Give students five seconds to write the numbers by one as quickly as they can. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5….” Then, ask them to write the numbers by one as quickly as they can while reciting their numbers by two as loudly and quickly as they can. (Writing “1, 2, 3, 4…” while saying “2, 4, 6, 8, 10…”)
3. Play a quick version of Simon Says. If you don’t remember how to play, Google it.
4. Touch 4 Walls: When students need a wiggle break, ask them to get up and touch 4 walls in your classroom. As they visit each wall, they might identify something they have learned, examine something on each wall, or simply say a word or phrase as they touch the wall.
5. Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament: Ask everyone to stand, find a partner, and challenge that person to a quick game of rock, paper, scissors. Whoever loses sits down, and the winners challenge another winner. Keep going until one person emerges as the victor.
6. Nose Goes: This is a quick way to decide which member of a pair or group has to do something (get materials, go first, etc.). When you say, “Nose goes!”, each member of the group touches his or her nose. The last one to do so is the one who gets to do the required task. Kids love this. I know. It’s crazy, right?
7. What Did I Just Say? Stop after (or during) giving directions or assignments and ask students to turn to a partner and tell that partner what you just told the class. Or use other quick neighbor interaction: (Tell your neighbor what you had for lunch. Give your neighbor a high five. Or a fist-bump. Thank the person sitting behind you for coming to class today.).
8. Activity Movement: Place supplies or handouts in corners of the room. Rather than handing out the papers or supplies yourself, ask students to stand up and get them. Sometimes, I ask students to send the tallest person, the nicest person, the sleepiest person, etc. in the group to get supplies or handouts for the entire group. You're not a flight attendant; your students can fetch what they need on their own. They'll appreciate the opportunity to move.
9. Relaxation Exercises (or Chair Yoga): Sometimes the brain break can involve just a moment of stretching or relaxation. Stretching to the ceiling, looking left and right, leaning the head to either side, shrugging the shoulders for 20 seconds and then releasing them, deep breathing, or doing a spinal twist in your chair can get the wiggles out, release the tension, and focus your mind.
10. Stand, Sit, and Spell: Choose a word that represents some content you are trying to teach (i.e., PHOTOSYNTHESIS). As you spell the word aloud, ask your students to stand when you say a consonant and sit when you say a vowel. See if you can speed it up. Or have the males sit for consonants and stand for vowels while the females sit for vowels and stand for consonants. Try letting them see the word on the screen or board as they sit, stand, and spell. Then try it with the word out of sight.
Many of the strategies above seem kind of silly and—dare I say it?—fun. What’s wrong with having a little fun in school, especially when it gets kids mentally prepared to focus back in on brain-intensive work?
ELA Instructional Specialist