Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

[Student Engagement] 5 Strategies to Make Brain Breaks Work in the Classroom

Monday, October 10, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

Every teacher understands the struggle of trying to keep a fidgety classroom focused. Students have a tendency to become restless and distracted the longer they are sitting at their desks. That’s where brain breaks come in.

Research has shown that when students are led in quick physical activity exercises every 25-30 or so minutes, their brain activity actually increases. These 1-3 minute exercises, or brain breaks, are easy to implement in practically any classroom setting. Here are a few simple tricks to help you get started using brain breaks in your classroom:

1. Let the kids know what you’re doing

You know better than anyone that your students are smart, so if you’re trying something new in the classroom, let them in on it. Explain to them how you’re going to be slipping short breaks into your lessons every half hour or so, and that the breaks will consist of guided exercises and breathing techniques. Some students might feel awkward or uncomfortable participating at first, so help put everyone at ease by encouraging them to engage and speak up if they have any questions.

2. Plan according to your class’ schedule

No one knows your classroom better than you, and when it comes to finding time to include brain breaks in your daily lessons, it’s important to choose the time that works best for your class. It could be a different time every day, or it could be on a set schedule. Experiment a little bit to see when brain breaks work best for you.

3. Try different breaks for different brains

If you teach multiple grade levels, it’s a good idea to use different exercises depending on the class. For example, if you teach a particularly antsy group of youngsters, it might be helpful to try out some movement exercises with them, such as guided stretching, or a quick game. Older kids might prefer more social interactions, such as pairing up and chatting with one of their classmates for 2-3 minutes. If your class has a hard time settling down after movement focused brain breaks, try something more meditative like guided breathing or other mindful exercises. 

4. Clearly identify when a brain break has started and ended

Brain breaks should be short and sweet. Their purpose is to give your class a brief rest so they can return to their lessons focused and attentive, but for some kids it might be hard to switch from a break back to learning mode. Avoid the potential for chaos by establishing behavior expectations before you start using brain breaks. Setting an alarm for the class, such as a kitchen timer, to go off when the brain break is done is great way to keep your class on schedule and signal to your students when a break has started and stopped. If you notice one student in particular is having trouble switching from break time to class time, you can make them your “official timer” and give them the responsibility of setting the timer when the break begins. This will help them better identify when the time has come for them to return their attention back to class.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Just like there’s never “typical” day in your classroom, there may never be a “typical” brain break exercise that works for your class. You should never feel married to any one particular brain work out, nor should you get discouraged if after a few tries you still haven’t found one that “works” for everyone in your class. Try making a “brain break cards” by writing or typing out several brain break ideas on to a stack of index cards. Then, each day when it’s time for your brain break choose one of the cards at random. Ta-da! A brand new brain break every day.

Looking for more tips to keep your students active and engaged throughout the day? Check out this blog on how to make time for hands-on experiences in your K-6th grade blended learning classroom!