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Brain Breaks

Updated on August 6, 2012
Studies show that students need Brain Breaks every 25-30 minutes in order for optimal learning to take place.
Studies show that students need Brain Breaks every 25-30 minutes in order for optimal learning to take place. | Source

Brain Breaks allow our brains the opportunity to relax, re-energize, absorb, re-focus, and proocess while having some fun and in many cases helping build character and comoderie among our students. We know that our students have an attention span of 25-30 minutes in most cases. While there are breaks built into the day such as recess, lunch, special classes (music, art, physical education, etc), and passing time, additional breaks are often required.

These activities can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes in length depending on the time you have available and the activity. They should not require a great deal of "prep" or "props" and be able to be initiated rather "spur of the moment". Remember, these activities should be a fun break for your students and you!

Like with any new activity you need to take time to initially introduce this to you students. First you will need to let your students know what Brain Breaks are. Maybe make up a fun signal or action that will show your students these will happen. These will not be "scheduled" activities, rather something that just pops up when needed. Perhaps you will place both hands on your head and say "Brain Break", allowing your students to follow.

Once they know what's happening they need to know what to do. Introduce Brain Breaks one, realizing that the first two or three times you do an activity it may take a little longer as the students learn how to do it. Very soon they will be well known and will be able to be completed quickly. The time spent in the beginning will definitely pay off in the end.

Brain Breaks can be used to re-energize a class that seems to be falling asleep as well as re-focus a class that seems a little out of hand. You will need to have activities for both. Perhaps you will use some Yoga poses to help students refocus, while a fast-paced activity for a sleepy afternoon. Know what your activities are and select appropriately.


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Ping Pong Balls and Popsicle Sticks are great ways to label activities. Teachers or students can drawn activities then.
Ping Pong Balls and Popsicle Sticks are great ways to label activities. Teachers or students can drawn activities then. | Source

Collecting Brain Break Activities

There are so many Brain Break activities floating around in books and the internet. For this activity I created a board on Pinterest, right now simply "repinning" ideas that I liked, but hope to pin some other material as I come across. It took me awhile to learn how to "repin" using my iPad. At first when I was trying I kept getting 1/2 a box in the upper left hand corner. I finally figured out you need to "long press" on the "repin" button and then select "Open in a New Tab". This will allow you to repin items you find.

Once you get activities select a way to store them in your classroom. While there are countless ways to do this, I have found a few I thought were worth mentioning.

  • Popsicle Sticks--either write activity on a popsicle stick or use a label maker to create a tag. You can then store these in a decorated can with the writing face down or up depending on your preference.
  • Ping-Pong Balls--write or create labels for activities and place them on the balls. Place balls in a decorated ice cream pail to be drawn out.
  • Laminated Picture Cards--placed on a ring and you have mobile Brain Breaks that you can take anywhere.

Sometimes you will select the activity, other times students maybe will get to randomly draw an idea out, or allow students to select their favorite as a reward. Watch the video below to learn more about the benefits of Brain Breaks and how to incorporate and manage them in your classroom.

Management Strategies for Teaching Classroom Activity Breaks

The most important thing about a Brain Break is that it should add stress to your job as a teacher, ultimately it should be providing your brain a break also. There are countless examples of activities you can use, so there is no need to re-create the wheel. Some of them will come with age suggestions, what I have found is most can be adapted to any age with a few simple changes. I think more important that age, you need to know your class and what type of activities will work for them. As you get going, you may come up with a few of your own, but until then take advantage of the wonderful resources you have in your educational peers. Below are a few of my favorites.

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A great activity to help students learn simple math facts
A great activity to help students learn simple math facts | Source

Number Spots Addition

Have students stand facing a partner. You can either have partners pre-selected, count-off for partners, or have student select their own partners. Once they are partnered up assign a numeric value for each shoulder, each ear, and their nose (5 numbers in total). For example:

  • Right Shoulder = 1
  • Right Ear = 2
  • Nose = 3
  • Left Ear = 4
  • Left Shoulder = 5

To start the first partner will, without talking, touch 2 of their "points". The second partner will say the numeric values aloud, add them, and state the answer. They can either switch after every time, or can do a few problems and then switch.

Variations could include switching from addition to multiplication, subtraction and/or division. Changing the numeric values can also provide an additional challenge.


Yoga

Yoga poses offer a great way for students to relax and refocus after recess or when they are just a little restless. Yoga cards offer a colorful visual and written description of the pose for you to share with your students. If you are going to use yoga often with students, perhaps think about allowing them to bring in a towel or yoga mat to use. Otherwise, most poses can be done with no props.

Take time to teach students the names of the poses and proper technique. A great resource for you would be a yoga class where you can become more familiar with the poses, and check with your accountant, maybe if you are using this in your classroom the class fee might be a tax deducation.

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Select activities to either re-energize or re-focus student for this Brain Break.
Select activities to either re-energize or re-focus student for this Brain Break. | Source

5-4-3-2-1

Have student stand up behind their chairs. Call out the first activity, perhaps jumping jacks, and have students complete 5. Next call out the second activity, maybe push-ups, and have students complete 4. Continue calling out activities and have students do the next number as you count down.

This activity is nice because you can either call out activities that will increase their energy (jumping jacks, push up, twirling, hopping, etc) or activities that can help them relax (deep breaths, yoga poses for specific number of seconds, etc). Activities can be varied depending on the class age and ability level.

Finger Aerobics

Have students hold both hands in front of them with their thumbs placed inward towards their palm, they should have 4 fingers facing upward. Instruct them to move the following combinations:

  • Left hand ~ Pinky / Right hand ~ Pointer
  • Left hand ~ Ring Finger / Right hand ~ Middle Finger
  • Left hand ~ Middle Finger / Right hand ~ Ring Finger
  • Left hand ~ Pointer / Right hand ~ Pinky

Fingers from the opposite hand will not touch each other as they move, and will essentially make a wave like motion. Students can start this activity slower and increase speed as they gain confidence.

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Have students switch seats with peers that share similar traits as them such as curly hair or red shirts.
Have students switch seats with peers that share similar traits as them such as curly hair or red shirts. | Source

Trading Places

Have students stand behind their desks. Call out a feature (curly hair, red shirt, girl/boy, black shoes, etc). If the student has that feature they need to trade places with another student that has that feature also. If a student doesn't have the called feature they will remain where they are.

This is a great Brain Break because it can go for as long or short as you want. You can add variations by allowing a student to be the caller, or by seeing who can return to their seat first after leaving it.

Toe Tapping Brain Break

This Brain Break is a great one for students who can benefit from balancing activities also. Have students stand facing their partner. Provide them with a numeric routine (1-3-2, 2-2-1, 3-1-2, etc) for them to complete by tapping their feet.

For example the first routine might be tap left feet 1 time, right feet 3 times, and right feet 2 times. They can repeat this routine several times gaining speed as they go.

Brain Breaks are a great way to re-energize, re-focus, absorb and process information. A little time spent in the beginning teaching them to your students will result in a year long activity that both they are you will come to love, appreciate and enjoy.

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    • RoxiM profile image

      RoxiM 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Thanks for these suggestions. I am looking for brain breaks that could be adapted for use with my high school students.

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
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      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Thanks for the comment!

      Most were listed for elementary grades/ages, but I know at least my high schooler still like the chance to let lose and be goofy. I think knowing your class will help you adapt just about any break into something you could use.

    • profile image

      ESLTeachersTales 4 years ago

      I teach adult education and this is a great reminder for me to include breaks of some sort in my long sessions. Thanks!

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
      Author

      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Thanks for reading! I know what you mean, I often say the brain breaks ate as much for me as my students. We sometimes forget that adults are students too :)

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      These are great ideas for keeping kids in the classroom active rather than sitting all the time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
      Author

      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Thanks for taking to time to read and comment. It's such a simple concept AND easy to do, yet we all seem to forget :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 4 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Wonderful ideas :) I might have to try these to keep my brain going! I know my kids will love them. Voted up and shared :)

    • Jeani Nugent profile image
      Author

      Jeani Nugent 4 years ago from Cumberland, Wisconsin

      Glad you liked it. I know I have found myself doing some of them during the day now...especially yoga has been awesome!

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