This list of ways to efficiently introduce brain breaks in your classroom provides strategies and ideas to make sure your classroom runs smoothly and everyone has fun!
With school rapidly approaching, I know teachers are beginning to think about what professional development will look like this year. Will our administrators have us complete PD virtually, or will they have us meet in person? I always get a little antsy during professional development, struggling to focus on paying attention to the “lesson” with so many other to-dos moving restlessly about in my brain especially as I try to get ready for a new year. When we get a ten minute bathroom break, I jump out of my seat to stretch and to move my muscles.
When I think about how impatient I get when I’m asked to sit in a chair for longer than 30 minutes, I feel empathy for my students. So often, especially at the secondary-level, they are expected to sit for upwards of an hour, focused on the material with little to no movement or breaks. They get their five minute breaks between classes, but then they are back in their seats to continue the serious task of getting educated.
In an attempt to address this concern, I’ve introduced brain breaks into my classroom and they are game-changers. Ha! Pun intended. Here’s how to get started with brain breaks:
1. Generate Ideas. There are so many good resources out there, but I tend to love to flip through the pages of a physical book. Thus, my most often used resource is Silly Sports & Goofy Games by Spencer Kagan. While this book is geared towards elementary students, I’ve found several brain breaks that can be modified to work for junior or high school students.
2. Add it to your lesson plan. While ideally brain breaks will take about five minutes of class time, when you are just beginning to introduce them, you should expect them to take up closer to ten minutes. I will actually write in “brain break” to my lesson plan to account for the time that I will invest (not lose) in brain breaks.
3. Prepare. Some brain breaks require certain materials, so it’s best to have a general idea ahead of time of what brain break you are planning to utilize that day. The more prepared you are, the less time that the brain break will take from your teaching.
4. Set expectations. It’s important for students to know that this is a fun bonus to being in your class and to not take advantage of the time provided for them to have a brain break. I always stress to students that this is a time for them to get some energy out or raise their energy levels and that I expect them to return to their learning even more engaged as a result.
5. Use timers. On this note, I set a timer on my projector and tell students that is the maximum amount of time we will have allocated for this brain break, including directions & returning to their seats/our learning. My hope is that, knowing the brain break time is limited, students will focus more intently on the directions and will return respectfully to their seats more quickly, so that the bulk of our time with the brain break can be spent on the most fun part.
6. Demonstrate with a small group, when possible. It’s possible that, because I’m not a PE teacher, I’m not very good at explaining the kinesthetic directions for brain breaks. I’ve found that, if I can physically show students what the game should look like, they are much more likely to understand the concept and be able to jump in more quickly.
7. Give students agency. Once you’ve introduced a handful of brain breaks, it’s fun to let students decide. My students will often suggest two or three options and then, as a class, we will vote on our most desired picks. All classes tend to have different personalities, so it’s fun to see which games they choose. I’ve had classes that always go for the dancing games, classes that go for the competitive games, and classes that will always choose the calmest option. To keep things interesting, I continue to introduce new brain breaks throughout the year.
8. Have fun! There have been times when I’ve been frustrated with a class and wanted to remove the privilege of brain breaks to “punish” them. I’ve found, however, that moments of frustration are almost always the best times for a brain break. To see students laugh and engage with one another on a personal level always lifts my spirits, along with theirs. Feed off of the positive energy that comes with brain breaks.
With the tension that comes with this school year, I hope you will find a way to introduce brain breaks safely in your classroom. This year, more than ever, we will need to find moments to smile together.
Interested in reading more ideas to make your classroom run smoothly? Try this questioning technique hack that will change the way you use a name jar!