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Brain Breaks: An Energizing Time-Out

By Tiffani Mugurussa on April 8, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Everyone needs a brain break occasionally, especially little learners who have been working hard all day. Most teachers can sense when their class is getting antsy, but what they do about it can make all the difference.

Why a Brain Break

When looking at your daily schedule, are there particular times during the day when your students seem to lose focus? Perhaps it is during that precious uninterrupted learning time. I cherish the two-hour block I have at the end of my day, but unfortunately my students’ attention spans aren’t always what I need them to be. This is when brain breaks can really help. They are a great way to re-energize your students, to get their blood pumping and their brains re-charged. It allows kids to get their “wiggles” out, which will, in turn, help them to stay focused on the next task.

When to Do a Brain Break

Brain breaks can be used before, during, or after a lesson. The key idea to a brain break is to wake up your students to keep them focused. Often, I will use a brain break after giving direct instructions to my class while we are still at the carpet. For example, if I’ve just taught a math lesson, I might ask my kids to count how many steps it takes them to reach their seats. Now they have a task to perform while they are transitioning. The majority of students will be so focused on counting their steps that they have little time for chitchat. As their teacher, you know your students best. When you see their eyes wandering away and staring at some inanimate object, it probably means it’s time for a break.

What Breaks Are Best?

Depending on your classroom space, your breaks can be small motor-type exercises with simple hand movements or large motor exercises that involve lots of moving. My students love to dance, so any break that involves getting up and moving is their favorite.

For me, I need my brain breaks to be quick, meaningful, and easy. I don’t have time to pass out paper to play tic-tac-toe type games or explain how a brain break works. I need it to be down and dirty. With brain breaks all the rage, there are a dizzying number of resources to get you started on building a repertoire of quick go-to breaks. So you don't have to wade through them all, I have created a list of some of my favorite brain break activities to share with you here.

  • Movement Songs: Sing a song with whole-body movements such as "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" or "Shake Your Sillies Out" (by Raffie).
  • Recorded Movement Songs: Students might enjoy songs like "Cha-Cha Slide," "Sid Shuffle," "YMCA," or the "Macarena."
  • Jump Skip Counting: Students count by twos, fives, or tens while jumping with each count.
  • Exercise Movement Counting: Same as jump counting, but using different types of exercises such as arm circles or knee bends.
  • Pretend: Pretend to be various animals, transportation vehicles, or book characters.
  • Dance Party: Put on some music and dance!
  • Freeze Dance: Play music and have students freeze when it stops.
  • Line Up: Have students line up using specific criteria such as age, last name (alphabetically), height, age (months of the year).
  • Simon Says: Students do what Simon says.
  • Follow the Leader: Students follow the movements of whoever is the leader.
  • Pattern Clap: Clap your hands in different slow and quick patterns and have students copy.

I also like to utilize technology during my brain breaks. My class becomes ecstatic when they see me opening the laptop for a brain break. They know it means they really get to move about. I have scoured the Internet looking for the best kid-friendly clips to use in my classroom. I’ve saved them to my laptop using an online app called iLivid. It allows me to share the video clips without worrying about pesky YouTube advertisements or inappropriate content. My favorite online videos for brain breaks are by Mr. Harry’s Kindergarten. A simple YouTube search for Mr. Harry’s Kindergarten will give you a wide variety of songs to use. Here are three of my favorites:

For more brain break activities you can visit the Michigan Department of Education.

Do you use brain breaks in your classroom? If so, I hope you will share some of your students' favorite ways to beat the blahs and re-energize their brains.

Comments (9)

Crossovers are a brain gym movement - search online for more.
Also, I use short videos from YouTube frequently. - stunt planes, Kid Snippets, Kid President, funny animals, pool shots (billiards), funny short videos I've seen on Facebook. I use it as a moment to broaden their horizons beyond what I'm 'supposed' to teach. (This doesn't move their bodies, but it's quick and efficient for a small space.) Jokes work well, too, and they can submit (in writing) jokes to be told.
Timing? When about 1/3 of them start daydreaming, you know it's time.

For a brain break I have a special little box with cards in it that a student can choose..one may say everyone jump back and forth 8 times or be a pony and gallop around.. you get the idea! I also have lollipop songs and pickle poems... all made out of cardstock and laminated..one may have The Wheels On The Bus/Five little monkeys jumping on the bed.
Of course this works well with pre-school kids not sure how well with High school kids..but who knows?

With high school students (works with middle too), here are a few ideas:
Play Entourage (Rock Paper Scissors Tournament) - everyone plays RPS with someone else to begin. If you lose, you have to "cheer" on the winner as he faces his next opponent. Whoever loses joins the entourage and play continues. Play until there are two people left, each with an entourage. At that point, play best out of 3 in order to win. It's fun! (can get loud)

Play "Mingle, Mingle, Mingle" (sing like a toga line) then yell out a question "What's your favorite dinner? Have students pair up and talk for a minute to answer the question. Continue as needed.

Silently line up by birthday.

Tara, I don't know of any specific breaks to use with high school students, although I'm sure some of the stretching ones and dancing ones might help them to loosen up and refocus.

To answer the other comment, I don't have a "fixed" amount of time; two minutes usually is enough time for my kids to get out the wiggles.

This idea is really interesting! Do you generally do a "brain-break" for a fixed amount of time or do you adjust it based on your students' unfocused-ness?

These are great...for elementary. Any great ideas for high schoolers (mostly frosh and sophs)?

I have 6th grade. I put 60 secs on the timer and they see how many high 5s they can get before the timer beeps.

Also, we do the paper plate dance to Good Morning by Mandisa.

Great ideas....but I work for a district that BLOCKS many websites....and laptops?? HAHHAHAHAHHAHA

I often do "Cross-overs." The OT showed me a number of different exercises that stimulate the brain but also shake out the fidgets.

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