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October 29, 2010 Are Your Students Working Hard? Time for a "Break" Dance! By Angela Bunyi
Grades 3–5


    I love my class. I really, really love my class. They work hard, they stay in the struggle, and they have slowly learned to accept my favorite mantra: "There are no shortcuts." With that being said, hard workers also need to have a little break now and then. A break of two minutes and 45 seconds, to be exact. This post will share two practical methods I use in my room to create even harder working — and happier — kids. I love my job. This post demonstrates a few of the reasons why.




    Let's Dance!


    Recently our school was handed a minute by minute daily schedule from Central Office, indicating exactly how each breathing minute should be accounted for. And you know, I think it is wonderful. The six page rainbow-colored arts schedule and the special schedule that goes with it are a different story. But why did we receive Central Office's assistance? The goal was to create an uninterrupted literacy block, provide a common grade-level math block, and have a thirty minute block at the end of the day for required interventions and enrichment activities. I am especially thankful for one essential component of the schedule that often gets overlooked in its importance: Taking a break.  

    Take a look:

    8:15–8:35: Warm-up/attendance/lunch (with aides to collect and log money; attendance is online)

    8:35–10:30: Literacy block (an aide is also provided for this slot, to help students)

    10:30–10:35: Movement break

    10:35–11:35: Math block

    11:35–11:39: Prepare for lunch

    11:39–12:09: Lunch

    12:09–12:29: Recess

    12:29–12:40: Workshop share time

    12:40–1:40: Social studies/science

    1:40–2:25: Special areas

    2:25–3:00: Intervention/enrichment block (no new material taught during this time)

    3:00–3:05: Pack up to leave

    3:05–3:20: Read-aloud

    I chuckled when I saw the movement break in our carefully planned schedule (again, disclaimer: I do love my schedule). I was happy to see a brain-researched movement break in the schedule, as I know many schools do take a walk around the track for transitions. Then I started thinking about it. We really didn't have breaks before. Not even a restroom break. I started thinking, wow, we are working hard. Really hard. My class needs some breaks in the schedule.

    So, Midway Into Our Civil War "Reliable Resources" Research . . .

    I happen to really notice the intensity of focus. They are diligently working hard, and I feel proud. I head toward my laptop, open up iTunes, and find "It's a Party in the USA." I turn up the sound and declare a "break" dance. The lights are turned off, and my room is transformed into a silly, happy, carefree kid zone in fewer than ten seconds. I make sure to dance ridiculously badly around the kids that sit and stare at us like we are crazy. "Do I look crazy to you? You're crazy for not trying out this move!" I think to myself, "Why didn't I do this before?"

    The music then stops. "Okay, no messing around. Get back to work," I say matter-of-factly. The smiles are still on their faces, the energy in the room has lightened, and the kids are ready to move forward with their studies.

    Tips for Adding "Break" Dances Into Your Schedule

    Here are my top tips:

    ~ Don't schedule a "break" dance and have it at the same predictable time every day. Use it when a quick break is needed, perhaps mid-lesson. Better yet, use it when students are working really hard so that they associate the reward with hard work.

    ~ Create a time limit on songs. Two minutes, 45 seconds is good. If a song is longer than that, slowly lower the volume on the main chorus to indicate the song is ending.

    ~ Ask parents to donate clean, kid-friendly songs for your class.

    ~ Set "break" dance guidelines. Mine include: no falling on the ground; take care with class materials; and immediately transition back to work when the music stops, with no talking.

    ~ Carefully review lyrics. For example, I used my iPhone and docked it to play "Today's Gonna Be a Good Day," which the Black Eyed Peas played on Oprah, rather than the popular "Tonight" version. Any lyrics that reference drinking, questionable activities, or questionable language/content are a quick and easy "no" for me. 

    ~ Start with easily accessible songs, ones that you already have, such as Kidz Bop and Schoolhouse Rock songs.

    ~ Recruit songs from other friends, parents, and teachers. Some of the songs recommended by my Facebook friends include "Shout," "Give Up the Funk," "Domo Arigato," Chubby Checker's "Twist," "Staying Alive," "Cha-Cha Slide," "Y.M.C.A.," "Macarena,"  ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿"Don't Worry, Be Happy," portions of Queen songs, and any song by Micheal Jackson. I dare say Weird Al Yankovic songs would be excellent ("Another One Rides the Bus" is hilarious).

    And if "Break" Dances Aren't Enough for You, Try a Quick Break With Paper

    Important Video Disclaimer: My version of this activity involves six or seven different paper throws, allowing individual sheets to spread like feathers in the air. Transition time with this method is also much more efficient in my room (and we have more physical movement than shown in this video), with an average of less than one minute!

    I watched a split-screen video of this method last year that showed two different classes, with a timer running on the screen. One showed the traditional method of passing out papers. The other screen showed a teacher flinging the papers into the air, with no cares, as the students smiled, giggled, and moved around with ease. You'd be surprised how much faster throwing the papers in the air is. And I know this from my two years of trying it out. The class prefers it and knows there are basic guidelines (don't step on paper; if you catch more than one paper, you may throw it back into the air; no rough-playing; etc.). If they don't have staples, the papers usually get to my class via a flood of paper raining down from the ceiling. Two students offered to build a paper-passing-out contraption that will hook from the ceiling and open to release the papers like a bucket of water. I don't have the finished product to show you yet, but doesn't that just sound wonderful? 

    Let's Dance Together!

    Have any song suggestions? Have some music tips of your own? Have an interesting break tip to share? Please use the comments section to share your ideas!

    I found the video posted above at the Brain Breaks blog.

    To learn more about our class, visit



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