Brain Breaks


Brain Breaks are intentional breaks during instruction in which students complete physical, mental or breathing exercises. Brain breaks are generally one to three minutes long and can be done individually (e.g., deep breathing, stretching), with a partner (e.g., rock-paper-scissors), or as a whole class (e.g., chants/songs, short dance routine). Depending on age, a typical student’s attention span ranges from 10-15 minutes. Therefore, breaks in instruction provide students with an opportunity to process new information and refocus, which can increase student engagement and retention of content. Brain Breaks can be used as energizing or calming activities, and when used regularly in the classroom, they relieve stress and promote a positive learning environment.

Implementation Tips

Short and Simple
Keep Brain Breaks short and simple. Generally, Brain Breaks are less than five minutes long and involve repetitive or simple routines (see sample below). Breaks should be short enough that students can successfully re-engage in the content following the exercise.

Example Routine:
“T-Stretch” -- Stand. Hold out arms to make a “T.” Touch right toe with left hand (right hand should be high in the air). Hold for five seconds and switch. Repeat 3-5 times.
Using Different Types of Brain Breaks
Vary the type of Brain Breaks based on the type of lesson and instructional goals. For example, incorporate physical activity in order to increase alertness and focus for lessons that are factually rich and have limited opportunities for student interaction. Use deep breathing exercises to alleviate stress related to learning new content or before an assessment. For more examples of Brain Breaks, check out the [[|Active Play-Active Learning Brain Breaks Guide]].
Building Routines
Establish clear expectations for behavior during a Brain Break and routines for transitioning into and out of the activity. For example, if students are doing a physical exercise they may need to be reminded to spread out in the room for the exercise and to walk quietly back to their seats when done. Establishing expectations and practicing routines help manage behavior and ensure Brain Breaks are meaningful activities.
Set aside time for Brain Breaks when you are planning lessons. Planning for Brain Breaks ahead of time, can help with lesson pacing and ensure that breaks are not forgotten. In some cases, it might also be beneficial to pre-select what Brain Break exercise students will complete as well.
Refocusing Techniques
Use a refocusing technique or cue to signal the end of a Brain Break and to assist students in transitioning to the next task. A verbal countdown or a ten-second clip from a song can provide students with the prompting needed to refocus on the instructional activity or lesson.
Use a timer to limit the time spent on a Brain Break exercise. Timers with buzzers can also help with cueing transition times.
Student Choice and Leadership
Allow students to choose from a bank of practiced Brain Break exercises when appropriate. Students can also serve as leaders of activities to increase participation.


Whole Class Brain Breaks
When planning a lecture, a teacher pre-selects Brain Breaks and embeds them into PowerPoint slides for the lesson. These slides describe the steps for the routine or include a short video demonstrating the Brain Break exercise (e.g. Simon Says, [[|Would You Rather Questions]], Rock/Paper/Scissors). When the class reaches a Brain Break during the lecture, the teacher briefly reminds students of the expectations and prompts them to begin the activity. After the class completes the Brain Break, the teacher continues the lecture.
Individual Brain Breaks
A calming Brain Break that students complete individually can be used before and during an exam (e.g. deep breathing, counting to ten). Prior to a test, the teacher sets a timer for five minutes and dims the lights. The teacher then prompts the students to take deep breaths while also gently massaging the pressure point between their thumb and pointer finger, switching hands every 30 seconds. After five minutes, students begin the test. During the exam, the teacher circulates around the room and encourages individual students who appear to be experiencing stress to take a calming break by briefly repeating the routine they did at the beginning of class.
Student Choice During Brain Breaks
After a period of intense and focused learning, the teacher pauses the class for a Brain Break and gives students three options: 1) Draw pictures in the air illustrating each word; 2) Read each vocabulary word using different emotions (e.g. happy, sad, confused); 3) Write key words on a partner's back. After the students have engaged in their chosen Brain Break activity for five minutes, the teacher rings a bell and asks students to put aside any Brain Break materials. Before continuing the lesson, the teacher asks the class a few questions to review content, check for understanding, and refocus students for direct instruction. The teacher then continues the lesson and stops later for another Brain Break where students are given the same three options.

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