Break Card

UDL 5.1

A Break Card is a card that students point to or give to someone to request a break. The card can vary in size and have written language, icons, and/or pictures to symbolize the concept of a break. Using a Break Card often prevents behavior escalation by giving students a physical means of communication when they cannot express themselves in conventional ways or feel too overwhelmed to communicate verbally. Honoring a student’s request for a break also reinforces emerging communication skills. When preparing Break Cards, the teacher should first decide the appropriate size of the card and language or graphics to include based on the student’s preferred modes of communication, motor skills, and visual abilities. The teacher can then provide Break Cards to target students and establish expectations for their use (e.g., how to request a break, frequency of breaks, etc.).

Ready-to-Use Resources

Self-Regulation Tool

Break Activity Cards

A collection of break cards with choice options to support students in selecting break activities.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 1 pages

Self-Regulation Tool

Break Request Cards

A collection of break cards to support students in requesting breaks. The collection features cards that state “I need a break” as well as cards with text and images.

Grade 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 2 pages

Self-Regulation Tool

Image Break Cards

A collection of break cards to support students in requesting breaks. Cards can also be used as passes to indicate when a student is taking a break. The collection features small, medium, and large break cards with images.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 · Behavior & SEL · 3 pages

Implementation Tips

Make break cards available to the student at all times, either in their possession or within easy reach in order to encourage easy and fast use. Try attaching Break Cards to common areas such as desks and binders, or have the student carry the card in a pocket or on a keychain. Laminate cards to help them last longer and keep extras available to quickly replace lost or destroyed cards.
Clear Expectations and Parameters
Clarify with the student how long the break will be, where the break will take place, and what will happen at the end of the break before the break begins. When possible, include student choice when establishing the parameters. A teacher can ask a student, “Do you want to take your 5-minute break in the classroom or on the benches outside the cafeteria before finishing your review sheet?”
Proper Use of Breaks
Teach students that the purpose of a Break Card is to gain a brief respite from a task. After every break, have students return to the activity they were previously engaged in to discourage students from using the card to escape undesired tasks.
Support Students with a Timer
Use a timer, watch, or clock to indicate remaining break time for students who need visual support. When specifying the length of the break, set the timer and guide the student’s attention to it. Ask students who have difficulty returning to their task after a break assist in setting the timer or determining the end time on a clock or watch. Actively setting the timer helps students cope with the established time limits.
Verbal Reminders
Give regular verbal reminders of how much time is left in the break to students who need the most support in transitioning back to their original task (e.g., “Two more minutes of break time”). This helps ease the difficult transition back to work for most students. Some students even benefit from a countdown of the last seconds of the break (e.g. “5-4-3-2-1”). Use a neutral and calm voice when giving verbal reminders.
Prompting Students
Use a prompt fading hierarchy when teaching students to use a Break Card. Refer to a [[|Prompting Hierarchy]] and determine the least intrusive prompt needed for the student to use the Break Card. Provide prompting at that level until the student uses the card successfully, then decrease the level of prompting. Provide prompts at beneficial times or if you notice signs of frustration or agitation to teach students when to request breaks.


Break Cards During Academic Tasks
Every week, a middle school teacher gives each student a certain allotment of Break Cards to use during class. The teacher determines how many cards each student receives based on individual needs (e.g., attention issues, distractibility, self-regulation skills, etc.). The teacher explains that students can use a card if they are having a hard time focusing or are experiencing frustration during class activities and lessons. When a student requests a break, they give a Break Card to the teacher and can engage in a preferred activity for five minutes in the “Break Area” in the back of the room.
Break Cards with Fine Motor Support
A student uses a wheelchair with a lap tray. She has poor fine motor control and requires an adult to feed her. She is in the cafeteria at lunchtime. The student enjoys socializing with peers and prefers this to eating. There are several index cards positioned within her reach on her lap tray. One says “Break." When the student wants to take a break from eating and socialize with a peer, the student will touch the Break Card. The adult approves the break and outlines parameters.
Break Cards in the Real World
A student who needs communication support or is sensitive to noise may wear small, laminated Break Cards on a lanyard or necklace keychain. When encountering challenging situations (e.g., loud noises in the grocery store, frustration while completing chores) the student shows a Break Card to the supervising adult. The student then waits for instructions regarding parameters for the break. The student can also use Break Cards or a similar tool at a job site in the future.

Related Strategies