Brain Breaks

You can tell you’ve lost them. It’s the far-away look, the doodling pencil, the hand that never raises, or the head on the desk. The signals are clear. They’re begging for a break.

You’d be wise to listen. Breaks, especially those with physical movement, boost brain function. The change of pace increases blood flow, which in turn brings more oxygen to brain cells. And while brains may seem to idle during downtime, they are actually filing information into stored memory. This clears the brain for new learning. These brain breaks, I found, not only increase the academic performance of my students. They also decrease disruptive behavior.

So what are some simple ways to call back wandering minds? You’ll find lots of ideas for brain breaks on the internet, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • For college students:
    • Enrolling Questions—Ask a series of questions in which students stand for a yes answer and sit for a no. You can ask relational, non-content questions: Have you decided on a major? Do you and your parents and siblings agree on politics? Or you can ask content-based questions: Did you agree with the basic premise of last evening’s assigned reading?
    • Class Continuums—Say, for example: After reading the chapter comparing functionalism and conflict theory, what do you think? If you identify closely with functionalism, move to the left side of the room. If you identify closely with conflict theory, move to the right side of the room. Or if you are somewhere between, move to the place in the room that shows your thinking.
  • For high school students:
    • Timed Talk: Invite students to silently cluster in sections of the room with two or three friends. Signal with a bell for free talk time to begin. At the second bell, students should return immediately to their seats.
    • Music: Play loud dynamic music or soft soothing music while students stretch and relax.
  • For lower-grade students
    • Silent Ball: With students standing, toss a beach ball over their heads. The goal is for students to keep the ball aloft as long as possible—and all without talking. For increased challenge gradually toss in another ball or two.
  • Exercise Countdown: Ask students to stand silently by their desks and call out the exercise: 5 jumping jacks, 4 toe touches, 3 knee bends, 2 leg lifts, 1 sit up.
  • For active reviews:
    • Roving Review—Tape a numbered review question on each desk. Give students a paper numbered to 30. Students move from desk to desk to answer the different questions.
    • Racing Review—Have students jog in place by their desks. Ring a bell to stop students. Read a review question to student and have them sit to write their answer answers. Repeat.

Fatigue seems to fade when students move, laugh, and mingle with their friends. After all, they’re now high on dopamine, the happiness hormone, ready once again to learn.

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