Classroom Brain Breaks: 5 Ways to Re-engage Students
Teachers are constantly in search of new, effective ways to engage their students. School days are long, especially for younger students and students who struggle to focus. By breaking up traditional learning with fun classroom brain breaks, you can get the most out of your lesson time.
Why Are Brain Breaks Important?
Brain breaks are a great way to reactivate the mind so that students are able to focus better and retain more information. Brain breaks are especially helpful when preparing students for standardized testing and working through new, complex topics.
Struggling to grasp a new concept can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, so reinforcing it with fun can make students more receptive to learning. Check out our brain break ideas below to re-energize your classroom.
1. Get Moving
Students spend most of their days sitting at their desks. Sometimes, their inability to pay attention is simply because they need to get up and move. Before you begin incorporating movement, make sure to set and go over ground rules to keep the classroom under control.
Dancing can be a great way to get students moving and release excess energy. Freeze dance is a classic and controlled way to dance in the classroom. Well-known dances like the Chicken Dance and the Macarena can also be big hits with students.
You can also utilize classroom brain breaks to include educational content that may not normally fit into your curriculum. This dance party coding tutorial allows students to learn the basics of coding through dance. Simply pull the website up for the class to see and allow students to dance along as they teach their character how to dance.
Simon Says is another classic classroom brain break that can be played right at one’s desk. It’s the perfect in-class game because it allows movement while reinforcing listening skills and the importance of following directions. Keep it simple with the traditional instructions or switch it up to squeeze in educational content in a fun and creative way.
Here are some ideas for incorporating lessons into Simon Says:
- Include Spanish words or phrases.
- Example: “Simon says touch your cabeza.”
- Include letter and number instructions.
- Example: “Simon says raise your hand if your name starts with E.”
- Example: “Simon says put your thumb up if 2 + 6 = 8.”
- Include imaginary play instructions.
- Example: “Simon says pretend to drive a car.”
Yoga is a great way for middle and high school students to move around in the classroom. If you don’t have a lot of room, there are plenty of poses that can be done right in your chair. Yoga is a great physical brain break idea for older students who may not want to dance, and it can also help student-athletes who may be sore from their practices.
2. Make Some Noise
When students are struggling to raise their hands without calling out, or are constantly whispering to their classmates during your lesson, it may be time for a classroom brain break. Giving students the opportunity to make some noise and get their energy out can result in quieter lessons later on.
This mini-brain break can help students have fun while transitioning efficiently between activities. For example, play the Jeopardy “thinking” music during clean up or the Mission Impossible theme song to cue students to get their whiteboards and return to their desks. Students can sing and dance along, but when the music stops, they need to be quiet and ready for the next activity.
Singing, Clapping, and Snapping
You don’t need to be able to sing or have to pass out instruments to bring music into your classroom. Try a hand-clapping game like Miss Mary Mack or Double Double to help students decompress while practicing rhythm and coordination skills.
You can also try games like Concentration 64 to practice vocabulary and parts of speech. The game can be played in pairs or as a full class, and students won’t even realize they are practicing their skills. When in doubt, ask your school music teacher for more brain break ideas that are appropriate and relevant for your students.
3. Get Outside
While it can be a more time-intensive classroom brain break, getting outside can reset students who just can’t seem to focus. Incorporating the outdoors into your lessons can be a great way to stay productive on half days and days before holiday breaks.
If space allows, consider taking a nature walk to incorporate science and math while getting outside. Talk about the senses and what you see, hear, smell, and feel on your walk. Keep counts of how many acorns you see or how many birds you hear.
Talk about the weather and the signs of the season. Play nature bingo and see how many items you and your students can check off. The possibilities are endless when it comes to getting outside for science and math lessons.
Taking your storytime or another seated activity outdoors is another great way to change things up when students are struggling to stay motivated and focused. You don’t have to venture into the woods to add interest to your storytime — even outdoor lunch seating will do. The added room found outdoors can also enable students to act out stories and use their imagination to find props around them.
4. Create Art
There are a number of group art games and activities you can play for a quick classroom brain break. Many of them involve making art as a class, rather than as individuals, which can help teach cooperative skills and spark creativity.
This game helps students be creative and also gets them up and moving. Start by drawing a single mark on the board. Each student will take their turn adding a mark, whether it’s a line, squiggle, dot, or curve. See what you can create as a class!
The Rainbow Game
A variation of this game is to use color, handing out a different colored marker or crayon to each student. Students then take turns adding elements to a big sheet of paper, like people, animals, background settings, and objects, keeping their color in mind. Once they’re done, have them come up with a quick story of what’s taking place in the picture they’ve drawn.
5. Get Silly
Sometimes, the best way to get a noisy, fidgety classroom under control is to help students get it out of their system when appropriate. Here are a few ways to allow silliness, while still keeping your classroom under control.
Mad libs are a great way to have fun and practice parts of speech. Best of all, they only take a few minutes. There are tons of printable Mad Libs online, or you can make your own and print them out.
This brain break idea works especially well for chatty middle and high school students. The teacher starts a stopwatch and has 10 seconds to start telling a story. She then calls on a student, who has 10 seconds to continue the story. See what crazy story you can create.
More Classroom Brain Break Resources
Part of the fun of classroom brain breaks is changing them up so that students remain excited about them over time. The more brain breaks you have at your fingertips, the easier it will be to find ones that work for your classroom and your students. Check out some of our favorite resources for brain break ideas below.
GoNoodle is an online resource for teachers to help motivate children in the classroom through the use of quick, interactive videos. It focuses mainly on research-based brain breaks for elementary students. It is free to sign up for GoNoodle, and the website can be used by teachers anywhere.
Take a Break
The “Take a Break Teacher Tool Box” is a resource provided by the Colorado Education Initiative. It contains over 150 pages of brain break ideas for teachers of students in grades 6-12. The guide includes printable resources and activity cards, as well as online resources for students. There are also lesson plan templates and activity worksheets for teacher use.
Energizing Brain Breaks
Energizing Brain Breaks is a blog created by a high school teacher in Naperville, Illinois. Each blog contains energizing ideas that only take 1-2 minutes. None of the ideas requires extensive preparation or resources, but all still provide maximum engagement.
The blog encourages students to move around and cross the midline of their bodies, helping both hemispheres of the brain wake up and get “unstuck.” Each blog post contains detailed, easy-to-follow steps on how to perform the activity with engaging photos and videos.
These delightful leveled books extend the reading experience far beyond the pages as students read about a song, game, or craft that lends itself to quick, easy, and fun classroom activities.View Product →
Note: This blog was originally posted April 25, 2016. It was updated on December 3, 2019.