Sometimes I feel bad about how much time our students spend sitting at their desks working. They're just kids after all with short attention spans and a high energy level. Giving students short breaks at regular intervals isn't just a good idea, it's essential to their well-being. There are a variety of ways you can do this. But before I dive into my list of easy one minute brain break ideas, let's look at exactly what they are and why they should be part of the academic environment:
What are brain breaks?
Educational brain breaks are a simple technique to give students brief periods of physical activity during the school day. These activity breaks can incorporate movement into your lesson plans or be completely separate from anything academic. The purpose is to give students' brains a mental break from whatever task they have been engaged in for an extended period of time and a body break from sitting (because we know that being sedentary is not a healthy habit).
What are the benefits of brain breaks in the classroom?
Brain break activities are a great way to refocus students' attention and improve on task behavior. This isn't just speculation or even observation on my part. It's been demonstrated through many different scientific studies.
According to Terada (2018), the benefits of brain breaks when academically integrated include:
an increase in productivity
boosted brain function
improved ability to learn new social skills.
In 2012, one of the most important studies on brain breaks to date used MRIs to look at the neural activity of children during downtime. The researchers found that during this state of mental rest, the brain is still highly active and engaged in tasks like organizing memories and planning.
Years of research have consistently shown that physically active children academically outperform their inactive peers, both short- and long-term. That's because physical activity increases blood flow and oxygenation in the brain and stimulates nerve cell growth
In a 2015 research study, three types of brain breaks were implemented and studied in a third-grade classroom. The researcher (Westlake) discovered that content-related brain breaks with a moderate level of activity proved to be the most beneficial. Student engagement and time needed to refocus were optimal after this specific kind of brain break was utilized. Refocus time was as little as 30 seconds. (It took as long as 3 minutes after high activity brain breaks for students to refocus.)
So all of this taken together demonstrates that short periods of physical activity, between or during academic tasks, are healthy for children and allow them to perform better academically.
How Often Do Students Need a Brain Break?
How frequently you should give brain breaks varies by age group. Older kids can work for longer periods of time than younger ones. The key is to give your students a break before they become frustrated with their work or totally lose focus.
In the lower elementary grades, you might give a short break after 15 minutes of work time. In intermediate grades, you can stretch it to 20-25 minutes. It might seem like a lot at first, but taking frequent brain breaks increases productivity - so much so that the quantity and quality of your students' work will be higher than if they just worked straight through the entire time.
Easy One Minute Brain BreakS for the Classroom
Now that you know how important brain breaks are and when to give them, here are some quick activities that you can start using today. All of these can be done in about one minute - or you can extend them into a longer break if your students need it.
Everyone knows this fun game, so I don't think it needs much explanation. Whatever Simon says, the students must do. For example, "Simon says put your elbow on your knee." Whoever does an action that Simon didn't say (such as just, "Touch your ear."), must sit down.
Stretch and Pose
Do you know any yoga moves? If not, that's ok. (I don't either, to be honest.) You can find some great yoga videos for kids on youtube. I like this gentle introduction for children - Yoga for Kids! The entire video is 25 minutes long, so you'll want to preview it and find a good segment your students can do during their brain break time.
This is a fun movement break that the kids really love. It's very simple to do. Just pop on one of their favorite kid tunes. (I Heart Radio Family and KidJamRadio! both provide free, kid-safe streaming music) Let them wiggle and dance for a moment and then stop the music. When it stops, they freeze. Restart the music and do it again. I suggest choosing an upbeat but not too fast song, You don't want them actually working up a sweat and getting completely wound up. Remember, it's just a break, not a workout.
Ear-Nose Point & Switch
This quick brain break is a fun way to reset tired minds. Instruct your students to touch their left ear with their right hand and, at the same time, touch their nose with their left hand. Then have them switch their hands and touch their right ear with their left hand and their nose with their right hand. Do the switch several times. This activity involves cross-body coordination that really engages the brain.
This is a great way to help students relax, clear their minds, and reduce stress. Have students sit in a comfortable position on the floor. Tell them to close their eyes and imagine being on a boat. Picture the waves, sway your body back and forth with the waves, imagine the smell of the water and the warmth of the sunshine. Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale. For more meditation prompts:
The Criss Cross March
This is another activity that involves cross-body coordination (also known as crossing the midline). Instruct your students to touch their right elbow to their left knee. Then switch and touch the left elbow to the right knee. Keep switching back and forth at a steady pace. Make sure they are doing this with high knees as if marching. Stop and do the same activity with hands touching the opposite feet. This gets in a good stretch too! If you want, you can find a good marching song to play while your students do the Criss Cross March.
Beach Ball Pass
This is usually one of my class' favorite brain breaks. Have students sit on the floor in a large circle. Using a large, soft ball (beach ball is perfect), toss the ball lightly in the air and tap it with your hands to send it to someone else. The aim of the game is to keep the ball in the air for an entire minute without letting it leave the circle. This requires some self-control. If someone hits the ball too far, it will certainly fly out of the circle and the game will be over.
Wild Animal Crossing
Have your students form two lines, one on each side of the room, facing each other, so that each student has a partner. Tell them to silently think of an animal. When you say "go", one line of students silently acts out their various animals as they move across the room towards their partners. When they meet up, the partner guesses the animal. Send the students back to their spots and give the other line a turn.
Silent Scavenger Hunt
This is a fun activity that students of all ages enjoy. While the class is working on whatever academic task you've assigned, write a short phrase on a piece of paper and secretly place it somewhere in the room. (Don't hide it too well or they'll never find it.) When it's time for a brain break, send them to find the hidden paper. The trick is that they have to do it in silence or the game ends. A variation on this that works well for older students is to write each word of your phrase on separate pieces of paper (colored sticky notes work well). Tell the class how many words they need to find. When they've all been found, the students must arrange them to spell out your phrase. You can also do this with individual letters that spell out a secret word.
You are probably familiar with this popular classroom game but it's definitely worth including here. Number each corner of the room 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. Have the class split up and go to whatever corner they like. Call out a number (you can use a spinner to choose it) and whoever is in that corner must sit down. Keep playing until time is up. How many students are still in the game? You can also play until there is only one child left, but that will definitely take more than a minute or two. Another way to plays this game is to use multiple choice questions instead of having students randomly choose a corner. I like fun ones like, "How many dogs do I have?" but you can also ask academic questions. Whoever goes to the corner for the correct answer, stays in the game.
Classmate Swip Swap
To being this game, start with everyone sitting at their desks. Call out a characteristic such as red shirt or curly hair or brought a lunch box to school. Anyone with that characteristic must swap spots with another student. The ones who do not have whatever you called out stay in their seats. Have them keep trading places for a total of 10 swip swaps. Did anyone end up back at their own desk?
This is classic game, but one of the most fun brain breaks. Kids just seem to love it! Have the class sit on the floor in a large circle. Give one person a small object to hold. This is the "hot potato". It can be anything - a marker, white board eraser, bean bag, etc. Turn on some music and tell the students to start passing the potato in a clockwise direction around the circle. When the music stops, whoever is left holding the "hot potato" is out of the game. Continue playing. The last person left is the winner!
This is a simple and quick game. Partner your students up and have them stand next to each other shoulder-to-shoulder. The first partner uses their index finger and arm to write something in the air. The other partner must guess the word. Now switch and let the other student have a turn. For little ones, they can just write a letter of the alphabet or a number instead of an entire word.
We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Do you know the chant or have you read the book We're Going on a Bear Hunt? I think it's one of the best brain breaks for younger kids involving music and movement. Here's a video that you can pop on for students to follow along with - Dr. Jean's Going on a Bear Hunt
For more activities that can be adapted and used as one minute brain breaks with your students, try searching online for movement songs, stretching exercises for kids, easy yoga moves, and mindfulness exercises for children. Even short clips on youtube teaching students how to use sign language is a good way to get their brains working in a new way.
I hope this list has given you some new ideas to try out with your class. By integrating different types of brain breaks into your daily routine, I think you will find that your students are happier, more focused, and ready to learn. And all of that will certainly make for a happier teacher too!
Did you know that brain breaks can also help students during homework time too?
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