Susan Riley | December 2016

5 Fast Arts-Focused Brain Breaks

If you’ve taught for any length of time, you know how much students need breaks.  Whether it’s a 60-second brain break or a 20-minute recess, having that release time is important.  And while there are many options out there, not very many really get those creative juices flowing.  That’s where these fun arts-focused brain breaks come in!

We all want to maximize our time with students.  But we also want to let loose and have a little fun.  That’s why I LOVE fun arts-focused brain breaks.  These mini-strategies are a great way to get everyone up, moving and changing the pace. They’re short (between 2-3 minutes) and offer a way for creativity and focus to intersect.

Engaging Students in Down Time with Fun Arts-Focused Brain Breaks

We use these throughout our online conferences because even though the day is packed with great information, sitting in one spot for 6+ hours is tough.  So we intersperse these little nuggets of fun throughout the day and it works wonders for our participants.  If it works for adults, imagine what it can do for your students!

The trouble with fun arts-focused brain breaks is that sometimes, they are just about getting up and moving around.  I think that’s a lost opportunity!  Instead, you can use the break as a way to gently begin weaving the arts in and through your content.

Here are 5 of my favorite artful and fun brain breaks for the classroom that make the building that bridge a little easier:

arts-focused brain breaks


Fill a beach ball with air and on each division, write an art element (ie: texture, line, space, weight, etc). Shout out a topic or idea you’re working on in class and then bump the beach ball in the air. The student who catches it gets to choose one of the elements on the ball. Then they share a reflection on the topic through the art element he/she chose.


Call out 3 items.  For example: something silver, something soft and something with jagged edges. For each item you call out, give students 5 seconds to find and bring back that item. Then, give students 1 minute to create a sculpture out of those 3 items.


This is a student favorite! Here’s what you do: start by pairing up students. One person in the pair hums the beginning of a song and the other person hums the ending.  Switch roles and repeat. Then, switch partners.


Create a set of index cards with various emotions or expressions written on them. Divide the class in half. One half creates a circle with their backs towards the inside. The other half creates a circle that faces the other students (creating concentric circles).

Give an index card to each student in the inner circle. They may not look at it.  Inside circle people hold up their card for their partner to see.

The partner must create the emotion or expression using just their bodies/faces.  The inner circle partner must guess what is on their card from the acting of their partner.

Once completed, pass the cards down the circle 3 people and repeat.


On strips of paper, write down elements of movement.  Things like fast, slow, heavy, ziz zag, high, low, etc.  Place the strips of paper in a hat or bag and turn on some music.

Draw out a piece of paper at random and read the element.

Arts integration can be challenging.  You aren’t sure where to start, it might be scary to dedicate so much time to a whole new teaching approach, and you may even be nervous that the lesson won’t turn out the way you hoped.  All of that is perfectly normal!  Which is why I’m a huge advocate for integrating the arts with classroom arts-focused brain breaks.

Brain breaks offer the perfect opportunity for “bite-sized arts integration”.  You don’t have to develop an entire lesson idea, nor do you have to worry that you’ll have to sing or draw in front of your students.  It’s a nice little gateway to integrating the arts so that you can get your feet wet and get some success under your belt first.

We can all use a little break now and then.  Why not turn it into a way to explore the arts?  Here’s to some playful, creative and artful weeks ahead!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan