Dolph Petris | January 2018

Incorporating Classroom Brain Breaks

Generally, it is very easy for teachers to talk for long periods of time. (I know it is for me!)  Yet, our students don’t really want to listen to us for long periods of time.  How our students relate to us is one thing. But, typical student attention span is not always desirable for what teachers require at any grade level.  This is where incorporating classroom brain breaks can be most beneficial.

We may need or want to explain in specific detail the incremental steps of a project. However we must remember that our students want to simply ‘get started’. A child’s attention span can vary in range from 10-15 minutes for younger students up to 50-90 minutes max for college-age.  But this doesn’t mean teachers need to always push the attention span limit of students.

The Case for Brain Breaks

Regardless of student population, or available instruction time, providing our students with age appropriate brain break opportunities can be the key to successful student engagement in the classroom.

There are a variety of available brain break tools to use in your classroom. And if you do not find what you are looking for, you can create your own!  One thing to remember is our students want to be successful in their work. But while they may desire to always pay attention, this might not always be feasibly possible.

After the year begins and classroom routines are established, I introduce brain break strategies that my students can utilize at any time.  Access to these tools is available during our built-in brain break segments throughout the day.

Some of my classroom brain break tools are as follows

    • pocket puzzles
    • cube games (Rubik’s and the like)
    • dominos
    • word search
    • card catalog listing quick at-desk activities
    • mini art-related challenges
    • Master’s of Art connect the dots
    • dice
    • questions to ponder
    • build mini-structures
    • lego architecture

My students know that they may engage in any one of these activities as long as they are respectful of their task, respectful of others, and respectful of returning materials in the same condition in which they were taken.

During instruction, or while reviewing steps of an art project, I may decide to ‘press the pause button’ and provide a two minute brain break so that my students can regain focus at the larger task at hand.  My students also know that if I do not provide an intermittent brain break, they may take one. This allows them to learn the responsibility of collecting missed instructional information from a peer.

Creation Station

A specific art-related brain break tool that I have in my classroom is an area I call the Creation Station.  This area houses a variety of art materials, books, and tools that students can use in any manner they wish.  It is always refreshing to see how creative they can be with the provided tools and materials. (Eespecially when I see they are incorporating various aspects of art that we have already learned!)  Students know that anything that is started at the Creation Station doesn’t need to be completed in one sitting, provided their work and tools are properly handled and maintained.

While this students are not always able to adequately manage this privilege, it does allow my students to better regulate classroom behavior and individual attention span.  In my general education classroom, or in the art classroom setting, students feel empowered when they have been provided with a greater sense of ownership to self-regulation.

For more ideas on incorporating classroom brain breaks, check out EdCloset’s Integrating the Arts with Brain Breaks and 5 Fast Arts-Focused Brain Breaks as well as Brain Breaks, Instant Recess and Energizers.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.