Movement Breaks to the Rescue!

Students doing an energizer in class

While giving the January spelling assessment, I paused to look around the classroom and here's what I saw: Sara was yawning. Ben held his head in his hands. Julie's head was down on her paper, and Justin was tapping his pencil while jiggling his feet under his chair. It was not a picture of first graders doing their best to "show what they know" about all they'd learned in spelling. I knew I had to stop and do something to get them all back in the groove. Movement breaks to the rescue!

"Pencils down," I announced. "Everyone find an 'Aka Baka Soda Cracker' spot. Remember to show safe and careful jumping. We'll play four rounds. Here we go . . ."

[In this activity, children chant, jump, and make predictions while practicing keeping a steady beat. You can find instructions for "Aka Baka Soda Cracker" in 80 Morning Meeting Ideas for Grades K–2 .] 

After some jumping, giggling, and a final silent round that allowed them to regain self-control, students returned to their seats. They picked up their pencils with renewed focus. Walking around, I saw that most of them were spelling most of their words accurately. Soon, they finished the assessment.

What are movement breaks?

Movement breaks are brief intervals that enable all students to move their bodies and help teachers to engage learners in physical ways. Chants, poems, even Morning Meeting greetings and activities can be used as movement breaks throughout the day.

How do movement breaks help students?

Like many other teachers, I've found that quick, frequent breaks not only enable students to stay focused on learning—they can even increase learning. By using movement breaks at the right time, I can help students maximize their attention and stay on task. That's why I often lead a rousing game of "Double This Double That" during Writer's Workshop or a quick round of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" during assessments.

How do movement breaks help teachers?

I've found that I also benefit from movement breaks. First, I see the fruits of my labor come to life. For example, a quick game of "Hot or Cold?" allows me to see how successfully my students have come together as a community. In this familiar game, students must work together to achieve one goal: guiding a seeker to find a hidden item. They call out "hot" if the seeker moves toward the item and "cold" if she moves away. Their cheers as they celebrate their collective success validate the time I spend creating a healthy classroom community.

Second, the game allows me to connect with my students on a different level, if only for a minute. We engage in a fun activity as a group. The dynamic of the classroom changes subtly; we smile at each other and share laughter and a silly moment together.

Finally, movement breaks release stress! With high-stakes assessments, new initiatives, and new evaluation systems in place, I know I am more patient, more understanding and more able to be "in the moment" when I get to release some built-up stress from my day.

Movement breaks benefit both you and your students. Using them at the right time helps increase student focus, decrease stress, and create opportunities for community building and fun. Plan to use movement breaks more often this week—and consider trying one during a time in the school day when you haven't before. If you do, leave a comment to let me know how it goes! I'd love to hear from you.

File 1238Get tips for teaching and using energizers in Susan Roser's book, Energizers! 88 Quick Movement Activities That Refresh and Refocus.


←   Read the previous post:
"Chipping Away"

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"Who Needs Extra Movement Breaks?"

Movement breaks are AWESOME! They come in very handy during standardized testing. I use them before testing to get blood and brain juices flowing. Then, I use them after testing as a reward because the kids enjoy them so much. Our favorite right now is Memory Lane. My kids love the Responsive Classroom practices I use like Movement Breaks and Morning Meeting. I have a post about a successful Morning Meeting I had recently at I hope you'll stop by and read it. ~Stacy


I was so excited to read your reply about your successful use of movement breaks during standardized testing! Your idea is so timely, and I hope others are inspired to try movement breaks before and after standardized testing as well.

Thanks for posting!


This absolutely works!!!! I have been sharing these energizers with as many ppl as I can and now in fact as my class is waiting in the hall for their special such as music etc. I find them starting independently and it "wows" me to see them doing it. They also want to teach others. It is so effective after long periods of sitting, assessing, doing one task and especially during transitions in my room from one rug to another. All I need to say is, "set up for Zoom or Ram Sam Ram or Pizza Hut etc."

For the children with ADHD or sensory needs it is unbelievable how these action energizers can bring them "down" to a level where they can learn and function again.

I am all for them!

Patty Jo,

Thanks for sharing how movement breaks are working for you and sharing energizers with your colleagues. It builds such positive community when you participate in energizers together, doesn't it? Students are ready to engage in academics when their developmental needs are recognized and met in a fun, yet powerful, way!

Thanks for your post and keep moving. :)