Time for a Brain Break!

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Adolescence is a time of rapid change and growth. The brain undergoes major reorganization and bodies start to mature. Middle school students develop an awareness of and respect for other people’s points of view, feelings, and rights as their moral and ethical reasoning abilities increase. At the same time, the flood of hormones that intensifies adolescents’ moods and everyday experiences can make it hard for them to control impulses and make good decisions. Because of this rapid growth, students need frequent physical and mental breaks so they can continue functioning at high levels academically and socially. Brain breaks are an effective way to provide these breaks.

Brain breaks are quick, whole-class activities that give students opportunities to pause, move, and interact in safe, structured ways. For example, students can stand up and stretch while listening to an inspiring or calming reading to help them refocus. Or, they can act out different characters, places, or objects to help them recharge their energy. What’s best, brain breaks only take a few minutes at most yet quickly get students back on task.

“Since using brain breaks with young adolescents, I have witnessed an increase in positive community. Proactively, these brain breaks have helped keep students engaged in our rigorous academics. They have also been effective in supporting students when misbehavior occurs. Responsive Classroom’s brain breaks will help me continue supporting my students’ academic and social-emotional learning.”

Andrew Moral
6th Grade Teacher
Council Rock School District, PA

Supporting Adolescent Development

Brain breaks help students develop the social-emotional skills they need to master rigorous academics in the intensely social context of middle school. Students’ cognitive abilities strengthen as they form mental pictures, make quick decisions, or follow motion or word patterns. And every brain break involves movement, which stimulates brain cells in ways that further promote learning. Movement also helps students release excess energy and ease physical tension. By combining safe movement with purposeful social interactions, brain breaks support students during this time of rapid adolescent development.

Benefiting Students and Teachers

Brain breaks can enrich the classroom community and students’ learning. For example, students take positive risks as they learn and do these brain breaks, so you’ll likely see them start to take more academic risks, too. And with a strong classroom community component, these easy-to-manage activities also help students build the skills needed for positive relationships with their peers and teachers. Here are some more benefits brain breaks have to offer.

Brain breaks help students:

  • Improve their cognitive skills as they complete successive rounds or come up with variations of an activity
  • Discover that abilities are not fixed but rather grow with effort as they surpass personal achievements
  • Develop perseverance as they build on their ability to keep working hard when facing academic and social challenges
  • Strengthen social-emotional growth as they practice skills such as cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control

Brain breaks help teachers:

  • Manage the classroom more effectively by reducing off-task behaviors and wandering minds
  • Build and maintain a positive classroom community by enabling safe, productive student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions
  • Maintain a productive learning environment by providing ways to keep students engaged with the content you teach

Adaptable to Student and Classroom Needs

Brain breaks are versatile, so they can be done anywhere at any time of day. You might choose a recharging brain break when students’ energies are low—such as before a content-packed lesson or during the last period of the day. And you might use a refocusing brain break when energies are high—such as after music class or before a big test. To see an example of each type, check out Mellow Echo (refocusing) and Never-Ending Word (recharging).

You can also choose and adapt brain breaks to fit student needs. At the beginning of the year, you might choose a “getting to know you” brain break as a low-key way to build positive student-to-student relationships. Then once students are more familiar and comfortable with each other, you can move on to a more interactive brain break that requires students to take greater academic and social-emotional risks. In addition, the flexibility of brain breaks means you can adapt them to:

  • Make the best use of your classroom space
  • Incorporate academic or social content
  • Accommodate students’ energy levels
  • Eliminate or add a chant, song, or motion
  • End with an enthusiastic cheer or a few calming breaths

With just a small initial investment of time to choose and integrate brain breaks into your classroom routines, you’ll see how these quick, easy activities help increase student alertness and productivity. The more you use brain breaks purposefully, the more opportunities you’ll have to refocus and recharge students—and yourself!

“My students absolutely love The Fidget Family. They love the movement. They love listening and responding. They love seeing each other pop up and down from their seats. But, what they really love most is to challenge me to read it faster, faster, faster! They think they’re challenging me when, in fact, they’re raising the bar of challenges for themselves. While this brain break is full of laughter and movement, it always provides an excellent opportunity for students to release tension and refocus.”

Joe Tilley
Special Education Teacher for 5th and 6th Grades
Metro Nashville Public Schools, TN

Refocus & Recharge: 50 Brain Breaks for Middle Schoolers


Tags: Brain Breaks, Middle School

2 Replies to “Time for a Brain Break!”

  • I think it is important to have these breaks. I need them myself. It’s very difficult for me to sit on the computer all day.

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