Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Physical Activity in the Classroom: Brain Breaks

Hello, everybody!  My name is Erica, and I blog over at Blooming In First.  I am so excited to be a part of this collaborative blog!

So if your students are anything like mine, they are getting a little squirrely being stuck inside with all the cold and snow we've had this winter!  I can't blame them- I want to put on my flip flops and go outside too!  We only have gym class once a week, so it's up to me to make sure they get some physical activity the other 4 days of the week.  I like to use Brain Breaks, or energizers, in my classroom so that my students get up and move during the day.  This is just one way I get my students up and moving.

Why Brain Breaks?  Studies have shown that physical activity increases blood flow, which in turn increases focus and concentration.  This helps them to learn and recall information better.  When the students are doing these activities, they are crossing the mid-line of the body, which engages both sides of the brain.  Plus, they are fun!  Brain Breaks can also involve academic content, so no instructional time is lost!  Brain Breaks can be as short as a minute or as long as 10 minutes.  The times and activities are flexible.  They are great to use after lunch or special area time to get students relaxed and focused, before an assessment, or anytime students have to sit for long periods of time.  They require little prep to use them in your classroom.

There are a few things to remember before you begin using Brain Breaks in your classroom.  Since students are up and moving around, it is super important that you make sure students know your expectations for how to do the Brain Break.

  • You need to make sure you have some sort of a signal for students to freeze when it is time to switch activities or if you need to give directions.  Sometimes these are built into the activity, but sometimes they aren't.  Something as simple as a clap, or raising your hand up and saying "give me five!" are simple and easy ways to signal to students that it is time to focus and listen.
  • You could also play music, and turn it off when the students need to freeze.
  • You may also want to remind students of their physical space, especially if your classroom is small!  Remind students of the amount of space that they have to move around in.
  • Provide reminders of the expectations before the Brain Break so that your students know what is expected of them.

Today, I'd like to share a few simple Brain Break activities that you can use in your students.  Most of them require only classroom space to spread out!  I also have some great activities that you can use with your computer!  And though I am sharing a few activities here, there are a ton of ideas on the internet that you can use by simply doing a web search.

Quick and Easy Brain Breaks 
You don't need anything except space and creativity!

Over, Under, Around, and Through
Not only does this activity get your students up and moving, it helps them learn those important prepositions that some of them struggle with!

Have your students spread out throughout the room or stand behind their desks.  You can also get in a line and walk around the classroom if you have the space.  The teacher calls out a movement that has one of the above prepositions in it; for example, tell the students to "go under the water" or "go through the tunnel".  The students can act out each movement for 20-30 seconds each.

Act It Out!
The students can help you come up with a list of some great action words to use with this activity!

Have the students spread out around the room or stand behind their desks.  The teacher calls out a sentence to the class, and the students act it out for approximately 30 seconds.  For example, the teacher could say "run as if a tiger is chasing you" or "reach up as if you were a monkey swinging from tree to tree."  After 30 seconds, signal for the students to freeze and give them a new sentence to act out.

You can also have the students act out different animals by making their sound and mimicking their body movements.   You can use flashcards with the names of animals written on them, or pictures of animals for younger students.  This will allow one of your students to lead the activity.

I have created a set of flashcards with pictures of different animals and their names for you to use with this game.  You can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Oh yeah, it's free!  Click the picture to the right to go to my TPT store.  If you download my freebie, I would love it if you would leave me some sweet feedback or consider following my store!

Another variation is to call out a sport skill that students can act out, such as hitting a ball, swimming, or throwing a football.  This activity can be adapted to help your students practice academic skills by turning the movements into addition or subtraction word problems.

This activity can be adapted to use with math facts or spelling words as well.  

The students spread out around the room or stand behind their desks.  The students perform a physical activity, such as jumping, jogging in place, or doing jumping jacks.  When the teacher yells out a vocabulary word, the students freeze.  One student needs to use the vocabulary word correctly in a sentence.  Then the students can begin moving again until the teacher yells out another vocabulary word.

Air Writing
This is a great way to practice spelling or sight words with your students!

The students spread out around the room or behind their desks.  They can march or hop in place for about 10-15 seconds.  Then the teacher calls out one of the spelling words or sight words they have been working on.  The students have to air write the word using their finger.  Kindergarten teachers could also have the students write a letter, shape, or number in the air instead.

Simon Says
This classic game can be used as a brain break!  

The teacher gives the students a direction, such as "Simon Says put your finger on your nose" or "Hop on one foot."  The students follow the directions that Simon gives, and freeze whenever the teacher doesn't say "Simon Says."  Whenever a student follows one of the directions that they shouldn't, they have to sit down.  The game continues until one student is left standing, or you get tired of it.

Brain Breaks Using Technology

While the Brain Breaks I explained above are great to use when you have a few minutes, there are some great technology resources that you can use with your students.  You can use your CD player or MP3 player and allow your students to dance their little hearts out until the song is over.  Songs like the Cha Cha Slide or the Cupid Shuffle are great because the movements are controlled, so the students have to follow the directions the song gives.  This is also great because it forces students to use their listening skills.

There are also several online resources for Brain Breaks.  YouTube or TeacherTube videos are great for Brain Breaks.  You can do a search for popular songs or Brain Breaks.  I found a great playlist of upbeat, kid friendly videos that are perfect for Brain Breaks.

Disclaimer: If you choose to use You Tube videos, it is important that you watch them yourself before showing them to your students to ensure that the content is appropriate for your students.

My friend Ivy personally recommended the Kangaroo Dance video for you. :-)

There are a few great websites that I found that are perfect for increasing physical activity in your classroom.  One we use extensively in my classroom is called Go Noodle.  It has several short videos that are 3-5 minutes long.  They allow the students to practice different academic skills and move at the same time.  When you create an account and log in for the first time, you choose a character.

As you increase the time you've spent on Go Noodle, your character grows as well.  Each time you play the games, they change a bit so that you aren't doing the exact same thing each time.

There are several choices for games on Go Noodle, as well as Zumba Kids activities (I am terrible at those!) and You Tube videos as well.  The activities vary in length.  For example, Freeze It is only a minute long, while Word Jam is 3-5 minutes.

I like that several of the activities incorporate academics.  Mega Math Marathon pauses every few seconds to ask the students a math question.  The teacher inputs whether the answer the students gave is correct or incorrect.  Word Jam introduces new vocabulary, gives the definition, and the students act out the word.  BodySpell allows you to put in custom words to spell, or you can use the lists of words they provide.  And the best part about this website is that it is FREE!  Did I mention that already?

Another great site is called Adventure To Fitness.  This is another free site that you can use with an entire class of students.  It's different than Go Noodle, and they both serve different purposes.  For one, the videos are longer: they are about 30 minutes each.  The videos are also more "mission focused" and have a story to them.  They also teach the students about different things.  For example, in the Egypt video, they talk about mummies.  

Your students help the characters in the videos solve the mission by following along with the characters and doing what they say.  They jump, run, hop, and do other movements throughout the video.  Though these videos are much longer, you could always break up the video into smaller chunks, or use it as wellness/recess time.  There are a few commercials in the video, but they are more like advertisements for Adventure To Fitness than actual ads.

Another hot technology item is QR Codes.  I found this great QR Code Brain Break activity from Miss DeCarbo for FREE.  Each card links to another fun activity through the QR code.  How cool!  Go check it out!

I hope that you will begin using Brain Breaks in your class if you don't already, and that you will quickly see the benefits of giving your students a physical activity break!  Like I said before, these are just a few activities that you can use for Brain Breaks!  There are hundreds of other ideas if you do a Google search, check Pinterest, or look on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I just wanted to give you some free ideas that you can use in your classroom! 

Do you have any great ideas?  Leave a comment and share, please!  I am sure there are others who can benefit from your fantastic idea!


  1. Thank you for the brain break ideas. My students need constant breaks throughout the day and you have provided me with some new tools.

  2. Erica, these are great ideas! Great post about something I haven't spent a lot of time planning out, so I am happy to "steal" your ideas and share with my grade level. Thank you for all the wonderful new things.

  3. Great post! Thank you for the new idea. My Kinders need frequent brain breaks, and it is nice to have some fresh ideas.

  4. Just what the Dr. ordered!! Thank you so much. I love these ideas.

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