January 24, 2017

Brain Breaks Breakdown!

It is that time of year again! Whether you’re in elementary, middle, or high school, students are spending more time inside and less time moving. In elementary school, a lot of students are missing outdoor recess due to cold temperatures or bad weather. Middle and high school students often feel sluggish or tried from lack of sleep and less movement throughout their day. We as educators can do something about this by incorporating brain breaks into our classrooms!

     Brain breaks are kind of my thing. I have worked as a summer camp counselor or director for seven summers after attending camps as a child for 10 years. I teach physical education and I coach… I HAVE A TON OF BRAIN BREAK MATERIAL.

     Before we dive in I have what I believe is an important question… WHY do teachers think brain breaks will only benefit elementary students?! Do not get me wrong, brain breaks are perfect for elementary students, but they are just as beneficial for middle and high school students! I am a middle school educator myself and when I’m in a 90 minute health class, I try to incorporate at least three five minute brain breaks. My students tell me all the time how much they enjoy them and how their other teachers don’t perform them. Middle school teachers listen up, YOUR STUDENTS WANT BRAIN BREAKS.

Let’s get started with some of my favorite web-based brain breaks! Some of these are pretty standard, especially at the elementary level, but you can incorporate them into middle school too.


  1. Go Noodle – My adapted PE students LOVE using this website. They have so much variety! This is also a huge hit with many of my elementary teacher friends. It offers guided dance, sing-a-long, fitness, sport skills review, silly random videos, and so much more!
  2. Brain Pop – When limited on space due to larger class sizes or being crammed into a space that doesn't allow for a ton of movement, Brain Pop is a great review tool and helps kids have fun while learning. While not a true brain break, it does still offer many tools that make students feel like they're taking a breather.
  3. Just Dance YouTube Chanel – I was surprised to learn that middle school students can still love Just Dance! They love requesting songs, getting up and moving, while singing along. I have had this work really well in sixth grade, while seventh is hit or miss, and eighth graders are typically past it.
Let's get into the fun part... Brain Break ideas to implement in your classroom! Below is a detailed list of brain breaks I use (and my students love) on a regular basis {in middle school}:

  1. Yoga – What I love about yoga as a brain break is the calming effect it has on students, while challenging them to build strength in different poses. While this isn't a huge movement activity, it helps students refocus to improve classroom work and effectiveness. Being a Pinterest queen, there is an excellent resource here on yoga poses for younger students. Middle and high schools students can easily perform more advanced yoga poses which can be found here.
  2. Meet Me in the Middle  – Have students pair up with a partner and stand on opposite sides of the room. Call out an activity to do (i.e. meet in the middle and give your partner a high five with your right hand). Students walk to the center and meet their partner to do the activity. After completing the activity, students turn and walk back to their original places. Add one activity each round. {For example: 1st time – meet partner in the middle and do a right-handed high five. 2nd time – right-handed high five, add left-handed high five. 3rd time – right-handed high five, left-handed high five, call out favorite physical activity}. Adjust this activity to fit your needs and what your students enjoy. I will often add things like, "meet in the middle and perform five body squats" to make the activity more challenging.
  3. 10 Second Fitness  –  Students pair up with a partner and perform the teacher-designated fitness activity (see examples below) for 10 seconds. As one student performs the activity, the other partner counts the number of repetitions. The students switch, and partner two does the activity. Ask students to do the activity as quickly as they can. Exercise examples include:

              Forward straddle jump
              Side straddle jump
              Side jumps
              Front and back jumps
              Right foot jump
              Left foot jump
              Scissor jump
              Alternating Lunges
              Body Squats
  4. Group Juggle  –  Students should group up in table groups of 4-5 members and each group should have a small ball or object to throw and catch. On the signal, groups must work together to pass the ball to every member of their group without repeating. Once they complete the task, they should jump up and say "finished." Alternate this activity by having groups throw in the same pattern backwards, repeat the forward pattern for time, add a second object to throw, etc.
  5. Trainwreck  –  Have the entire class sit in a circle with one student in the middle. The student in the middle can either say a fun fact about themselves or a fun fact they learned in class. Students who agree or like the same thing will stand up and find a new place to sit. They cannot move directly next to their current seat or return to the same seat. The last student left is the new middle man. Repeat rounds as needed.
  6. Hot Tamale  –  One student exits the classroom. The rest of the class watches the teacher hide the “hot tamale” (can be any object) somewhere in the classroom. The student who exited the classroom re-enters. The rest of the class tries to guide him or her to the hidden tamale by performing various physical activities {listed below}, with each activity corresponding to a different direction. Students are not allowed to talk. Once the student locates the hidden “hot tamale,” another student is selected to exit the classroom, and the “hot tamale” is hidden in another location so that the game can be repeated.

    Write the following motions on the board for all students to see:
              Move backwards - back stroke (swimming motion)
              Move forward - march in place
              Move to either side - side stretch in the direction of the hot tamale
              Up higher - climbing ladder motion
              Down lower - squats
              Within 1 foot of the tamale - students pretend they are stepping on hot coals (in place) 
These examples are just a few of the brain breaks I have done with middle school students and they are also some of their favorites as well! Brain breaks don't have to be limited to elementary students. Many middle schools and most high schools operate on block schedules that keep kids in one class for a longer period of time. Taking five to 10 minutes out of our class period to get them moving and refocused will help us as educators in the long run with behavior management and it will help students be more focused and attentive. 

Do you have any go-to brain breaks that you use in your classroom!? Share your ideas in the comment section below!

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