What is a Brain Break?
When I was in high school, brain breaks were something each student took on their own. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t purposeful. It was, what I would call, zoning out.
It wasn’t until I went to college, where I studied education, that I learned of these “brain breaks.” Most people, looking from the outside in, assume teaching is centered mainly around content. I always thought to be a teacher your main focus had to be the subject you were teaching and the content you were sharing with your students. I quickly realized when studying to be an educator, the content is only a small portion of teaching responsibility.
I would argue, more important than the content, is the daily routine and process. By this, I mean really focusing on the fact that we are spending the majority of our days with young individuals, whose minds are actively evolving. It is our responsibility to create healthy habits that empower these young adults to work and learn efficiently, in a variety of ways.
There are very few students, or adults for that matter, who can focus purely on content for eight hours straight. A typical student’s attention span ranges between 10 and 15 minutes long. That means taking time to reset is vital throughout the school day. Brain breaks were created for this exact reason.
Brain breaks are ‘planned learning activity shifts that mobilize different networks of the brain. These shifts allow those regions that are blocked by stress or high- intensity work to revitalize. Brain breaks, by switching activity to different brain networks, allow the resting pathways to restore their calm focus and foster optimal mood, attention, and memory.’
‘Purposeful’ Brain Breaks
Purposeful brain breaks are a necessity, both for children and adults. The word ‘purposeful’ is emphasized in this conversation. From my experience as a teacher, there are naturally breaks throughout the class period that occur. This could be when an unexpected distraction comes up, or perhaps when a teacher is reorganizing/ looking for something during a lesson, or even when an announcement is made school- wide. These pauses in the lesson, however, are not purposeful, and do not truly allow the teacher, nor the students, to genuinely refresh.
When I say purposeful brain breaks, I have several ideas in mind. One of my favorites was giving students 5-8 minutes to simply write. They could write about their day, they could write about their dreams, they could continuously write their name over and over again. Students were also allowed to write in whatever structure they wanted. For example, if they wanted to write line by line that was fine, but they could also write in a circle and all over their page changing the size and fonts of their letters. During these 5 or so minutes, students’ only instruction was to write.
This allowed students to take a ‘break’ from the lesson. They could turn their minds off from instruction, and focus simply on themselves. While students were writing, I might prepare for the next portion of the lesson, organize my desk, or assemble students’ homework assignments.
There are an endless number of ways to incorporate brain breaks into a lesson and the more creative and calming, the better. Using music, art, and nature while also changing the environment or pace of a lesson can really enhance the effectiveness of a brain break in a lesson. With students in high school having a shorter attention span, the necessity for this continued shift in daily process is clear.
“Using Brain Breaks to Restore Students’ Focus.” Edutopia, https://www.edutopia.org/article/brain-breaks-restore-student-focus-judy-willis/. Accessed 23 Nov. 2022.
Beech, Yung. “Student Attention Span and How to Capture and Maintain It · Pronto.” Pronto, 29 July 2021, https://pronto.io/student-attention-span-capture-maintain/.