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Are Brain Breaks Effective?



Have you ever wondered why your students are engaged and focussed on their learning at the beginning of a lesson then 20 minutes later it seems like they have lost all interest and are just bored? Brain breaks can be an effective way to re-engage and refocus your students on their learning in a fun way that will result in increased student motivation and academic achievement.


In this blog post we are going to explore why teachers should use brain breaks as well as if brain breaks are effective. I am also going to share some brain break activity ideas you can use with your class. If you would like some more brain break activity ideas, my brain break activity cards include 100 different activities for you and your class to try out!



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What are brain breaks in the classroom?


Brain breaks are quick, structured breaks where students can engage in an activity involving movement, mindfulness, or sensory activities. The teacher will plan what activities they can use and roughly when in the lesson they can be carried out. Brain breaks are used to break up a period of concentration in the classroom.



Why should teachers use brain breaks?


Teachers should use brain breaks to break up longer periods of learning. They should be used to break up periods of concentration when students are beginning to feel tired, and their concentration is starting to decrease. Brain breaks can be used to give student’s minds a quick rest from the activity or task they are doing and will allow their brain to reset. A lot of brain breaks involve some sort of movement which is excellent as this enables the blood to flow around the body and most importantly, to the brain. Other brain break activities involve mindfulness activities, which may be more suitable for learners who may be feeling anxious about their learning.



What are the benefits of brain breaks?


There are many benefits to including brain breaks as part of your lesson plan. Brain breaks can boost attention and concentration in students. They can also increase student motivation and rekindle engagement in an activity or task where students have begun to lose interest. Brain breaks can reduce the likeliness of students getting distracted during learning. This will lead to improved classroom behaviour and higher expectations being met.


Other benefits of brain breaks include building the self-esteem of students when learning, especially if they are finding an activity or task difficult.


If students’ motivation and concentration has increased this means the quality of learning will increase and students will achieve more which then improves academic achievement.



Brain breaks can also reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and frustration in learning among students. They can enhance your student’s mood and ensure they are enjoying learning. This will also ensure they feel motivated to learn.


Brain breaks can help students self-regulate and realise when they need a break. They can encourage students to know when to ask for a break in their learning which gives students ownership over their learning.


Depending on the brain break activity, these could also be a chance for students to develop new skills such as creative and social skills.


Brain breaks also give the teacher a break too. Students aren’t the only ones who may need a break from the lesson.



How long should brain breaks be?


Brain breaks should be kept short and sweet. They should be long enough to give students a break from the lesson but short enough, so they don’t forget what they are learning about. You don’t want to disrupt the flow of learning. Around 3 to 5 minutes is a good length of time to spend on a brain break activity. You can use a timer so you and your students can keep track of the length of your brain break. This also ensures your students know when it will end and know when they will be expected to return to their original learning activity or task.


How often should you give students brain breaks?


How often you give your students a brain break will depend on the age and stage of your students. With younger students, you may need brain breaks more often. Younger children can concentrate for approximately 15 minutes so will probably need some sort of brain break every 15 minutes. Older students could concentrate for longer so will need less brain breaks less often. This could be every 20-30 minutes during your lesson.


How often you carry out brain breaks will depend on your individual students. Brain breaks should be carried out before your students begin to get bored, tired, and inattentive.



Are brain breaks effective?


Yes, brain breaks are effective as they allow student’s brains to reset so they can re-engage with their learning activity. However, there are things you can do to increase the effectiveness of brain breaks.


First, you can ensure your brain breaks are planned and you know the desired outcome of the brain break activity. This would mean you have planned what activity you are going to do as a brain break. Ensure you think about your students and what type of brain break activity would suit them. Do they need their energy perked up? Or do they need to feel calm? Also consider what type of lesson you are teaching and what brain break activity would suit the lesson.


Reading the mood of the classroom is another factor to consider when deciding on a brain break activity. If the learning is challenging, do your students need something that will boost their confidence and motivation? Or are they getting excited and need something to calm them down and refocus?



It would be useful to have a rough idea of when you will have a brain break within your lesson. This will depend on the age and stage of your class. Will it be every 15 minutes or 30 minutes? You could even use a timer so your students know when to expect a brain break, which could result in increased productivity as students know you would like them to remain focussed and try their best until their next brain break.

To ensure brain breaks are effective you would also need to be flexible. You may need to change the type of activity or timing depending on your students that day or how the lesson is going. Ensure to consider the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating brain breaks into your classroom. Will you be ok with how much learning time is lost due to brain breaks? Will the overall benefits outweigh the learning time lost?



What happens if you don’t have brain breaks in the classroom?


If you don’t incorporate brain breaks into your classroom, students can become inattentive, and their concentration begins to decrease. This could result in the quality of learning decreasing meaning lower academic achievement. Students can also become distracted which can then lead to them distracting others and even result in disruptive behaviour.


If students become disengaged in learning it can also result in lower self-esteem in learning as students feel they are not achieving what they would like to. Students may not be as confident to try new things and challenge themselves when learning.

Brain breaks do not need to be earned; they shouldn’t be seen as a reward. If students need a brain break, they should receive it.


What causes lack of concentration in students?


Working at a learning task for a long period of time can cause a lack of concentration in students. Younger students will lose concentration quicker and will be able to concentrate for around 15 minutes. Older students will be able to concentrate for around 20-30 minutes.


If students are finding the learning task too challenging, this can also result in students losing interest and concentration. This is also the case if the task is too easy for students. You need to ensure it is pitched at the correct level of difficulty for your class.


Stress, anxiety and frustration can lead to a lack of concentration in students. Low mood in the classroom due to various reasons such as finding a task too challenging or working for long periods of time can also result in student’s concentration and engagement decreasing.



Brain break activity ideas


There are various types of brain break activities you could carry out with your class. You could carry out active brain break activities that encourage more movement, or you could carry out calming mindfulness activities which encourage a calm, refocussed environment. Brain break activities can also develop different skills such as creative or social skills. Below are a few brain break activity ideas you could try with your class. If you would like more, make sure and check out my Brain Break activity cards which include 100 different Brain Break activities!


  • Do 2 sets of jumping jacks.

  • Do 5 minutes of meditation.

  • Play “I Spy”.

  • Spend 5 minutes listening to calming music.

  • Design a logo to represent yourself.


Overall, there are many benefits of incorporating brain breaks into your classroom.


Remember to consider what may be causing your students to lose concentration when learning before planning and implementing brain breaks into your lessons.


Keep in mind you need to be flexible when carrying out brain breaks. You may need to change the type or timing of your brain break activity depending on your students or how the lesson is going.



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