Brain Breaks 101


brain breaks 101

What are Brain Breaks?

Brain breaks, also called brain bursts, brain gym, focused-attention practices, ice-breakers, movement in class, or bougez-bougez (as I used to call those types of movement activities for almost 10 years before knowing that there was a “real” name for them 🙂 )are short movement activities that lasts from 30 seconds to about 2 minutes.  It is a change of pace activity such as a short game or a silly movement – because our brains do crave novelty – thank you Carol Gaab for that reminder – and research has proven times over that movement helps students focus and retain information better.   Read more about brain breaks and focused-attention activities HERE.

How to do Brain Breaks?

I have seen them in different forms: they can either be in the L2 or done entirely in L1 – if the teacher feels that everyone should take a minute of language break or so: they could be done silently as well. For the most part I tend to stay in the L2; with simple instructions meant to be non-stressful; however, I have done both: giving the instruction in L2: find a partner wearing the same color shirt as you, same style shoes, as tall as you, … and then having students discuss in English (L1) – Discutez: share 2 things you learned today, share 2 positive things about class, share your favorite activity so far in the year and say why, invent a new hand shake 😉 … – Expert talks: read the quote (a silly or really serious one; I especially love the ones from Krashen and the ones about attitude and positivity) project the quote on the board (pair-up) partner A is the expert: she/he talks for 30 sec. to a minute non-stop explaining that quote, saying whether or not they agree and why.  Partner B listens and summarizes what Partner A said.  Now it is partner B’s turn to be the expert (in those examples I give instructions in French and students share opinions in English). I’ve posted more examples and resources at the bottom of the page: Examples of Brain Breaks.

When to do Brain Breaks?

Research says that a teen’s brain can hold attention for 8 seconds up to 20 minutes – but it is a bit more complicated than that: click HERE and HERE to read the articles and learn more about teens’ brains and attention spans  🙂 In my class, I usually do the first brain break within the first few minutes of class: mindfulness and breathing.  After that, I do them every 12-17 minutes or as necessary: we do move quite a bit in class.  If students are collaborating on a class story writing project they might not need as many breaks; I would just ask them to pair up and share what they’ve done so far with another group OR have them do a silent gallery walk: walk around the room clockwise, stay with your groups, look at the drawings, read other students’ work then sit down and continue your own work – hoping that some got inspired by other’s work as well.

Where to do Brain Breaks?

I usually do those breaks quickly in class; however, collaborating with your P.E. teachers (especially if your classes are really close) on sharing classes and possibly materials like hula hoops, balls etc. could be a good idea.  I’ve heard of teachers taking their students outside of their 4 walls and that’s a great way of promoting your program!

Why do Brain Breaks?

According to research on neuroscience, adding brain bursts (30 seconds – thanks La Maestra Loca for that one :), brain breaks (up to 2 minutes), brain gym, or focus-attention practices at specific times during a lesson positively impact our emotional states and learning. It helps us re-focus and refreshes our thinking. It also facilitates the process of new information: we are basically ready for a new round of rigorous input; it helps us re-energize and has been proven to be beneficial immediately and in the long run. What I’ve seen in my classes: It has created a positive environment in class with lots of laughter which helps with lowering the students’ affective filters – students know each other better and  feel safer  to volunteer for acting jobs in front of the class.  It also gives me the chance to breathe and gives me the time to transition to my next activity.

What expectations should I set for my students?

For my classes, as much as we like the silliest activities, we do lots of focused ones.  Everyone should participate one way or another and quickly.  I set the expectations clear from the very beginning of the school year: as soon as the brain break activity is over; students must return to their seats ready to listen; ready to continue where we had left off, giving me their full and undivided attention.

What are some examples of Brain Breaks?

  • La Maestra Loca (Spanish) has tons of fun activities – I love all the ideas!
  • Join the Facebook group for some ideas and to see what has worked and not with teachers: Brain Break – World Language.
  • Here is a post on the importance of adding play in class: Michael Linsin
  • Ultimate Camp Resource Games: fun video on YouTube – those are 2 minutes ice breakers, fun games.
  • Books on amazon: Energizing Brain Breaks.
  • Mindfulness and meditation:  I like to incorporate some breathing techniques within the first few minutes of class and especially after high energy movements / activities: My school is piloting a mindfulness/meditation program but YouTube has many videos (depending on the grade level you teach – the best part about this is that it helps ME, as the teacher,  de-stress and focus as well. Here is a short explanation from Mindfulness In The Classroom: How To with secondary students.  Here is another example of incorporating mindfulness and meditation (light yoga: stretching and breathing practices) from Teens Using Mindfulness and Moving in the Classroom. Here is a good video to show your students on mindfulness from Mindfulness: Youth Voices. I also subscribed to the YouTube channel: Relax 1 Minute. 🙂
  • Martina Bex has also written a blog post on Brain Breaks and shares 20 activities!
  • I also love the Brain Break balloon idea from Cynthia Hitz.
  • Adding some silly TPR movements works great as well.
  • Here is another blog post from Blair Richards and how she adapted some of La Maestra Loca’s Brain Break ideas in French 🙂
  • Read more on brain gym activities and books HERE.
  • Simply listening to music and enjoying / voting on the best songs (we love this activity during Music Madness – which pretty much lasts the entire last quarter of the school year in my classes!) I use Spotify with my station: French Class.
  • Here are a few of my favorite Brain Breaks we do in class:


There are so many resources out there a quick search on Pinterest will give you tons of ideas 🙂

Movement in class helps regain focus back on the input.  Don’t worry about finding the perfect brain break; sometimes just standing or walking around the room, pair up and discuss is enough.  Sometimes asking kids will give you different ideas (mine taught me about the 4 corners 6 years ago 🙂 –  one person is in the middle of the classroom with eyes closed.  Other students will move silently and stand by a numbered corner.  The person in the middle calls a number before opening their eyes and students standing by that numbered corner are ‘eliminated’ they sit down.  Then continue.

My go-to activities have always been rock, paper, scissors; (find 3 partners, progression: 1st partner go slowly, 2nd partner a bit faster, 3rd and last one go super fast!) And Bougez-bougez (move-move): stand up, pair up, and discuss! Pairing students with: les petites cartes; (cards with pictures and the matching words, flags and the countries, same colored ones, same numbers, …) is also one activity we do at least 2 times a week.

And you, what is your ultimate go to Brain Break activity?

(I love the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: Be silly, be honest, be kind.  It is posted in class right next to my Brain Break poster and I often refer to it :))

Per request here is the hand motion for “chocolat chaud” which I had adapted from La Maestra Loca!





9 thoughts on “Brain Breaks 101

    1. Bonjour! unfortunately I am not able to post videos on this blog but I will try to do so on the Instagram account … I’ve updated the post and added a picture of the hand motion at the end!


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