Brain Breaks to Liven Up the School Day!

Short brain breaks increase engagement and encourage teamwork in elementary, middle school, and even high school classrooms.

By Stef Durr


group of friends

Designed to refocus and re-energize your learners, brain breaks are short activities (usually anywhere from two-five minutes) that encourage bursts of movement. Although typically utilized in elementary school classrooms, these breaks are ideal for learners of all ages. Even if they don't admit it outright, older kids love them!

Why Incorporate Breaks?

  • They get everyone up and moving.
  • They take very little planning.
  • They help settle and refocus distracted students.
  • They build classroom community.
  • They challenge kids to use their brains in different ways.

How Should You Present Brain Breaks in Your Classroom?

Although you can brainstorm a different break every day, I’ve found that my creative juices run low later in the week, and it’s hard for me to think of something new and different on a daily basis. To counter this, I write a bunch of break ideas on Popsicle sticks and keep them in a little pail on my desk. Other organization ideas include writing break ideas on pieces of paper and drawing them out of a jar, rolling dice and having each number correlate with a different activity, or simply giving the class two options and holding a class vote.  

Brain Breaks to Use with Older Learners

Silent ball is awesome! Grab a soft ball (rubber balls or stress relievers work well), and have everyone spread out. Someone starts by tossing the ball to another player. If the person catches it, he continues the game by throwing it to someone else. If the person drops it, he's out! If the person can’t reach it, the thrower is out. If someone laughs or talks, they’re out! When there are only two people left, have them face each other and stand on one leg. They should be at least 10 feet apart to increase the challenge. Then, they throw the ball to one another, trying to throw the other player off balance. Whoever loses balance, makes noise, or drops the ball first is out! Increase the challenge by throwing two balls out at the same time. Participants really have to track both balls, and it raises the excitement level!

  • Hangman: After writing a word on the board, have your class stand up (this helps incorporate some movement). As kids guess letters, they sit down (letting their classmates have the opportunity to guess a letter). This ensures that all kids get a chance to stand up and participate!
  • Heads Up Seven-Up: Still a classroom favorite, this game gets a handful of kids up and moving, but it can be time consuming! Help get as many kids as possible up and moving by setting a timer for each step of the game. First, select five-seven kids to start standing. Everyone else puts their heads down on their desk and their thumbs sticking up in the air. Set the clock for 15 seconds, and have the first five-seven students each push down the thumb of one student. Then, set the clock for 25 seconds, and have the selected students try to guess who pushed their thumb down. If their guess is correct, they get to switch places with the person who pushed their thumb down. After each selected student guesses who selected him or her, the game starts over again!
  • Stretching: Perfect for especially sleepy days, stretching re-energizes your kids quietly. Have them do a set of five-six stretches before jumping back into instruction.

Example stretches to use with your kids:

    • Reach your arms up to the sky for 10 seconds.
    • Keeping your legs straight, touch your toes for 10 seconds.
    • Put your left arm in the air and lean to the right for 10 seconds. Switch sides.
    • Stretch your neck by leaning your head to the right for five seconds. Switch sides.
    • Hold your hands together and pull them up to your stomach. Twist your body to the right and then to the left a total of 10 times.
  • Would You Rather - One of my personal favorites, this activity can be done silently, while still letting you get to know your kids better. Everyone stands in the middle of the classroom; as you read a Would You Rather statement, they move to one of the designated sides of the room to indicate their answer. 

Here are some Would You Rather statements to use in your classroom:

    • Would you rather ski or snowboard?
    • Would you rather vacation in the mountains or by the ocean?
    • Would you rather read a book or watch the movie version?
    • Would you rather drink Pepsi or Coke?
    • Would you rather go for a bike ride or ride a skateboard?
    • Would you rather bungee jump or go ski diving?
    • Would you rather eat pie or cake?
    • Would you rather go to a concert or watch a play?
    • Would you rather drive an SUV or a convertible?
    • Would you rather lose your sense of smell or taste?
    • Would you rather have frozen yogurt or ice cream?
    • Would you rather visit France or Australia?
    • Would you rather give up soda or chips for the rest of your life?
    • Would you rather play soccer or football?
    • Would you rather have a sweater on when it’s 90 degrees outside, or have a t-shirt on when it’s 30 degrees outside?
  • Freeze Dance: This is surprisingly popular in my sixth grade classroom. Simply start playing a song and have everyone get up and dance. Then, stop the music. Whoever is still moving and unable to freeze immediately sits down. Keep playing the song and stopping it intermittently to see who’s out!
  • Steps to Truth: Another game that allows you to learn about the personal lives of your students. Steps to truth should be played silently unless you call on someone to explain his/her response. Everyone starts at one end of the classroom. Kids take a step forward every time the statement is true for them, personally. The game could end when someone reaches the other end of the classroom, or when time runs out. 

Example statements you could use to learn about your class:

    • I am an only child.
    • I am the youngest child.
    • My favorite color is red.
    • I have been out of the state.
    • I have been out of the country.
    • I am fluent in another language.
    • I am a vegetarian.
    • I love cats more than dogs.
    • I have been white water rafting.
    • I have been skydiving.
    • I have been skiing or snowboarding.
    • I own at least 20 pairs of shoes.
    • I own at least 10 video games.
    • I have a favorite book.
    • I know what I want to be when I grow up.
    • I have changed a diaper.
    • I have been in a hot air balloon.
    • I have seen the ocean.
  • Blanket Drop: Especially awesome during the first few weeks of school, this game encourages everyone to learn each other’s names. Two people hold up a blanket (so you’ll need to secure a volunteer prior to starting the game), and half of your class lines up on either side of the blanket. On the count of three, the blanket holders drop the blanket and the two students on either side must shout the other person’s name first. It’s surprisingly difficult! Encourage friendly competition by keeping score.
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors (full-body version): Pupils pair up and compete against another pair when playing this game. As a partner pair, they decide if they are going to be hobbits, wizards, or giants. Giants beat wizards, wizards beat hobbits, and hobbits beat giants (because they’re so tiny that they run circles around giants). To signal that they are giants, they stand tall with their arms straight in the air and say giant. To signal that they are wizards, they bend their knees and straighten their arms out in front of them (as if they were casting a spell) and say wizard. And finally, to signal they are hobbits, they squat on the ground and say hobbit. The winning team from the first round gets to find another pair of kids to compete against, while the losing team must sit back in their seats.
  • Move and Groove: Everybody knows "The Cha-Cha Slide" song! Play this video (complete with lyrics) to get your class up and moving. Students follow along with the words to clap their hands, move to the left and right, and crisscross. Every age gets into moving to the beat, and best of all, you can put this video on while you prepare for the next activity!

This list is in no way comprehensive. Please help our learning community by commenting below with brain break ideas that work well in your classroom. We love helping each other learn!