Brain Breaks

Posted on June 9th, 2015 by Seth Nickinson

“Brain Breaks” are a concept that has caught on in education. Brain breaks are simple ways to give kids’ minds a brief respite from the hyper-focused activity they are engaged in. They can last from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, and may involve getting up and moving or sitting at the desk and connecting with your body or someone next to you. The most effective brain breaks include a mental and a physical activity, encouraging various parts of the brain to fire together. Some basic categories:

  • Dancing
  • Drawing & acting
  • Stretching
  • Coordinated motions (e.g. pat your head and rub your belly)
  • Verbal games

A primer from the Pottsgrove (PA) School District explains:

Brain Breaks are a quick and effective way of changing or focusing the physical and mental state of the learners in your group. They are also a useful tool for students to use to help activate, energize and stimulate their brains. Research indicates that brain breaks also improve students’ concentration and relieve stress.

20+ simple ideas

The “Happy Teacher” has an amazing collection 0f brain breaks she uses, and set of downloadable cards she created to let kids pick which break to do.

Brain Breaks sticks

A few of The Happy Teacher’s ideas include:

  1. Simon Says: It’s a classic and students love it!
  2. Doodle Time: Give students some blank paper and markers and let them DOODLE and talk for five minutes.  It sounds simple but students love to draw and doodle.
  3. Tic-Tac-Toe: Give students some blank paper to play tic-tac-toe with a friend.  It’s a simple game that won’t cause a mess or a distraction for your neighbors!  J
  4. 50 Jumping Jacks: Get students’ heart rates up with this QUICK physical exercise.
  5. Mirror-Mirror: Have students pair up and mirror the actions of their partner.  Students will get a kick out of this activity!
  6. Thumb Wrestling: Have students choose a partner and participate in some old-fashioned thumb wrestling.  Be sure to establish your expectations before this little brain break.
  7. Rock, Paper, Scissors:  Let kiddos partner up for five rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors.  The winners get a high five from their partner.  :)
  8. Sky Writing: Have kiddos sky write their ABCs, sight words, spelling words, or a secret message to their friend.
  9. Silent Yoga:  Strike a yoga pose and see how long your students can hold that pose.  Google “Kid Yoga” for some easy examples.

Read the rest here.


The Pottsgrove (PA) school district offers a nice collection of “brain breaks” that require moving your body in small but complex ways that require attention. For example:

Finger Tips

  1. Stand up.
  2. Make an X with your arms out in front of you with your palms facing you. Keep your fingers up in the air. Lock your thumbs together.
  3. With your index finger on your right hand, try to touch each of the finger tips of your other hand, one by one.
  4. Now take your middle finger on your right hand and do the same thing and touch the finger tips of your other hand one by one.
  5. Do this same process for your ring finger and pinkie on your right hand.
  6. Now do the process for your left hand index, middle, ring and pinkie fingers.

They also share a fun set of stimulating questions for the classic game “Would You Rather?” They suggest playing the game by designating a section of the room for each choice, and then having students move to that area (prepared to defend their choice)

  • Would you rather always wear earmuffs or a nose plug?
  • Would you rather be 3 feet tall or 8 feet tall?
  • Would you rather be a deep sea diver or an astronaut?

Dance Moves

You can have your crew do a scripted dance, or you can have a free-form dance party: just turn on the radio and let the students dance until the song ends.

At Project ACT, we have written before about Instant Recess, an amazing set of tools developed out of UCLA that basically combine dance and physical activity. They are designed to be <10 minutes and fun for all ages.

Here are some other popular (<5 minute) dances.

The Continental Drift – aka the Sid Shuffle (from Ice Age)

Upotown Funk (with Michelle Obama)

The Cha Cha Slide

Cupid Shuffle


 Further Resources

GoNoodle is one of our favorite tools for teachers, offering a turnkey collection of brain breaks. It’s a whole service and the brain breaks are video-based. They offer a “plus” version with enough breaks for a whole year and curriculum integration.

GN_10783246_GoNoodle Stickers_V2.indd

Energizers are classroom-based physical activities that integrate physical activity with academic concepts. Less than 10 minutes, they were developed as part of the North Carolina State Board of Education’s Healthy Active Children Policy

The Effects of Current Brain Research in the Science Classroom – a Master’s thesis by Rebecca Beacham Fulk