Monday, April 30, 2012

Simon Says: Save Yourself

A middle school schedule can be quite demanding for students to say the least. In my district, the day begins unforgivingly early, and is filled with back-to-back hour long content rich classes. And Lunchtime? Let’s just say the kids have all mastered the art of “walk running” to the cafeteria, talking less, and chewing quickly.

With a middle school schedule, it’s impossible for kids to stay on their "A Game" all day.  And we know all too well that when children fall off their "A Game," in creeps unmotivated students disguised as A Classroom Full of Crickets or A Classroom Zoo.

When you realize your students have checked out, and you’ve exhausted all other efforts, there is really only one option left:

 Take a Break. But not just any break. Take a Brain Break!

What Are Brain Breaks?
A Brain Break is a purposeful time out from instruction. I use the word purposeful because Brain Breaks are strategically designed exercises to quickly alter the current state of your students. Brain Breaks refresh, refocus, and reenergize. And don’t worry about needing time and materials. Brain Breaks should only be a few minutes long and require little to no materials.

Why Should I Use Them?
There are 3 different categories and purposes behind Brain Break exercises:

1.     Calming Exercises: Relieve stress and prevent burn out
2.     Mental Exercises: Wake up and engage both sides of the brain, increase concentration and attention
3.     Physical Exercises: Stimulate the mind and body, increase oxygen flow

Let’s not forget the importance of Brain Breaks for teachers as well! They give teachers a chance to take a step back, wipe the sweat of their brow, sip their coffee, and prepare themselves to jump back into the chaos…er…class instruction. 

How Can I Use Them?
Here are some examples of my classroom Brain Breaks in action:

1.     Calming Exercises
o   Deep Breathing
Students stand next to their chairs and take slow, deep breaths. Students breathe in their nose and out their mouths while raising their arms up each time they inhale, and back down when they exhale.

2.     Mental Exercises
o   Right to Left Stretches
Standing with their arms out to the side, students reach their right hand down to touch their left shoe, and back up again. Repeat on the other side.
o   Nose Ear Touch
Right hand touches nose, left hand touches right ear. Continue to switch hands.
o   Air Writing
Students write their name in the air, first with their right hand, then left, then both simultaneously. Students can spell their names backwards for an additional challenge.  
o   The Monkey
Students simultaneously pat their head and rub their stomach with right and left hands, then switch hands. 
o   Knee March
Students slowly march in place. Then raise their right arm up with the left knee, and left arm up with the right knee.
o   Board Word
I’ll write a word on the board, and students have one minute to work with a partner and write as many words using those letters they can think of.
o   Tic-Tac-Toe
Students play 3 games of Tic-Tac-Toe with a person next to them.
o   Would You Rather
Students are given two options and must decide which they would rather be / do. Sometimes I try to incorporate these questions with the current instruction. For example, during the Ecology Unit, would you rather be a mouse or a cheetah in the food chain and why? Students take a minute to decide their answer and share. 

3.   Physical Exercises
o   Silent Bomb
Students sit on their desks (or in seats to save time) and play 2 minutes of Silent Bomb. A kosh is passed around the room and students are out of the game for dropping the kosh or talking.
o   Simon Says
This game is one of my personal favorites (hence my post title!) It gets the kids out of their seats, tunes them into following directions, and lets them move around.
o   Cotton-Eyed Joe
Yes, it’s true. I have this song handy in my classroom for an occasional song and dance Brain Break. Most kids know the accompanying dance to the song, while the others can follow along. And anyone who’s attended a middle school dance knows this song tends to be a crowd favorite. Let’s just say my students were prepared when the DJ selected this tune! 

Additional Pointer:
I find it easiest to write your favorite Brain Breaks on popsicle sticks or index cards to keep them accessible in your classroom. The more you do the Brain Break activities, the more students become independent with them. When students know the activities by heart, you can then select students to draw from the pile and lead that day’s Brain Break.

Want more information on Brain Breaks? Click here!

2 comments:

  1. Awesome post:) I have elementary spec ed and I've been trying to take the kids outside for 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a week. They have to play together though...tag, relays, all on the swings, (I'm running out of ideas)...but we're working on playing together versus parallel play and following directions. So far tag is the crowd pleaser. Love all your brain break ideas:) I'll have to try some of them!


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