20 Three-Minute Brain Breaks

Wednesday's guest post about why kids need to move from pediatric occupational therapist Loren Shlaes was so popular that I decided to follow it up with a list of Brain Breaks you can use with your students. These are great to use anytime your students are feeling restless and are struggling to pay attention. Most of these will only take a few minutes, and then you can get back to the lesson with your students ready to focus on the lesson at hand.
  1. 5-4-3-2-1. In this simple game, students stand up and the teacher (or leader) has them do five different movements in descending order. For example the teacher would say: "Do fivejumping jacks, spin around four times, hop on one foot threetimes, walk all the way around the classroom two times, give your neighbor one high-five (pausing in between each task for students to do it).

  2. Trading Places Have students stand behind their pushed-in chairs. Call out a trait and everyone who has that trait must change places with someone else (students who do not have the trait stay where they are). Examples: "Everyone with curly hair." "Everyone who ate cereal for breakfast." Everyone who is wearing stripes." 

  3. Six Spots Number six spots around your room from 1-6. Have students each go to a spot of their choice. Choose a student to roll a die (if you can make a big one out of foam, it adds to the fun). All the students at the number rolled must go back to their seats. Students that are left go to a new spot and the die is rolled again. Continue until only a few students are left.

  4. Mingle, Mingle, Group! In this game students mill about the classroom saying, "mingle, mingle, mingle" in soft voices until the teacher says "Groups of 5," at which point the students must quickly group themselves into groups with the correct number of people. Students who are left over must do three jumping jacks before the next round starts. The teacher can call out any number for the group size. You can also add rules such as: as soon as a group is complete, all members must sit down in a line. 

  5. Dance Party! Put on some rockin' music and dance! If you can make the room semi-dark and have a black light or other special effect, your kids will love it! 

  6. Freeze Dance! Similar to Dance Party except that every so often the music stops and students must freeze and hold the position they are in until the music begins again. 

  7. Name Moves Students stand behind their chairs. In turn, each student says his or her name accompanied by a special movement. For example a student might say, "Kayla!" while dramatically dropping to one knee and doing Jazz Hands. After the student does his or her move, the rest of the class says the students name in unison and imitates the move. Then it is the next student's turn. 

  8. Keep it Up: Students must keep a beach ball from hitting the ground. Add two or three balls to make it even more fun.

  9. Simon Says An oldie but a goody! 

  10. Movement Songs Sing a song with whole-body movements such as, Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, Father Abraham, Toe-Knee Chest-Nut, Shake Your Sillies Out (Raffie), Grand Old Duke of York, My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean etc. 

  11. Recorded Movement Songs Older students might enjoy a simple Zumba routine, YMCA, or the Macarena. Littler ones will love Sesame Street's A Very Simple Dance to Do.

  12. Animal Pretend Younger children will enjoy pretending to be various animals (or even objects such as lawn mowers or airplanes). Call out a few in sequence.

  13. Would You Rather Ask a would you rather question and have students show their choice by moving to one end of the room or the other. Have a few kids share why. Here are 20 free Would You Rather Questions to get you started. 

  14. Find it Fast  Call out a color or other trait (something round, something made of wood), and students must find an object in the room that fits the trait and get to it quickly. 

  15. Physical Challenges Challenge students to do something physically difficult such as standing on one foot with arms extended or this one: grab your nose with left hand and grab your left earlobe with your right hand,then quickly switch so that your right hand is on your nose and your left hand is grabbing your right earlobe. Yoga poses could also be a good variation. 

  16. Plates Give each student a paper plate. Students must walk around the room balancing the plates on their heads. If a student drops his or her plate, the student must freeze until another student picks it up and places it back on the student's head (while keep his or her own plate in place, of course). 

  17. Line Up! Have students line up using a specific criteria such as age (use day and month, not just year), height, alphabetically by middle name, hair length, etc.

  18. Limbo All you need is a long stick and a pair of kids to hold it. Music is nice too. 

  19. Human Knot Divide students into groups of about eight students. Have students each grab right hands with someone who is not directly next to them. Then do the same with left hands. The challenge is to untangle and become a circle without releasing hands. 

  20. Jump Skip Counting Have students count by twos, fives, tens etc. while jumping with each count. You could also practice spelling words this way. 
Please note that I did not come up with all of these out of my own head. Here are some of the sources I used:
Here is a nine-minute video about how to manage Brain Breaks in your classroom. Good ideas on how to quickly transition and group students. Try searching Brain Breaks on YouTube for ideas and dance routines you can use with your students. 
Looking for more Brain Breaks? You can get 60 of them in a convenient card format right here!

What works in your classroom? Please comment with your ideas!


Sally said...

Another great resource, Rachel! I have a group that needs lots of brain breaks, and I'm always looking for new ideas!

Sally from ElementaryMatters

Rachel Lynette said...

Thanks so much Sally! It was a fun post to write!

Fisher Reyna Education said...

Rachel I liked these ideas so much I tweeted them! Thank you so much! Much needed in this time of testing!

Anonymous said...

Great ideas! I also use movements with sight words ~ as I display the sight word, students jump, shoot a basketball, wiggle on down, etc. while saying the word. I'd much rather have active learning happening in my classroom, and I can't wait to try some of your tricks! (Found them on Pinterest.) :-) Thanks for posting! :-)

Mayala02 said...

This is just what we needed to break up our routine. I have some busy littles this year who will really benefit from these breaks! Thanks so much!!

Anonymous said...

I do not suggest using a strobe light. Many people are prone to seizures from strobe lights and if your students are 10-16 years old they're even more prone to it.

Rachel Lynette said...

I had not considered that about the strobe light. Good point. I edited the post and took the strobe light out.
Thanks so much for posting!

Khun Kruu said...

I've used some "cross-body" exercises as brain breaks also, where students have to touch right elbow to left knee, etc. It's supposed to help the brain make connections more easily.

Deb said...

As a special needs prek teacher I have used "Smart Moves" and "Brain Gym" for years and once I was back in regular education I realized that the same activities work for them as well. So we always do a Brain Gym activity before learning something new or a review! Love these three minute brain breaks and I am going to have to start something like this for next year.

Deb at Fabulously First

Anonymous said...

As a former student and a lifetime introvert, I find most of those games to be daunting. Maybe you should also come up with some of these games for the more demure students.

Anonymous said...

I recommend the following CDs (found on Amazon) which incorporate some great musical movement brain gym aspects
Catch A Brain Wave Fitness Fun -Ronno & Liz Jones-Twomey
Brain Boogie Boosters -The Learning Station
Jumpin' & Jammin' -Greg & Steve

All of these have movement/actions in the lyrics and are fun for preschool/elementary age children. We have homeschooled preschool and find that doing a brain dance as a transition really helps our kids focus for the sitting and writing practice.


Heather Earley said...

Thanks for posting such a usable list! Got it printed and making my cheater cards as we speak! :)) A new fan here! :0)

Tiffany said...

Love this list! Such great ideas that really bring the energy back to where it should be.

Miss Foote said...

Thanks for the idea compiling. This is so helpful!

Chickadee Jubilee

Hilary Gard said...

Thanks! i got some really great ideas! I love brain breaks in the classroom!
Second Grade is Out of This World!

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Anonymous said...

Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.
The Six Spot activity is similar to Four Corners that I have done with kids. It occurred to me when reading this that having kids sit down when their number came up kind of defeated the purpose of a brain break. Maybe two dice could be rolled, one with the spot numbers and one with six different movements: jumping jacks, touch toes, etc. The kids in the numbered spot would have to do that number of the movement. Nobody sits down but the break 0nly goes on for about 3 minutes. Keeps all engaged.

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AL FARO said...

I've used some "cross-body" exercises as brain breaks also, where students have to touch right elbow to left knee, etc. It's supposed to help the brain make connections more easily
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