Wiggle While You Work: Brain Breaks to Increase Productivity

By Rebecca Reppen and Natalie Andzik

Off-task behaviors among students with and without disabilities negatively affect their productivity and learning, disrupt the flow of the classroom, and adversely impact other students. Those behaviors can be minimized, however, by introducing “brain breaks,” a proven strategy can maximize instructional time.

Brain breaks can increase on-task behavior for allstudents, especially those who have trouble focusing for extended periods of time. The purpose is for students to take a mental break from the content knowledge they’ve been focusing on and give their brains time to process information before they move on to the next task.

You can easily implement 10–15-minute brain breaks for the whole class, a small group, or even an individual student throughout the day, every day. This helps students “reset” their brains before they start a new task.

Recess and passing periods alone do not increase on-task behavior, but shorter and more frequent recesses can have a positive impact on students’ engagement during instruction time (Mahar, 2011). One option would be to implement recess for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch, and again for 10 minutes approximately 1 hour before the school day ends. Brain breaks that integrate physical movement, such as a quick dance party or yoga session, will allow students to increase focus and retain academic information (Popeska et al., 2018). No space for physical movement? Use interactive technology such as Kahoot! or pop up a music video for a sing-along. Students who engage in technology-based brain breaks reported feeling they learned better and could pay attention and focus more (Popeska et al., 2018).

Ms. Melina decided to use brain breaks with one of her students, George, who was rarely on-task during instruction. First, she asked him what he liked to do, so his breaks would be related to his interests (walking outside and playing basketball). After the timer rang at 10 minutes, he re-entered the classroom quietly, without disturbing his classmates, and began his work. His on-task behavior in the classroom increased from an average of 20% of the time to an average of 85%, and he no longer interrupted other students with his off-task behavior.

Some suggested brain-break options include allowing students to draw, tell jokes, lay on the floor, or complete a puzzle. Researchers have used this intervention with a variety of students, ages, and settings, and results always show an improvement in on-task behavior equating to an overall positive impact on the academic success of all students in the classroom (Gaastra et al., 2016).

Ms. Reppen graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2020. She is currently a 5th grade teacher at Harrison Community Learning Center in Peoria Illinois. 

Dr. Andzik is an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. As a former special education teacher, she enjoys working closely with preservice teachers to prepare them to work with kids with disabilities.

References

Gaastra, G. F., Groen, Y., Tucha, L., & Tucha, O. (2016). The effects of classroom interventions on off-task and disruptive classroom behavior in children with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A meta-analytic review. PLoS ONE, 11(2), e0148841. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148841

Mahar, M. T. (2011). Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine, 52, 60–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.026

Popeska, B., Jovanova-Mitkovska, S., Chin, M. K., Edginton, C., Mo Ching Mok, M., & Gontarev, S. (2018). Implementation of Brain Breaks® in the classroom and effects on attitudes toward physical activity in a Macedonian school setting. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 1127–1145. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061127

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