How stopping your class can help your students go further
Some people are amazing at coming up with analogies to explain things. I don’t consider myself one of those people. I do however believe I came up with a pretty good analogy to understand brain breaks: NASCAR, or more specifically, pit stops.
I am certainly not a big NASCAR fan, (no offense to those who are, it just is not my thing) but I have always marveled at the idea of a pit stop. In a race where you might be traveling over 200mph, you are going to occasionally come to a complete stop? That seems crazy! But it makes complete sense when you recognize the need to change your tires, gas up the tank, and get a clear view out of your windshield.
I think the classroom is a lot like a NASCAR race. You often feel like you’re going 200mph just trying to keep up, stopping seems insane. And if your anything like me, by the time you’re finished you feel like you have just been going in circles all day. With all that said I do believe that brain breaks can function much like pit stops, and even provide the same basic services that a pit stop provides.
Changing your tires
While your students obviously don’t have tires, think about what changing the tires really does in a race. When your speeding around a curve and your tires are balding, you are going to slide and bump around with a notable loss of control. Fresh tires provide a chance to make those turns more smoothly, calm, and under control. Some brain breaks are designed to do just that — calm your students down by focusing on breathing or controlled movements, so they can take the twists and turns of the classroom with more ease and comfort.
Gassing up the tank
Most brain breaks are designed to put some gas in your students’ tanks so they can keep going. This is really important and helpful when your students are dragging and need more energy. However, it is vital to pay attention to what your students’ needs are at the time, as they can change quickly. If they need new tread on their tires but your only offering gas, things are obviously not going to end well.
Clear the windshield
Focus is key in the classroom. Focusing brain breaks are my personal favorite, as I have seen countless times how they engaged my students. At any one point, our students have many things on their windshields blocking their focus: difficult life experiences, toxic home lives, poverty, and social and relational pressures. These stresses and many more make it difficult to focus on classwork. By leading activities that help my students to focus on a skill within a brain break I have found that they carry that focus back into the classwork.
And finally, during the 12 second pit stop, imagine how calm it is for the driver (you) while the pit crew is working. Even though the time is short, they get to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and then get back to the race with renewed calmness, energy, and focus. I have heard many teachers share that they lead brain breaks when they personally feel like they need a brain break because they recognize how helped the classroom is as a result of them caring for themselves.
Implementing brain breaks into your classroom may be one of the best tools you can give yourself and your students.
Check out our favorite compilation of brain breaks and other classroom activities, in my book, 101 Brain Breaks and Brain Based Educational Activities.
Josh MacNeill, Director of NeuroLogic Initiative