I could write one million blog posts on brain breaks, so it will have to be written in parts just like my classroom management blog.
This was the other thing that people have asked me a lot of questions about after their observations of my classroom at IFLT. I do brain breaks frequently. Really, really frequently. Many people asked if it was every 3-5 minutes, or even more. The answer to timing is ALL about the students. I don’t, however, advise WAITING for them to look like they NEED a brain break. When you see them look like they NEED a break, you have waited too long. Once you know your students you know the length of their attention span, and then you can plan your brain breaks accordingly. So with my two year old classes, I do a brain break every 2 minutes or so, where as with my 5th graders it is about every 10 minutes. Even with middle and high school, it is GREAT to do a brain break every 15 minutes!
The trick to brain breaks is to make them quick, easy, and seamless. You need to be able to jump straight back into instruction, immediately following a brain break. Many people will tell you that brain breaks MUST be in L1 (English). I disagree. I think they can be, sometimes. However, many of my brain breaks, involve the students doing something super silly that doesn’t involve any talking at all, other times it involves saying 2-3 words, but why shouldn’t they say those in Spanish if it is played as a game and it is non-forced, fun, output? The only brain break I really give my students that DOES involve English is in the middle of PQA or Movie Talk, or a Story or WHATEVER we are doing, I might throw in a sentence to call something out that is funny, or make a joke. This acts as a brain break, and it gives everybody a good laugh. Again though, if I am capable of staying IN SPANISH and my kids are capable of comprehending, and following, for an entire class with lots of brain breaks, why wouldn’t I? That is my goal. I want their little brains switching over to L1 as little as possible.
You have to TRAIN your students to recognize when it is TIME for a brain break and you have to train them about how to transition out of one quickly too. My students know when they see the “brain break”slide in my PPT, it is time, OR they know when they hear me say the word “descanso” or “brain break” that they have to listen closely for the instruction of which brain break we are doing. Then we DO the brain break and the second it is over, I yell my classroom call response, (at the conference I used T: HOLA HOLA, SS: COCA COLA) and the students sprint quickly back to their seats and we jump IMMEDIATELY back into whatever we are doing. We don’t waste any time talking about the brain break we just did, or anything else. That is the reason they get them so frequently, they know if we can jump straight back into the input, then we can afford to do more brain breaks. MOST of my brain breaks last between 30 -90 seconds. My longer ones are no longer than 2 minutes.
Everyone’s favorite brain break they saw at IFLT was me dancing like a loon with my students. I saw Mary Overton do this about 4 years ago. She played the song Te Mando Flores by Fonesca and she sat on a stool in front of the class and students had to mirror whatever movement she did. Mary has a Masters in Spanish linguistics but she ALSO majored in dance, so she is graceful, coordinated and beautiful when she dances with her students. I am a hot mess, and many of my students actually believe I teach a spastic version of Zumba (like in the real world! WHAT?!), but I do have fun. So how do you get your students to follow you? Well, if they trust you, and feel safe in the classroom, they won’t be afraid to look silly or be silly with you. Normally, I wait a few months to get to know my new students before introducing it. HOWEVER, I have found that regardless of their age, students LOVE it. Probably because they love laughing at me. I don’t care though, laughing is a great brain break! That also answers your next question. What if not all the students participate?! (It won’t be much of a problem in elementary and most of middle) So you teach a group of SUPER apathetic, WAY too cool for school high schoolers? Let them stand and laugh and watch. I bet that, by the end of the year, they start dancing too! And if not they become the minority in the room, because if everyone is just being silly and NO one cares, and you already have an environment of trust, no judgement, respect, and safety, they have nothing to lose! It is magic.
Finally, YOU have to be comfortable and confident enough to look silly in front of your students. Our students (all ages) are like dogs. They can sense fear. If they don’t think YOU are bought into the silly/crazy dancing, they WILL NOT participate. Loosen up, relax, and enjoy! ALL teachers should do this. It is SO good for stress!
I have a variety of songs uploaded on Youtube ready to go for brain breaks. I keep them in tabs on my computer. I also have Pandora, ALWAYS playing on my computer. I simply turn off the speakers when I don’t want to hear it. So sometimes, if I turn on the speakers and hear it is a good movement song, I will crank it up and the students will take that as an automatic cue to follow me. Now, as I said, they will LOVE this. That doesn’t mean use it to death right away. Stick with your other brain breaks too! You don’t want them to get sick of it and then you NEVER get to do it. I hate that dreaded “not again”eye-roll.
So, what are my FAVORITE dance tunes?? Here you go! I never have the video playing in the background because they can compare and judge my dancing then, and some of the videos I don’t want my kids seeing.
Don Omar’s “Hasta que salga el sol” – This is the one the kids know me best for.
“La Gozadera”- Gente de Zona ft. Marc Anthony – starts at 33 seconds… OBSESSED
“Bailando”– Enrique Iglesias ft. Gente de Zona and Descemer Bueno DUH!
Don Omar’s “Zumba”– Double duh!
Don Omar’s “Danza Kuduro”– ft. Lucenzo – music starts 37 seconds in (be careful with the video of this one if teaching elementary)
Julieta Venegas’s “Eres para mí”– Much more chill….
Happy dancing and happy teaching!
La Maestra Loca