PBL and Brain Breaks

A friend called and asked if I could help his 9th grade class catch up with their PBL projects. He stated that everything was going according to plan until something came up. He was two weeks behind and didn’t want to lose the momentum of the projects. I obliged to offer support. The students appreciated having multiple adults in the room helping them. One day, the students hit a wall. The buzz of conversation ceased and the crescendo of arguing grew amongst the groups. One of the students blurted, “My brain is done. I need a break.” I wasn’t sure if this 9th grade group would respond to a brain break activity but asked the teacher if I could show them one.

Most of us are familiar with brain breaks. We also know they can come in many shapes, sizes and forms, and the research confirms its effectiveness for cognitive performance. On that day, my friend and I could tell the students needed one, so I offered a brain break that I had used in elementary school. To our surprise, the high school students actually enjoyed the corniness of the elementary brain break! From that point on, I realized all teachers could use any brain break and customize it to fit their students in their classrooms.

Some of the brain breaks I’ve used are quick transitions from one activity to another, giving everyone a moment to decompress what was just learned and to refresh their mind for more. Other brain breaks were done intentionally to develop deeper critical thinking moments that would help others see a different perspective and provide more teachable moments down the line.

If your class was like that class that day, consider trying these activities:

All students stand up and the teacher has them do five different things in order. An example would be:

  • 5: You have one minute to check Snap/Instagram/Email
  • 4: You have one minute to talk to 1 friend
  • 3: You have one minute to talk to another friend
  • 2: You have one minute to talk to another (or the same) friend
  • 1: You have one minute to find a new spot in which to sit before we move on.

Banana Song
I attended an EdCamp recently and one of the secondary teachers stated that the Banana song is corny and the corniness of it makes it a great brain break.

Big 6 (Taken from roller skating rink of 4 corners)
Have six areas labeled around your room. Students stand at one of those areas. Have a student roll a (digital or physical) die. Wherever that number lands, that group is out. Continue to roll until only one small section is left standing. The winner gets whatever prize you choose. (I’ve seen one teacher allow that student to leave one minute early to get a jump on traffic.)

Go Noodle
It has everything from current dances (Whip & Nae Nae) to Yoga with active movement videos up to 20 minutes long. A lot of elementary schools use Go Noodle.

Have a corny joke book or website available, locked/loaded and ready to read. Students will laugh more at the corniness of the joke. You’ll find some students really wanting to hear at least one a day.

This website is easy to use to create a game and to play. Some of my favorites to play are the Logos, States/Capitals, Sports Teams, and TV shows.

Play the instrumental/clean version of a popular song, scoot out of the way and let the students dance or talk during the song. Find a song between 3-5 minutes. Something as simple as music works wonders.

Props (Taken from Whose Line is it Anyways)
Have a box of everyday junk, old items and a few new items. Split the room into four groups to begin the game. Have one person from each group dig into box and pull out one of those items. Each group has anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute to create as many new and interesting ways that object could be used. Each group quickly shares (or mimics) what they come up with and the winning team gets a point.

Riddles work just as well as jokes. Split the class into eight groups, then give each group a page (or two) of jokes. Have them select the worst jokes and share it. Worst joke gets a point. (Optional: If devices can be used in classrooms, do the same thing and allow students to look them up online) (for kids) (for mid/high)

Square Count (Found this from FB). How many squares do you see? There is also one for triangles too.

Rebus Puzzles
Rebus puzzles are small pictures that represent a word or phrase made with letters, pictures and words. Rebus puzzles became more popular when the game show Classic Concentration aired on television. I’ve used Rebus puzzles just like the game show and stand alone. Students enjoyed it so much they started creating their own rebus puzzles and putting them on Power Point/Google Slides/Keynote. 

Switch It Up
This activity gets students up out of their seats. Have everyone stand up, then the teacher (or selected person) shouts out a trait/characteristic. Everyone who has that trait/characteristic must change places with someone else who also has that trait. Ex: I’m wearing white socks. Everyone with white socks has to move from their seat to a different seat. Doing this for about 4-8 rounds will provide laughter as some students will get really creative in their characteristic.

Water Bottle Flip
Nuff said.

Would You Rather
Customizing any of the popular “would you rather” questions.

Having those brain breaks will help your students relax, relate, release any stress, and gives them a chance to regroup—and get back to productive work on the project.

Follow Andre Daughty on Twitter at @andredaughty