By now, most educators have heard of brain breaks as a way to ensure that students stay engaged, and don’t lose focus. Getting your students to move while in class, or while learning, is a proven strategy that works for focused and engaged learning. There’s a reason Kahoot! and GoNoodle have been so successful.
However, like GoNoodle and Kahoot!, most of these brain break ideas, or the learning strategies that focus on movement during the process of learning, are geared for the primary grades when really they are applicable in any learning environment.
Today, we’re going to run through some strategies that can be used -- and that are being used in colleges and even innovative businesses -- beyond the primary grades.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1.) Move-It, a Google Chrome Extension
Planned Intermittent Movement While Learning
Move It is an extension you can install on your Google Chrome browser, and on your student’s devices as well, that prompts you and your students to move around intermittently throughout the day. This tool can be used in any learning environment to encourage movement that is both prompted and quick and easy.
Most of the activities can be completed in a matter of seconds, and there is a pretty big variety of activities as well, from quick exercises to silly prompts that ask you to “wiggle your whole body for 10 seconds.”
If you’re looking for a quick and simple tool to use for your school or in your classroom, then Move It is a good place to start.
2.) “Speed Dating” for the Classroom
Support Collaboration with Rapid Ideation
No, this is not the painfully awkward event of speed dating at some chintzy restaurant with red and white patterned table cloths and the red wine they use at cheap Italian restaurants; this “speed dating” for the classroom is a fun and fast-paced way to encourage collaboration amongst your students on a certain concept or topic.
Start by picking a concept you want your students to cover and ideate on, and then introduce it to them during one of your classes (this activity can be used school-wide as well to encourage collaboration amongst different grade levels).
Then have your students set up in two rows across from one another and start discussing the chosen concept. Once they’ve talked with one partner for 3-5 minutes, have them move on to the next partner. This is a good way to have them keep building on an idea with new viewpoints and different ways of thinking about how a concept can evolve.
There are a number of ways you can set guidelines and parameters for the discussion too, whether you’re just giving them some broad questions to consider when discussing the concept, or setting up one row to be the “questioners” and the other row to be the “answerers.” Or, you can let them discuss the topic freely and see what happens with the freeform discussion.
Consider trying a few different methods and seeing which one works best for your school or classroom.
3.) Mindful Breathing in Classrooms
Start and End Class on the Right Breath
This next strategy works to set daily expectations, in your school or classroom, that revolve around being mindful of your energy and the energy of your students. It also helps to ensure that you take time to reflect on how you and your students will, or did, engage with the day’s learning. It’s an activity that many college classrooms are using currently, and it can be used at any level of education above and below college.
There are a plethora of ways to use this activity in classrooms, and the way you implement it is entirely up to you, and your creative approach to introducing mindful breathing activities.
Consider starting your class with an activity that asks your students to meditate on their breathing. If you set this mindful breathing as an expectation for the start of every class you will start to notice that students look forward to this time as an opportunity to gather their thoughts and focus them toward the learning for the day, or for the class period.
You may even consider using a singing bowl, or an app that simulates a singing bowl like this Tibetan Singing Bowls Meditation Timer. You can even look for some guided meditations online, and there are some great resources out there like the Calm Classroom Initiative for schools and classrooms.
The point is, meditation has been around for centuries as a useful tool to help us be relaxed, and take calculated steps to focus our energy, try using it in your school or classroom.
4.) Create a Hub for Authentic Collaboration
Make Collaboration Organic
This last strategy is used in some of the most innovative and successful businesses in the world. For example, the Pixar offices were built to be a place that, according to Steve Jobs, “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations” because when collaboration happens authentically it tends to have a bit more meat to it. That’s not to say that planned collaboration is useless, or devoid of meaty results, it just means that it can be a bit more difficult to get results with planned collaboration.
We obviously can’t afford to create hubs that are as expansive and honestly as expensive as what Pixar did in their offices, but the same type of atmosphere can most certainly be created in schools and classrooms.
In other words, can you leverage the concept of a hub where every student in your school or classroom is likely to end up for one reason or another at some point during the day/learning? For example, where do you keep the classroom materials that your students use on a daily basis? Are they all in one area where students are likely to bump into one another and spark conversation on why they are using a particular item?
In your school, is there a place where all students tend to go to find resources for their learning? What items can they interact with while working with one another? Are there any environmental fixtures you can set up to encourage this authentic collaboration on a more regular basis? For example, can you set up booths and other collaborative work spaces to provide places where students can sit and work with one another?
These are all questions that, if answered, can lead to more organic ideation through collaboration of different viewpoints and the various areas of interest your students have.
Essentially, we want to create environments that are conducive to the cultivation of skills and talents in our students, and focusing on collaboration, especially organic collaboration, is a good place to begin.
In the end, it really all boils down to intentional movement and optimizing how students engage with your learning objectives. Furthermore, life is a relational endeavor, and continued interaction with others will be a large part of the future careers your students strive to have, so leveraging as much collaboration as possible in your school or classroom is always a good plan.
Anyway, we hope these strategies were helpful when considering some ways to bring brain-friendly activities to your school or classroom, especially when moving beyond primary schooling.