Why Take a Brain Break?
Many people have already discovered that taking a break between their learning sessions is a good way to refresh and reboot their cognitive capacities and get back to their studies with renewed vigour. Taking regular breaks is essential for keeping a steady pace when studying and achieving the best possible results.
Compare these two situations
|Student A||Student B|
|Attended lectures, took notes||Attended lectures, took notes|
|Revised materials occasionally||Revised materials occasionally|
|Studied for 10 days before the exam||Studied for 10 days before the exam|
|Did study-marathons every day, few breaks||Took breaks every two hours|
|Went off the radar to study, ordered takeout to save time||Met up with friends, did sports, ate well|
While it may seem that the marathon learner is on the right track to success, Student B is more likely to breeze through their exams AND have some will to live after them.
So, instead of marathoning through your studies, say hello to brain breaks!
Effective Brain Break Ideas
While there may be lots of science behind learning breaks, there are several down-to-earth practices that simply never fail to impress. If you’re not sure how to go about your breaks, here are a few tips:
- Plan your breaks. When you’re making a study plan and organising everything you need to cover, don’t forget to include regular breaks. Writing them into your plan from the get-go is a good way to avoid feeling disappointed with yourself when you simply cannot focus anymore.
- Step away from your books. Taking a break is all about getting some distance from the subject nagging at you. If you can, physically distance yourself from your desk and do something completely different.
- Don’t take too long. It’s easy to get caught up in life – online shopping, chores, long phone calls with your bae, or doomscrolling, but study breaks are the most effective when kept to twenty-ish minutes, with a longer break after every three to four hours (e.g. lunch or tea time).
- Do some fitness. Physical exercise is simply amazing at waking you up and energising you – far more effective than coffee! Wake up your body in your study breaks and get your blood flowing – you’ll see how your performance improves!
- Do some measly chore. Ah, nothing relieves the stress of studying like scrubbing a particularly stubborn stain in the kitchen sink or getting those bread crumbs out of the corner you and your vacuum cleaner have been ignoring for days.
Brain Break Games
Now, if you’re working in a group setting (or teaching one), you might want to consider some more structured games or activities to kickstart your collective energy when it starts waning. Games are a great way to do it, and please, don’t scowl at me, you’re never too old to play!
My Dog Is Sick 🐶
This game only works once and only if your co-players don’t know it. Participants stand in line with shoulders touching, and the ‘Gamemaster’ goes first. The Gamemaster declares ‘Oh no, my dog is sick!’ and the person standing next to them asks, ‘What’s wrong?’ The Gamemaster then extends their right arm and says, ‘This!’ The person standing next in line repeats the exchange with the one coming next. Once the roll call is done, the Gamemaster starts over, this time extending their left arm, followed by a crouch and extending one leg forwards. Once every person in the line has their leg out, the Gamemaster repeats the ‘Oh no, my dog is sick’ line, but when they’re asked about what’s wrong this time around, the Gamemaster falls onto the next person, pushing the line and causing it to stumble like dominos. Trust me, this one always generates great laughter.
I’m Awake, I’m Alive, and I Feel Great! 🤩
This is a quick energiser for big group meetings. All participants crouch and slowly chant ‘I’m awake, I’m alive, and I feel great’, repeating the line louder and louder as they slowly raise from the crouching position. This happens until everyone is on their feet, jumping and yelling. Apart from physical stimulation, repeating the affirmation actually boosts everyone’s mood.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, War ✂️
This is another rowdy one that always works, although I suggest going outside to try it. It starts off simple enough: Everyone finds a partner to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, playing three times for the two-out-of-three results. The person who loses becomes the winner’s fan and should follow them around and cheer them on in any way they like (clapping, yelling, singing, etc.). Very quickly the game ends with two loud opposing teams for the final showdown. Again, the rowdy and physical stimulants combine to wake people up and get their spirits high.
On a quieter note, meditation is a game of peacefulness. For slightly less active participants, stepping away from their work and doing some grounding and focusing exercises can help a great deal. Soothing visualisation is a good example of office yoga where participants try to recall and visualise their happy place and what they’d do there (be that lounging at the seaside, hiking down forest trails, or cosying up with a book at home). This activity promotes peacefulness, positive emotions, and relaxation before getting back to work.
Bet you didn’t see that coming, but spending some time folding paper and producing clever figurines is a wonderfully relaxing activity. If you’re new to origami, you can follow simple YouTube tutorials until you’ve mastered the basics before moving on to create anything you wish – from cranes to dragons!
Brain Breaks for Middle School Students
If you’re working with kids, you’ll know what bundles of energy they are – sometimes far more powerful than us adults who wake up with a different type of back pain every morning. Here are some ideas to help your young padawans shake it out and come back to their books happy and refreshed:
Don’t This Thing Make My People Wanna Jump, Jump! 🤸♀️
Sometimes, kids just need to let off some steam and extra energy. Just get your students to get up and start jumping around as much and as high as they can for a few minutes. Set a timer with an alarm that marks the end of the activity and be firm with getting them back to their places – otherwise you might be surprised at just how long kids can jump.
Tiptoe, Tap-Toe 🤫
If you wish to calm down the boisterous energy of the jumping activity, you can tell your students it’s time to slowly and quietly – on their tiptoes – make a few rounds around the classroom to get back to their seats. The person failing to be quiet could get a chore to do (cleaning the blackboard, feeding the fish, or whatever needs to be brought in order). Alternatively, you could give them tasks relating to your subject.
Dance Like… 💃
Put some groovy music on and ask your students to dance. Every few minutes, change the instructions, asking them to dance like they have a sore foot or like they’d just won an Oscar and so on. Kids get to express their creativity and relax with this one, and it can last anywhere between two and ten minutes.
Broken Telephone 📱
Nothing better than a chain of misheard, muffled mumbles carrying throughout the classroom only for them to come out completely mangled and unrecognisable at the end. For extra credits, give your students some tongue twisters.
What’s Your Favourite Animal? 🦄
Ask a child to think about their favourite animal and act it out (with or without accompanying sounds). The other kids then need to guess what it is – the one who gets it right is the next one to act out their favourite animal.
Brain Break for High Schoolers
If you work with high schoolers who are anything like the ones I know, you know they can sometimes be difficult to persuade to do fun(ny) things. Bless their hearts and their exaggerated sense of embarrassment, but to give your high school students a brain break, you could go for more toned-down activities.
Simple, get everyone to stand up and start from stretching necks, shoulders, and arms before bending towards each foot and touching the ground. It will help you as well.
Quick Role-Play Games 🧑🎤
Students like good role-play games – they get to be someone else. To get the ball rolling, you can ask your students to pretend they are their idols and go about conversing with their peers. They can (but don’t have to) introduce themselves, but they should all ask one another a couple of questions about their respective lifestyles and interests.
Paper Airplanes ✈️
You know it, I know it – students just love paper airplanes. You might as well capitalise on the common class disturbance and have everyone make a paper airplane and throw them at designated desks or into the dustbin. This quick activity will energise your students and solve the paper plane distraction problem.
One, Two, Clap, Four! 3️⃣
This concentration game is a good way to help your students re-focus. They can stand in a circle or stay at their seats, and they should count and clap. When each number that has three in it (3, 13, 23) or is divisible by three comes up, the student whose turn it is claps instead of saying it out loud. It takes some practice, and it’s really fun once it gets to 30. The goal is to count to 35 without any mess-ups. Each time a student makes a mistake, they’re out and the counting restarts.
Telepathic Counting 💭
Another good one with numbers. Your students should count until 30, but the catch is: only one student can say any number out loud. If two people call the same number at the same time, the counting restarts. This way students learn to focus and pay attention to one another, learning to recognise and anticipate who might speak next.
Brain Break Ideas for College Students (and Adults) Still Stuck Online
While some universities are trying to get back into the ‘business as usual’ mode, it’s a fact that many people still work and study online. Home office has proven to be a good thing in many situations and many of us would like to keep the option of staying at home and working in our PJs open, but online meetings can drag out and put you to sleep. Try spicing them up with some of these brain breaks:
Bamboozle is one of those websites that became hugely popular during the pandemic and rightfully so! Anyone can register for free and make all sorts of quizzes (with a series of ready-made ones available for use). Divide your online participants into several teams and have them open fields and answer questions. Bamboozle is great because it sometimes throws random bonuses or catches into the game, keeping everyone on their toes!
Healthy Snack Time
We all get hangry and this exercise is a great way to activate your crowd. When you notice the attention dropping, call for a break and ask everyone to grab a healthy snack as fast as they can – it can be anything, from fruits to nuts and smoothies but it has to be healthy. After all, good nutrition boosts mental powers too.
Drawing, no matter how good or bad one is at it, is a great way to stimulate different parts of your frontal cortex. When you want to shake things up, set a timer for 5-10 minutes and ask everyone to draw something and show it. It can be anything from the smiling sun in the corner of the page to a castle with dragon guard – as long as it’s done within the time limit.
Have Yourself a Merry YouTube Brain Break
YouTube has such a wide array of videos promoting learning breaks that it’s hard to even find a place to start. Still, I would suggest trying Just Dance! This is a fun concept, the participants only need to watch the figure dancing and mimic them – there’s not a song that hasn’t been covered, but my personal favourite is Rasputin.
On the other hand, TikTok has ushered a series of “Would You Rather” videos. The participants get to choose what they’d rather do by simply jumping to the corresponding side (e.g., Would you rather be a Disney princess (jump right) or a Disney talking animal (jump left)). Give it a go, it works great with crowds of all ages.
If you want to check in with your peeps, you should play Meme Mood. The video offers several memes or gifs and the viewers get to express how they feel by choosing one of them. You can even set up a small poll in your conference call to see what the prevalent mood is, but for the most part, just watching memes and relating is enough to get everyone in a good mood.
Why Brain Breaks Make a Difference
In case you were unsure about the effectiveness of brain breaks, remember, they do help!
- Brain breaks keep you energised
- They boost your productivity
- Breaks help with memorising information
- While overlearning does produce short-term results, breaks help with long-term learning
- Study breaks are super versatile
Whatever you choose to do, remember to have fun!
I’ll be Ra-Ra-Ras-boostin’ my energy with Just Dance!