As teachers of CI and TPRS, we are very aware of the level of rigor in our classrooms. Many who observe the silly nature or the high level of engagement often assume, initially, that the lesson itself is not very rigorous. When they sit down and start to acquire with the students they see things differently. It is incredibly rigorous to listen to your second or third language for a 45-60 minute class period. It is rigorous to listen for even 10 minutes. If you are actively listening, with the intent to acquire, your brain NEEDS a break. These are not recommended. They are necessities. They serve the great purpose of getting students up and moving, giving their brains a chance to loosen up, and be free. They are intentionally used throughout class, to transition, or break things up, and to make sure all students continue to acquire and function at the level of rigor we are demanding of them. Finally, they are beneficial for EVERYONE. These short (literally they can be 15-30 seconds long, or shorter!!!) breaks in the “input” will allow EVERY student the rest their brain needs to participate more, enjoy more, and therefore acquire more in your class!
Short, Sweet, and Frequent
Brain breaks have to be frequent and not just in an elementary school classroom. They should be frequent in middle school, high school, and adult classes too. Many teachers think that Brain Breaks have to be 3-4 minutes long. The thought of more than one break in a class period is intimidating and may seem like a waste of valuable input time. The key to short and frequent brain breaks is setting up strong and solid expectations of what you want them to look like.
First, it is essential to have quick, seamless transitions established as the norm in your class. I like to use call responses for my transitions. I say “hola hola” and my kids say “coca-cola” and immediately afterwards, the expectation is that they are silent and their eyes are on me and they are listening for the next instruction. I use a point system which helps me if they do NOT do what they are supposed to. Some teachers prefer clapping, or a musical instrument, and others like to use a silent signal to catch students attention. Whatever it is, one of these classroom attention grabbers should be used at the end of brain breaks to alert students to the transition. My students know that as soon as they hear me shout our call response, they should listen for the next direction, which is almost always, to sit down (very quickly), and I jump straight back into whatever input I was giving them before the brain break.
Second, take the time to teach longer brain breaks well, so that when you want to use them again, all you have to do is call the name of the brain break, and the students know just what to do. For example, early in the year I introduce rock, paper, scissors as a brain break. This one can be used quickly and easily at any part of the class. There is a longer game we play with it though, called Evolution. It is described in the blog link above. I take time to explain it well the FIRST time we do the brain break so if I want to use it again, I just call out Evolution and the students jump into it right away.
Finally, teachers should be using brain breaks that take 2-30 seconds as little bursts of movement, throughout the class time, regardless of the age of students. In the middle of input it is good to just say (in the target language) “stand up, touch your toes, spin around, sit down”, and continue input. These micro brain breaks are incredibly effective. They serve many purposes. 1. If students are actively listening, they will follow these commands quickly. 2. If students expect these, they automatically listen better, with heightened anticipation 3. The bursts of movement, and breaks in rigor, allow for better concentration and focus for the entirety of the class.
Brain Breaks and Classroom Management
When used effectively, Brain Breaks are their own form of classroom management. When
they are frequent enough, students who are notorious for being fidgety and causing distractions with their movement, are allowed to move and wiggle in a purposeful way. It isn’t a distraction to anybody, and you don’t ever have to worry about redirecting these students or asking them to stop wiggling (which for most is something they can’t control). Sometimes, especially in Elementary and Middle School, a student will make a funny sound or make a funny face. This happens in response to questions or as suggestions for stories. More often than not it leads to other students wanting to “try” making the noise or face. Rather than trying to prevent the inevitable, I use it as another opportunity for a quick brain break. A student yesterday didn’t know how to say fish when she was explaining what pets she had and she made an awkward fish face. Immediately after, laughter erupted and 50% of the kids were trying to do the same. I did my call response to get attention, stood everyone up, and told them to walk around like fish, making the face she had attempted. After 30 seconds, kids were satisfied, everyone sat back down, and we moved on. I call these sorts of brain breaks, pretzel brain breaks, because they require us to come up with them on the spot and be super flexible.
Brain Breaks in the Target Language
Yes, brain breaks should be time for student’s brains to rest from hearing the target language. I have been doing lots of experimenting in the last year with OWL strategies. OWL is an acronym for Organic World Languages. Teachers of OWL believe that it is only through input AND output that students can truly acquire and learn to communicate in a language. Often, I like to use Brain Breaks as a time for my students to play with the language that they have acquired in our classroom. I use “play” with instead of “practice” because this is not forced output. My students never feel “forced” to do anything in my classroom. All of these opportunities to play are games that I have created (most of the time on the spot) that allow the kids to use the language they have been so desperate to output during class time. Students are all talking at the same time, they are doing it IN SPANISH, and their affective filters are low. Ever since I started incorporating these games as brain breaks, I have had reports from parents of students speaking tons at home or out in public. This confidence is gained from their “play” time in the classroom.
To sum it all up: YAY! for Brain Breaks! Use them! Make them short and sweet! Let them manage your classroom! Experiment with them in the TL! Play, and watch your kids grow!
Annabelle Allen has a Masters Degree from the University of Denver in Education and a Bachelors in Spanish and Criminology. She has taught Spanish for 5 years, and taught English for a year in China. She currently teaches Spanish to students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade at Saint Martin’s Episcopal School, in New Orleans, Louisiana. See more from Annabelle on her blog or connect with her on twitter @lamaestraloca.