Brain Breaks by Lillian Murray

A brain break is a short period of time when we change up the mundane routine of incoming information.  Our brains are wired for novelty because we pay attention to every stimulus in our environment that feels threatening or out of the ordinary. This has always been a fascinating advantage because our survival as a species depended on this aspect of brain development.

Brain breaks redirects our neural circuitry with either stimulating or calming practices that generate increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and emotional regulation are firing. 

When students are presented with new material and challenging topics, its imperative to be focused and calm as we approach our assignments. We can use brain breaks to positively impact our emotional states and learning. 

When we take a brain break, it refreshes our thinking and helps us discover another solution to a problem. Consider trying these with your child, student or group:

Scribble storytelling 

On a blank sheet of paper or whiteboard, draw one squiggly line. Give students one minute to stand and add to it, turning the line into a picture or design of their choice. Keep passing along to everyone.

Opposite Sides Movement is critical to learning. Have students stand and blink with the right eye while snapping the fingers of their left hand. Repeat this with the left eye and right hand. Students could also face one another and tap the right foot once, left foot twice, and right foot three times, building speed they alternate toe tapping with their partner. Bring the hands in and make up more movements.

The What If Bag

Carry a bag of household objects containing markers, scrap paper, and anything that one would find in a junk drawer -- for example, dice, tape, keys, measuring tape or a pair of shoelaces. Pick any object out of the  bag and ask students to come up with two ways this object could be reinvented for other uses. They can write or draw their responses. Once students have drawn or written about an invention, they can walk the room for one minute sharing and comparing.

Alphabet with objects Sing the alphabet with names of objects rather than the letters.

Story Starters


A student or teacher begins a story for one minute, either individually or with a partner. The students then complete or continue it with a silly ending.


A New Language  Teach sign language or make up a spoken language. In pairs, students take turns speaking or interpreting this new language for 60 seconds each.

Mental Math

Give a set of three instructions, counting the sequence to a partner for 30 seconds. Example: Count by two until 40, then count by three until 60, finishing with seven until 90. Switch and give the other partner another set of numbers to count. Invisible Pictures Have a student draw a picture in the air while their partner guesses what it is. You could give them categories such as foods, places, or household objects.


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