Why Your Students Need "Brain Breaks"

Students attend school each week to learn.  In order to learn they need to pay attention, and in order to pay attention they need to move (or activate the brain).  Yet students spend the majority of the school day sitting – there is less time for PE and recess and more focus on test prep.  When students are fidgeting, they are getting the movement they need to turn their brains on.  This is a sign they might need a “brain break”. 

A five-minute energizer could lead to better overall focus for the rest of the class period. Here are a few favorites:

Group Juggle

  • Space:  Open space in the classroom (desks moved to the side) or an outside space
  • Supplies:  3-5 balls or soft objects that can easily be tossed

  • Age group:  4th – 8th grades.  Make it more challenging for high school students by playing silently after the first round.  For younger students, have them roll the ball across the circle or limit the number of objects in play.

  • Procedure:  Students get in a circle.  Teacher begins by saying a student’s name and tossing the ball to them.  This continues until everyone in the circle has had the ball once and it returns to the teacher.  The only rule is that you cannot throw it to the person on either side of you.  Throwing to the same person, see if students can get faster, or if they can complete the activity without anyone dropping the ball.  Add multiple balls or objects to increase the challenge.  You can also reverse the order (now throw to the person who threw to you).

In addition to getting the students moving around, this is a great team building activity.  If they are struggling, press “pause” and ask them how they can be more effective and try again with their new strategies.  Ideas they may share: make sure you say the person’s name before you throw, make eye contact before you throw, if they already have another ball in their hand wait, and don’t throw the ball too hard or high.  

Biggest Fan

  • Space: Open space works best, but you can play without moving the desks

  • Supplies: None

  • Age group: All age groups
  • Procedure:  Make sure everyone knows how to play rock paper scissors and establish some “class rules” to avoid confusion and frustration.  When the activity begins, every student finds a buddy to rock paper scissors with.  The student who loses then becomes the cheerleader for the winner and follows him/her to the next match.  Eventually, there will be two students left and all the others will be standing behind those two, cheering them on.  The winner of the final match receives cheers from the whole class and the activity is over.

    This activity can be played throughout the year and you can even keep a tally of who has won.

Chair Hockey

  • Space: Open space (desks pushed to the side)

  • Supplies: Chair for every student, ball

  • Age group: All age groups

  • Procedure: Students make a circle with their chairs and sit down, wrapping their legs around the legs of the chair. Each student has a “goal” that is under their chair.  The ball gets rolled around and if it goes through the goal, that student is out. 


Instead of using chairs, students can make a toe-to-toe circle (touching toes with the person on either side of you) and the goal is between their legs.


Sally. (2015). Why students need “brain breaks” and how you can help. Retrieved from