Tips for teachers: Brain breaks for high school students

Are you looking for an easy strategy to increase motivation, focus and engagement in your classroom? You should try incorporating brain breaks for high school students! This strategy is so quick, easy, and effective that it’s one of my favourite tips for teachers. This strategy is so versatile that it can be used in any learning area and with almost any age group, however, my experience is with middle school and high school students so that will me my focus in this article.  

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What are brain breaks for high school students?

Let’s start at the beginning, a ‘brain break’ is simply a short mental break from a learning task. Brain breaks for high schoolers can take many forms. They can be short movement breaks that allow students to get their blood pumping. They can be conversational breaks where an unrelated interesting, funny, or engaging topic is discussed. Or they can simply take the form of a short rest like a guided meditation. There are plenty of ways to incorporate brain breaks in the classroom, the method you choose will largely depend on the type of students in your class. I’ll discuss some of my favourite high school brain break activities in this article, give you some brain break ideas for high school and let you know where you can find some great brain break resources.  

Why are brain breaks for kids important?

I’m sure we’ve all been there – a looooong meeting, university class or presentation. We get bored, restless and yawny, why should we expect anything different from our students? Especially if it’s the last period of the day and they’ve been sitting in class for hours!  

Studies show that student lapses in in concentration occur more frequently as a lesson (particularly lecture or ‘chalk and talk’ style) continues. Shifting focus to something unrelated if only for a short time can improve mental clarity, therefore breaking up a lesson with brain breaks can help students refresh and in turn concentrate for longer. But what does that mean for your classroom?

How can brain breaks for students improve your classroom teaching?

The number one way that brain break activities can improve your classroom teaching is by improving student focus. Isn’t that the dream? A class full of bright-eyed and bushy tailed students! Of course, this isn’t a magical solution to the dilemma of the unfocused student but taking these short mental breaks can certainly help. 

When students are focused, they can become more engaged in the content of the lesson. Bonus points if your brain break activities are engaging in themselves! I personally like to use thought provoking or funny brain break activities.  

Engaging students is also the easiest way to improve behaviour in the classroom. Students who are actively engaged in the lesson are less likely to participate in off-task activities, therefore brain breaks for high school students can also help improve classroom management in your classroom.  

Finally, these activities can hugely benefit students with particular learning needs. I see huge benefit using these activities among my students with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Giving these students frequent short breaks after periods of sustained effort can lead to a more productive lesson overall.  

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What are some brain break activities for high school students? 

There are plenty of different formats you can use to deliver your brain breaks for high school students, here I’ll discuss my two favourites – brain break sticks and cubes. I’ll also discuss my favourite brain break activities. 

Brain break sticks

Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate brain breaks into your lesson is to use brain break sticks. These are questions or activities printed on sticks of cardboard or written on pop sticks. When a brain break is needed you can draw one of these from the container for your class to answer/complete.  

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Brain break cubes

Another great format for brain break activities is using brain break cubes. These are cubes with a different activity or action on each face. Students can roll the cube and perform the action or answer the question that is shown on the cube. This brain break format works better in small groups and provides more variety for the students. 

Brain break ideas – Would you rather…? 

Would you rather questions are super trendy in education at the moment! My students in particular like gross would you rather questions, like “would you rather drink a cup of snot or cup of sweat?”. Next time your students need a break pose one of these questions and watch the debate and laughs around the room! To see some other ways I use ‘would you rather’ questions, check out my article on starter activities.

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Brain break ideas – Non-googlable questions 

A non-googleable question is one which can’t be answered with a quick Google search. These questions stimulate curiosity and problem solving and challenges student thinking. An example of a non-googleable question is “Why do horror movies make us scared?”. These questions can break up a lesson by having students think about a different topic and can encourage classroom discussion and debate. 

Brain break ideas – moral dilemma questions 

A moral dilemma question is one in which you picture a difficult scenario and need to make a choice between what you believe is the morally right or wrong action – but there is no correct answer.  

An example of a moral dilemma question is: “You see a man rob a bank, but he doesn’t keep the money for himself, he gives it to orphaned children in need. If you tell the police who committed the crime the money will likely go back to the bank and not to the children in need. What do you do?” 

Again, this type of brain break question encourages plenty of classroom discussion and debate. 

Brain break ideas – physical activity brain break

Studies have shown that incorporating short exercise breaks in class can improve concentration of high school students. Short physical activity brain breaks that are easy to incorporate into the classroom are simple stretches, cardio which can be done on the spot such as jumping jacks/star jumps and yoga poses.  

Brain break ideas – mindfulness 

Another great brain break for high school students idea is to do a short mindfulness activity. I find these brain break activities to be particularly useful for my upper school students who are covering complicated and detailed topics – it gives them a moment to completely zone out and refresh.  

The Headspace YouTube channel has some great short guided meditation videos, I recommend starting with Find Your Focus Mini Meditation.

Another of my favourite mindfulness activities in the classroom is drawing your breath from creativity in therapy. Here students quietly grab a pencil and paper and close their eyes. They then try to draw a line that represents their breathing. Taking this quiet time out to focus on breathing can refresh students.  

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Where can you find brain breaks for high school students resources? 

I’m giving my blog audience the opportunity to download my Brain Break Sticks – Would you rather questions activity for free! This resource is exclusively available for free by signing up to my mailing list below. This resource contains 100 “would you rather” brain break questions that can be printed and made into brain break sticks – perfect for refreshing your students! I hope you try it out! And if you’re looking for more resources for high school students, check out my other blog posts, like Best Teaching Strategies for Science: Quiz Quiz Trade, for ideas.

You can also visit my store on Teachers Pay Teachers to check out my growing range of brain break  resources. 

Have you tried using brain break activities in your class? Do you use them differently?  

Comment and share below! 

If you’re looking for more strategies you can implement into your classroom check out my other tips for teachers.

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