Brain Break Idea

Andrew Snider sent this:
Hi Ben,
I was reading John Medina’s book Brain Rules and I had an idea to give students a brain break but stay in the target language. I call it ¿Vida o muerte? — Life or death?
After a 10-15 minute stretch in the TL, I give the students a life or death scenario and then ask whether the person lives or dies. The class votes by show of hands and we decide his/her fate democratically.
Example:
Clase, ¿Vida o muerte? — Class, Life or death?
Mario se echa delante de un tren. — Mario throws himself in front of a train.
(Now SLOW, repeat as necessary and pause for comprehension)
¿Vive? o ¿muere? — Does he live or does he die?
Hopefully the peeps on the PLC will like this brain break idea. I think it’s dynamite.
Andrew Snider

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39 thoughts on “Brain Break Idea”

  1. I like it. I hope more people will share L2 brain breaks . . . bonus points for brain breaks that can be done in L2 with minimal participation from the teacher (we need a break too). Maybe Alisa will explain “Pancho Camacho.” She shared this on moreTPRS last year and even had a video.

  2. Brain break = energy shift. I use mindfulness/breathing exercises / simple visualization a lot. It is minimal for the teacher in that it is simply a way to bring in some quiet attention. It requires no speaking response from the students. And by nature this type of thing is SUPER SLOW with lots of pauses for silence.
    it’s easy to make these up on the fly. you can even just read a previous skeletal class story to them with their eyes closed and have them gesture it as you read.
    whatever your personal practices are, bring those in very simply in a very short and limited way (i.e. martial arts, meditation, visualization, yoga, or even simple tense and release of muscles)
    Example: close your eyes or look at a spot on the floor (or desk) . bring your attention to your breath:” breathe slowly. notice your breathing. notice a rhythm. now make the breath longer. inhale and count to 3, exhale and count to 3. continue on your own (etc). try this for 30 sec and work up to longer time as appropriate for your group.
    variation to this…is to practice a longer exhale. 3 counts inhale, 4 exhale, etc over time, working toward doubling the length of exhale. you can share with them that if they feel anxious / jittery, a longer exhale is calming. alternatively if they feel sluggish or balanced, then use equal inhale / exhale. this is an exercise in balancing the nervous system! it’s legit neuroscience, shifting out of fight or flight mode and using breath to energize or calm. maybe you will need to explain this first in case of any discomfort or assumptions about ….whatever ppl assume 🙂
    OR similar thing with a more concrete focus. sometimes breath is difficult to use…so something like “bring your attention to your feet” bring your attention to where your feet contact the floor. move your toes. etc… use different body parts, place hand on head, shoulders, etc. i would do just a couple different body parts at a time. eventually you can work up to a complete body scan, head to toe or vice versa.
    if you have a chime or bell, have everyone close eyes or look down, ring the chime and have them raise their hand when they no longer hear it.
    or have them close eyes / gaze down….choose a sound they hear and bring all their attention to that sound. after a few seconds have them leave that sound and choose a different one. then have them choose another one, maybe closer to the body. can they hear their own breath? the point of this one is to practice choosing where your attention is. energy follows attention. you can choose where your attention is at any time. where do you choose? where do you want your energy going?
    these can take anywhere from 15 sec to several minutes…they are intended to be experiential, so there is no need to talk about them afterward. for best results in the nervous system, pick one of these and do it every day over a long period of time…actually carves new neural pathways!
    i have found the attention practices using sound to be pretty effective for teens bc it’s concrete and they “know what to do.”
    other brain breaks i do are “trivia” either random questions from “classroom folklore / stories” or any random trivia questions. or the “have you ever” type questions where kids are up and answering by stepping forward, etc or going to a different corner of the room.

  3. “you can even just read a previous skeletal class story to them with their eyes closed and have them gesture it as you read.” – Nice!
    My concern about the breathing exercises, and maybe this sounds silly, but wouldn’t this take already tired kids and make them more tired? I favor more movement to increase the energy.

  4. Here’s an L2 brain break that I think is still a brain break: I saw it somewhere else! Don’t know where. It needs a better name.
    All students stand at one end of the classroom. One student comes up with a phrase in the TL that can be mimed (using class gestures or silent acting). Said student tells the teacher that phrase (teacher adjusting if needed), and then goes to the opposite end of the room and begins to act it out.
    Teacher then acts as the gatekeeper: as other students have a guess about the phrase, they take turns whispering it to the teacher, who confirms or denies it. If they said the phrase, that student joins the one acting it out and acts it out as well. Eventually everyone ends up at the opposite end of the room.
    It’s enough movement and mental rest that it works well in my classes as a break.

  5. Nope, not silly Eric. These are definitely not one size fits all, and I wouldn’t recommend any of them unless you have tried them yourself. It is always wonky and awkward to try something you have only read about rather than experienced. That’s why it’s better to bring in something you know in your own body…an extension of yourself so that it is authentic.
    That said, there are specific practices that energize vs. calm. Pairing these with specific movements known to be energizing to the nervous system (i.e., anything where the chest is open rather than closed) is stimulating. So you can invent your own versions appropriate to you and your group. Since most people spend a large proportion of their days in “closed chest” position…texting, driving, sitting hunched over a table or screen, etc. there is great value and need in balancing this physical posture, not to mention the energetics of it!
    With your younger groups maybe make up your own shapes or have the kids make up their own versions in their own bodies…animals, trees, flowers, clouds, etc. You could narrate something and have them act it out using just the shapes of their bodies. I have done this with older kids as a paired activity too, where one partner reads the story and the other acts it out charade / mime style. then switch.
    lt’s pretty intuitive, closing your chest / heart / vital organ area (front body) is protective, introspective, and dials down. Opening up is energizing, stimulates the nervous system and is also vulnerable and even risky. You are your own expert in this…I’m sure you have a bag o’ tricks you use on yourself that you can adapt in class 🙂 Or something that naturally emerges from a story or movie talk or class “inside joke,” etc.

    1. This is exactly what I did today with my young kids, without having read your post. Tomorrow I will add what you suggest Jen, opening of the chest, taking a deep breath, calm and centered.
      The kids acted out random words that I called out and mimicked the shape with their bodies. Arms streched out for tree, on our hands and knees for table, squatting for chair etc Sometimes we
      shape out the letters of the alphabet with our whole body. It keeps the kids busy for a few minutes and quiet.

  6. So brain breaks should not allow use of L1, is what I am thinking. They are quick body centered rests in class to drop the previous 20 min. of input into the deeper mind and then back to work. Hop on one foot five times and you’re done. That’s the way I see brain breaks. Polluting that transfer of L2 information from the conscious mind/desktop to the unconscious mind/hard drive with use of L1 during the brain break would seem to me insulting to the process. L1 – excepting those rare moments when it serves to clarify things to students – is about ego. It can mess up a brain break just as quickly as it can mess up a CI class.

    1. I admire your no-L1 initiative, Ben. As a general principle: the more CI, the more acquisition.
      Our methods (TPR, TPRS, and MovieTalk) are so engaging and CAN involve a lot of movement, such that I don’t see the difference between continuing the TPR/continuing the story and switching to a L2 brain break. Unless, the break is less language-dense, especially if silent. Then, it’s a break for the brain from L2 processing.
      I understand the fear of a slippery slope, but if it is not so slippery for some teachers, then I don’t think using L1 pollutes or does any harm to the previously heard L2 nor harm to any future L2. In fact, it can be a benefit. Keep reading . . .
      I am totally guilty of using some L1 to get kids to like me. And I do not see that as a negative. I think relationships between teacher-student and between students is MOST important and will determine how much acquisition happens. And in teaching beginners, especially elementary and middle school, then some L1 humor and L1 bonding enhances the acquisition and doesn’t take away.
      It is precisely in the classes in which we have these amazing relationships in which we can stay longer in the L2. My 7th grade is absolutely amazing. The best 2 sections I’ve ever taught. I genuinely look forward to them and it doesn’t feel like “work” to me in any sense. I am skeptical that I could have created that dynamic with only L2 use. Maybe I’m not good enough at TCI yet to create those kinds of relationships using only L2, but maybe also that just wouldn’t be possible in only L2.

  7. That use of L1 is shared by Joe Dzietzic here in DPS. We’ve talked about it a lot. It’s surely going to be an individual thing. For me the slippery slope of L1 out of L2 is just too steep, I guess.

  8. I wonder how much of the brain break is a need for movement.
    It is recommended that every ten minutes we stand up. Sitting is unhealthy and regular workouts do not offset the negative consequences of extended sitting. But frequent movement does.
    http://search.mercola.com/results.aspx?q=sitting
    In some classes students have permission to stand up and move to the side or the back of the room. All other rules are still in place, but this can be helpful for students with greater movement needs and for those who did not get a full night’s sleep.

    1. This is a great thought. How can we get everyone more movement in our classes? There is beginning a movement to get schools standing desks (http://standupkids.org/) because of this. I’ve wondered how I could get them standing just for normal class time now without those desks since only for a few min a class (quick quiz) do they need something to write on. My concern is how to keep some order among them but that concern for order (while necessary) shouldn’t overtake the need to human beings to be moving around and standing. We (let alone kids) can’t focus long if we are just sitting in a chair the whole time. I think this is a key piece for getting kids (especially young ones) to focus and listen well.

  9. I have a couple brain breaks I like that I stole from an elementary PE teacher. One is doing jumping jacks but when your body is straight with arms above head, that position is called “pencil”and when you are legs apart and arms apart that position is called “star”. So one person calls out “star, pencil, star, pencil, star, pencil” and the students jump in time with the commands. In between each one, the students count. So it goes like this:
    Caller: Star, pencil!
    Students: One!
    Caller: Star, pencil!
    Students: Two!
    etc…..
    The other one I call “Rainbow”. You start with hands together and make a big swoop overhead, first one hand with the other following to the other side. As you do that you say “Rainnnbowww”, and the students answer “one!”, two, etc….
    All of this is in TL, of course.
    After these I usualy say “a big hug!” and students give themselves (and sometimes each other) a big hug, which crosses the hemispheres of the brain.
    It’s a quick stretch and brain break.

    1. I found an amazing brain break yesterday on aprendemosjuntos.weebly.com under rimas. It is Don pepino rhyme. This patty cake type activity crosses the hemispheres also. This is one of my favorite sites. She is an amazing teacher. I started it today and it was a huge success.

        1. I found it through moretprs in fact she just posted about ugly Betty episodes. I’ve never seen them but plan on watching and I think she asked if anyone wanted to collaborate on lessons for it. I have a third and fourth year class and am interested.

  10. Another fun brain break is the different high-5 permutations. There’s up high, down low, fists, and then there are lots of others that the students know. I use “turkey”, “snail” and “jellyfish”. you can google them to see how to do them.

    1. Just to be clear – and please send more Angie – these chances to get out of their desks for a minute every ten minutes or so in class may seem to us no more than another thing that is gaining interest and validity in our CI classes. To the kids, however, it is the WORLD. I’m not going to forget this Brain Break deal, where they don’t use L1 and move around a lot. I’m feelin’ it on the brain breaks.

  11. These are perfect Angie because they involve movement (thank you Nathaniel for that Mercola link!) and no speech from the kids. If they blurt a little in English during such brain breaks as those you describe, who cares? The teacher gets to teach words like rainbow – not that there are any CI kids in middle schools anywhere who don’t know that word – and the kids get the movement out of their chair. This is good. Let’s not miss the mercola.com information. This is revolutionary. Getting kids jumping or moving every ten minutes. That is revolutionary. I would like to see one administrator complain about that when doing an observation. They would be, to quote Napoleon Dynamite, an IDIOT.

  12. I had an observer (not language teacher) -unexpectedly- watch my 1st grade class,the most active group I may ever have taught. The kids were unphased by the other adult, and true to themselves. We stayed in L2 the whole time, pointed to the English word if necessary, and 2 kids had to get up to touch the magic door beyond which no English is spoken. Anyhow, the observer later told my division head how impressed he was. And said: “Had I only learned French in High School -that way- I could speak it”. I can count on one hand the feed-back I’ve gotten over the years. It feels good once in a while doesn’t it?

    1. Great to hear, Catharina! 15 or so Spanish teachers in the past couple of years at my current school have quit or been let go and I think that is due, in large part, to getting little positive feedback. I take it as a serious responsibility of mine to help turn that around.
      As a former English and History teacher I am proud to call myself a Spanish teacher now. Despite how enriching I found studying literature and history with students, it is in the field of foreign languages that our work for social justice and progress is most needed.
      Keep it going for all of us Catharina!

    2. Just yesterday at Thomas Jefferson High in our learning lab Sabrina told exactly the same story, Catharina, but about a tough principal. She was new to the school and walking around intimidating people. She observed Nina Barber and Sabrina in the first week and after that day met with both of them. She expressed her pleasure at what she saw, unique use of the L2, involvement of the kids, etc. and said, as Sabrina said it, the exact same words – “Had I only learned French in High School in that way I could speak it”.
      Now Catharina another question. Could you elaborate on the magic door? Me likey!

      1. Little kids seem to accept “rules” better in my class if I make it into a game. We already have dangerous waters/swamps surrounding our island-mini carpets. Now we have a magic door (credit stone ages) beyond which we get super FL powers. As soon as the kids enter the room they cannot (hmm) talk in L1 any longer. We demo by pretending to call the school receptionist, L1 on one side of the threshold, L2 on the other. If I let them we could easily do this for 30 minutes straight. Kids laugh at the silliest things. If a kid blurts in L1 I firmly tell them to go touch the “magic door” (in the TL). With my 3rd graders this is super lame, but I don’t care. They actually need it the most, and gentle reminders did nothing to stop blurting.This silly trick will last for… until I must come up/borrow another gimmick. It’s the nature of teaching elementary. I like Eric H’s idea of pushing the chair (mini carpet) back. I’ll try that next.
        Sean is so right about feedback, preferably 100% positive 🙂 We were talking about this very aspect at our PLC lunch yesterday. Nothing motivates like success (Susie Gross). True for kids. But also teachers.

        1. Oh and I forgot. Sean, you must have had your baby by now? Did I miss that post? Boy? Girl? Name? Height? Weight? 10 fingers and toes?

          1. Our first newborn, a baby boy named Isaiah, was born last Thursday, Feb 12. It was a planned C section 2 1/2 weeks early, weighing in at 7 lbs 11 oz. 20 cm long. All 10 fingers and toes. Long fingers! We are so blessed. My wife, Candice, is recovering nicely.
            We have lots of family around. I swear, a big part of me taking time off from work is to help introduce Isaiah to all our loving family members. We are so blessed.
            Thanks Catharina and everyone!
            It’s hard to go back to work, but easier knowing that God’s light shines inside me and that I might help my students see God’s light shining inside themselves.

  13. You have been surrounded by people with less vision. No blame. God bless them and all of us. But you Catharina are a true diamond in the rough. You won’t be appreciated, because the rough can’t appreciate the diamond. This is true, alas, for many of the practicing professionals scattered around the country doing CI who through their daily efforts are raising the language education bar higher and higher. And who cares if the adults can see what we are doing? We are not doing this work for the adults, nor for the money. We are doing this work because we have a vision of a better, happier society, and that work always starts with the kids.

  14. Love you all so much! What a great group, thinking all the time on behalf of the kids.
    Brain breaks: I’ve been reminded lately about the “four corners choice” activity. It’s a quick break. If you have 2, 3, or 4 great ideas in a story, the class can “vote” by going to a corner or part of the room to show their choice. Makes them move, and once they’re there, they can come up with good reasons for that choice, or just run back and sit down.
    Running dictation (Jason Fritze’s brainchild) is another good movement activity. I also just came up with running spelling fixes. (Yeah, grammar queen raises her ugly head.) Each group has a large-type copy of a text that has about five mistakes. One runner comes to the front of the room or outside in the hall or wherever the text is to try to find a mistake. They fix that, and then the next kid runs out to read the correct text and try to find an error. Sometimes they can fix it on their own. That’s fine too, but they still have to check. When they think it’s completely right, they show it to me, and then they get to go lurk with other groups.

    1. Michele,
      Can I share your spelling idea? I’ll be sure to credit you. I think it would be good in an inflected language to get students to pay attention to the endings. If I remember correctly, you teach Russian and that too is an inflected language like Latin.

  15. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I just tried the only Spanish 5-A-Day brain break video I could find for free on Youtube- the Hula. It was a great success! Even the naysayers /too cool to hula were ear-to-ear smiling throughout.
    My questions:
    Has anyone found more Spanish movement/dance/exercise free online videos (from 5-a-day or other)?
    If you got a paid subscription, how much is it actually (the site lists it in foreign currency)?
    I submitted these questions to 5-A-Day, but thought I’d ask my peeps first before taking the plunge $$.

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