Wednesday, July 29, 2015

3 Great Brain Breaks for your Elementary School Classroom

Hello fellow teachers! Today I want to give you some ideas for brain breaks and “sponge activities” - activities we use to “soak up” extra time. I always try to have my plans cover every bit of time to maximize content covered, but sometimes the kids - or the teacher! - get too squirrely, and you need a break! Or, as a sub, I find that I sometimes have a bit of extra time. I like to hold that over my students’ heads as a reward for excellent behavior. Anywho, here are a few of my favorite brain breaks and sponge activities!

  1. Around the World
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Supplies: Flash cards, BrainQuest questions, or you can just make up questions as you go!
Grade level: Any

Around the World is a pretty simple, whole class activity that gives you a chance to practice facts with your students. I usually use math facts - addition with younger students, multiplication with older students - but you can use whatever problems or questions you want.

Here’s how you play: You have two students stand up at their seats, next to each other. Show/ask the students a problem. The two students who are up will try to come up with the answer quickest. Whichever one calls the correct answer first goes on to the next student. If the traveling student gets the answer wrong, the other student will take his place and the wrong student will take his seat. This keeps going until one student makes it all the way “Around the World” and gets the correct answer against every other student, or until you’re out of time.

2. Silent Ball
Time needed: 10+ Minutes
Supplies: Playground ball
Grade level: Any

Silent Ball is lots of fun. It’s not really educational, but it’s a good way to get the wiggles out and get a bit of quiet. It can be played inside the classroom or outside and all you need is a somewhat soft ball.

Gameplay is simple. If we’re playing inside, I have students sit on top of their desks facing the middle of the room. Outside, I’ll have the students form a circle. Students pass the ball back and forth without it landing on the floor. If the student who throws it makes a bad throw and as a result, the catcher couldn’t catch it, then the thrower is out. If it was a fair throw but the catcher didn’t catch it, then the catcher is out. And, most importantly, if you make ANY noise, you are out. Depending on the class, I find that to be the hardest rule for the students to follow.

If I have plenty of time, I’ll let the students play until the last person gets out and there is only one winner left. I always give that student a prize from my prize box. If I’m shorter on time, I’ll play until there are 5 students left in play. You can make the game a little more complicated by adding more rules. Sometimes I’ll tell the students the ball has to go boy-girl-boy-girl, because it makes them pay more attention. Overall, it’s a fun game, a good reward, and a bonus is it is a quiet activity.

3. Guess Who
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Supplies: Premade name cards
Grade level: Any

This game is sort of like the games Headbands, Heads Up, or Taboo. It’s easy to alter for any age or grade level, and any subject. I often play this game with characters from a book, but you could also do historical figures, numbers, or really any concept. It’s very easily adapted for different purposes.

Before playing, you will need to do a bit of setup. Grab some index cards and think of a topic. Write down the name of a character (historical figure, number, etc) on each card. For example, if I as making cards for the book Maniac Magee, I would write one name on each card: Jeffrey, Amanda, Mrs. Beale, Bow-Wow, Mars Bar, Russel, Piper, Hands Down. Once you have the cards prepared, you’re ready to play.

Give each student a card, face down so the student can’t see his character. Instruct the students to hold the card up against their forehead, so that the people looking at him can read the card. Give students a few minutes to wander around and help each other guess which character they have. For example, if the student has the “Amanda” card, you would go up and give the student clues like “This character lives in the East End. This character lets Jeffrey borrow a book. This character has a brother named Lester.” After a few minutes, have the students gather around in a circle and ask each one if they figured out their character!

I love this game because it’s fun, quick, and pretty easy to set up, plus it’s curriculum related and can be a way to develop content knowledge in a fun and interesting way. And, as I said, it can be adapted to suit any need. You could give each student a number, and the other students have to use clues like “It is a composite number. It is a multiple of 6.” to guess. Or in social studies. “This person led three ships across the Atlantic Ocean. He was sent by the King and Queen of Spain. He landed in the Caribbean in the year 1492.” And so on. The possibilities are endless!

So these are a few of my favorite sponge activities or brain breaks! What brain breaks do you like to use in your classroom? Feel free to comment below!

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