If you’ve ever been in the middle school classroom you will know that being a middle school teacher is not work for the faint of heart. There is a wide range of students who sit before you, hormones are flying, and you may or may not have a weird smell issue. But in this time of turmoil for the students, it’s important that we make sure that we are meeting their needs as best as we possibly can in the classroom, especially by giving them short breaks to help level out their energy levels. Brain Breaks for Middle School are incredibly important and a fun way to do this, and here’s why…
The science behind the middle school brain
During this time in their life, young adolescents go through a monstrous amount of brain growth and development. Coupled with everything else that we know about the importance of brain breaks, it’s absolutely pivotal that we make sure we are doing everything we can for middle schoolers, as their brains are going through rapid amounts of changes and physical activity (no matter how large or small) is a great way to refocus task behavior during the school day.
Brain breaks for middle school may actually be more important than any other grade level we are teaching.
At this time in their developmental age, adolescents are going from extremely concrete thinking to having the ability to think abstractly. They’re learning how to reason, problem-solve, and are developing the ability to have high-order thinking. It is when they start learning impulse control (though I’m sure many of us who have interacted with middle schoolers can debate that one).
According to an article published by the NEA, “This period of brain growth marks the beginning of a person’s ability to do problem-solving, think critically, plan, and control impulses. This brain development cycle also impacts short-term memory. A middle school student can generally retain from 5 to 7 bits of information at one time…The more engaged and “rich” the new information, the more likely it is that the new information will be retained.“
Physical and Mental Growth
Middle school students are also going through a hormonal change, which is causing sudden shifts in emotions and moods. Students may be experiencing a huge surge of hormones that drive them to want to fit in with their peers. During this time they’re trying desperately to build new relationships with others as well. They might be trying out different social groups and organizations, just to see which one fits.
Sometimes it’s a matter of matching up the right hand with what the left hand is doing, and as teachers, we can help them through this.
It’s a lot of change happening all at once, and their brains need as much attention as possible to push this growth into fullness; enter a quick brain break opportunity.
If we can start harnessing the power behind brain breaks for middle school, then perhaps we can help pave the path for our students to have a better quality of life and success when they leave the middle school years and become high school students.
We can help them to be more successful in their learning by breaking up our teaching periods with brain breaks, which could include physical breaks (cha-cha slide, anyone?), music stops, yoga poses, and other options that don’t take much time, but are such a good idea for our “getting” older students. Though at this time, educators may not be focusing on giving students a proper brain break activity (which could lead to some behavioral issues), it is still important to understand how the brain works.
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The ability to analyze information increases significantly during the adolescent years, and it continues to increase until we are in our mid-20’s. Not only are middle school students learning how to think critically, but they also have different brain parts that begin to mature. The frontal lobes, which play a major role in planning and reasoning, are developing into the thinking centers of the brain. We can also look at the emotional center of the brain for middle school students. They’re going through an important phase that correlates with maturity. We can use this information as part of our plan for giving them regular breaks to help both students’ brains and students’ hearts.
As we begin working on different concepts in any subject area, young adolescents bring their vastly increased analytical skills to any problem. The ability for individuals in this age group to engage in critical-thinking skills allows them to take a problem apart and play with it in their minds. This level of thinking also applies to individuals who are functioning within both social and academic arenas.
As we continue our research on the middle school brain, we can use this information to help create more effective brain breaks for middle school students. Again, these can be a simple movement break, quick game, or just a mental break.
Given this information, it is now possible for the student to be able to focus deeper on the material, but not for longer periods of time. If they are very engaged and interested in what they are learning, this process will go better.
Trying to have them sit still and process this is where the trouble will lie. Given all this information, it is so obvious that brain breaks for middle school are absolutely vital to their learning success.
The teachers need for brain breaks for middle school
We know middle school students are trying to “find themselves” in every way possible as they advance from elementary school, thus the struggles of adolescence begin. The first way we openly see them doing this? Finding their voices.
Good grief…transitions are HARD in the middle school classroom. The second they find an opportunity, they are chatting up a storm. Seat friends away from one another? No problem…they’ll just talk louder so they can hear one another (I see you nodding…).
This isn’t just a social thing, though. This is a way for their physiological need to move manifesting in a way that is easy for them. They are also at that in-between where they want to play, but also want to be cool. Talking is the easiest way for their brains to find a middle ground that is acceptable to their peers.
I’m sorry to say, in those middle school years what their peers think is often more important than what you think (a little “growth mindset” for the adults in the room).
If we are meant to help our students navigate this thing called life, wouldn’t it make sense to start teaching them ways that they can self-regulate their need to move? If we give them the tools to learn appropriate ways to take their movement needs into consideration in terms of appropriate physical activities, we are giving them tools to last them a lifetime.
Helping Energize OR Wind Down (or both)
We’ve all seen the kid who just can’t sit still, right? We’ve seen them get up in the middle of class to run around, only needing an opportunity. They aren’t asking for permission…they are just doing it and likely don’t even realize they have done anything wrong. This is true of students of all ages, but it is up to us as the leaders in the responsive classroom to create work tasks that help them burn this excess energy (or even the opposite, boost students’ energy when necessary).
The real problem is that they are likely not getting the brain breaks they need at this time of day. Not only does the body need to move, but so do the brains of our adolescents. Teaching them skills to self-regulate their movement needs will allow them to take care of one of their most basic needs…and it will also allow you to get through a class period with fewer interruptions. This is why brain breaks for middle school are so important.
The teachers I work with have found that giving these students brain breaks and movement opportunities actually ends up making them better listeners for the rest of the class period. They are calmer, more able to focus for longer periods of time, and generally just better behaved overall once they have had a chance to move.
This is why I am such a big advocate of brain breaks for middle school in the classroom and movement opportunities whenever possible. From neurotypical students to students with ADHD, social-emotional disorders (like Asperger’s), sensory processing disorder, you name it…they ALL benefit from these things because their brains need more movement throughout the day.
We all know to take a break and move around during the day. We have our power walks, our recesses, etc. But we also need to know that if there is one group of students that is going to benefit from movement opportunities more than any other group in the classroom…it’s middle school (and some high school) students with their newfound ability to talk on and on and not be bothered by anyone telling them to stop. Brain breaks for middle school are critical for what we want these students to focus on, and we give them the opportunity they need to focus for longer periods of time by providing that movement.
If there was ever a time when teachers needed to be flexible and creative, it’s middle school. It’s a difficult time for students in many ways…but we can help them get through the day with much less struggle if we remember that their brains are still developing, they are newly able to express themselves verbally, and they need movement opportunities more than any other group of students.
Brain breaks for middle school ideas that work
Middle school is a slippery slope with what the students will buy into. You have some that will be all in for whatever game you throw at them, and yet others who act as if they are too cool for anything. Just as in any other grade, you must know your students to know what is going to work for them. I assure you though, there are brain breaks for middle school that WILL work for your students.
Our list of 5 brain break ideas is perfect for middle school as there are some options that are a little “older” and some that are still on the “younger” end. Again, you can adapt ANY of the options to what works for your particular classroom of students.
In middle school you can certainly get away with having a spontaneous dance party, taking a walk around the school, or playing quick games like “I Spy” or “charades”.
Our list is not the end-all-be-all of brain breaks by far, but you can at least start out with some ideas and find out what works, and what doesn’t, for your particular class. From there, you can add new ideas. The possibilities are endless.
There are also a plethora of books that you can look at they give you a ton of different ideas. One of our favorites is called “Refocus and Recharge! 50 Brain Breaks for Middle Schoolers” (ad). All of these ideas can be amended for the students in your classroom. If you have students that are a little bit more on the immature side, you can craft your brain race to meet their needs.
If you have ones on the opposite side of the spectrum who are very mature for their age or at least think they are you can certainly tweak to appeal to their needs as well.
Here is our list of 5 brain breaks for middle school ideas that work.
This is a classic option and one that you have to include when you are brainstorming ideas for your classroom. All you need are some chairs, mats, or pillows to sit on during stretching time. You can even assign some stretches if you want to get more out of this brain break (and they can be as simple as “put your left hand on your right knee”). You could use these as a way to work on some stretches for the next physical education class or just see what your students can do!
2) Quick Card Game
If you have students who are interested in cards or even games that are super simple to play like “War”, then having this brain break can be a lifesaver during those moments where you need to stop and get the students’ minds working again. Maybe keep a fast board game or two accessible. Having a classic game at their disposal for those “in-between” times can make all the difference.
3) Quick Walk Around
The idea behind a walk-around is to release some of that natural energy in your classroom. For this brain break, you should tell them if there are any specific things they are NOT allowed to do while walking around the school. This might include running down hallways or pushing other students to “force” them into doing it.
The idea behind dancing is kind of like a card game, you just need a little bit of music and space for your kids to have fun with each other while they dance! That’s it, just some music and dance moves. they would be willing to break out You can even make this better by having a small dance contest at the end! You can also use songs that are already made for elementary students so you don’t have to worry about offending anyone in your class if they hear something too mature. You can have them bounce along to specific dancing brain break videos or just some great movement songs on Pandora or YouTube.
5) All-in Game
This one is actually based on one of my favorite brain break activities. You can play the classic “Red light, Green Light” with all kinds of twists and turns to keep your students entertained! All you need is some way to count down from 5 and start again (you could probably even use the interactive board if you have it.) Keep an eye out for the type of students you have in the class and what would work for them. This could even change depending on which grade level you teach!
Remember, that there are a million different ways to create brain breaks for your classroom. Just because these work or didn’t work for you, doesn’t mean that they won’t work for someone else. You just have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and try new things! Once you find brain breaks for middle school that work, they’ll be the game changer you have been searching for in terms of both behavior management and student success.
The number one factor when crafting brain breaks for middle school…
As always, the key with whatever brain breaks for middle school you choose is to be certain it gets your students moving in some fashion. You want to make sure their blood is pumping and oxygen is circulating. The purpose of a brain break is to either energize or relax the student by doing just this.
As mentioned before, our students today are physically unlike students in the past. With the ever-increasing number of screens at their disposal, the basic core strength that most other generations had as children is gone.
They PHYSICALLY don’t have the ability to focus for long periods of time. Their muscles aren’t strong enough for it. We need to perpetually keep this in mind and give them opportunities to move and stretch to compensate for what we cannot control.
When brain breaks for middle school are successful, you’ll notice that your students are more focused and more able to complete their work appropriately. You’ll notice that there’s less daydreaming and they’re more apt to finish the assignment at hand.
In Middle School when all of these have a tendency to be an issue, brain breaks are just a small thing that we can do in the classroom to help our students excel.
Remembering Your “Why”
We all became teachers because we want to see our students become the best versions of themselves, so if we can just take a few minutes here and there throughout the day to implement something as easy as a brain break, it’s the absolute least that we can do to help a point are students in the right direction.
Middle School is such a pivotal time for our students and we need to do everything that we can to make sure that we are helping them become the best versions of themselves. Brain breaks for middle school help reduce stress and provide opportunities for improvement and also teaches the students how to police themselves to know when they do in fact need a moment to collect themselves.
As time progresses, you can certainly have individualized brain break opportunities where the students can police themselves whenever they realize that they need a few minutes to get themselves together.
Do you have a favorite brain break for your middle school students (or maybe are looking for an engaging activity)? Let us know in the comments below.
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