Episode 18: Best Brain Breaks for Back to School

brain breaks podcast Sep 06, 2022
Back to school

Sharing the Brain Breaks I prioritize at the beginning of the year. These are great for:

  •  Building Community
  • Structuring systems and routines ESSENTIAL for Classroom Management

Whether you teach Elementary, Middle or High School I think you'll LOVE them! 

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Welcome to Teaching la vida loca, a podcast for World Language Teachers seeking inspiration, unapologetic authenticity and guidance in centering joy and facilitating language acquisition for the people who matter most our students, I'm your host, Annabel. Most people call me La maestra loca. And I'm an educator just like you, and inspiring teachers is what I do. Hello, and welcome to episode 18 of teaching la vida loca. I'm going into my sixth week of school this week, which I know might seem like, wow, for those of you who are just starting today's Labor Day, and I wanted to record this podcast to introduce the various brain breaks, I have started in my class since the beginning of the year, keeping in mind that these are students who have never had me before. I think these are great brain breaks to start with whether you are starting with brand new students, or starting with students who have had you before. These are brain breaks that help build community, and really are integral and absolutely so vitally important for the systems and classroom management portion of my class. 

Introduction to Brain Breaks 

For example, earlier this week, I was being observed by my principal, and by another person on the admin team. And the feedback they gave me when this child was in crisis and really struggling was that it was amazing that I was able to stay as positive as I was and help that child, while class went on seamlessly without me even paying attention to the other students because I was able to engage them in a brain break that they had already learned in a unique and different way so that it felt novel to them. And it helped them totally engage while I was able to help the student who was really struggling. So I want to introduce those to you. So far, I've introduced just four brain breaks to my students. But because of the variations of those brain breaks, it feels like probably 10 separate brain breaks to them. So in this episode, I'm going to introduce all four to you and a couple of variations to help keep those brain breaks seeming novel, and interesting for all of your kids. These Brain Breaks are great for elementary, middle and high school students. I have gone from teaching middle school back to teaching elementary, but these are brain breaks I also used when I taught high school. Actually, there's a couple of them that I didn't know about when I was teaching high school, but I have seen other high school teachers use them. I hope they are awesome and useful to you. And this should make up for my lack of a brain break in my last few episodes. Here we go.

Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! 

The first brain break I want to introduce to you is Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!. If you have watched any of my YouTube videos, you have probably seen Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! in action many times, it is definitely my number one go to brain break. And it's actually the one I default to most. It's why I have to have a running list of brain breaks at the back of my class at all times. So that I don't just do this one over and over. Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!is called that because I don't want to say rock paper scissors in my class, because that's a lot of language for my novices. Awesome. After a few years if you've had students for a while, and they are intermediate amid and saying Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! is not complicated in your Spanish class, then great, go for it. But for my novices, there's no need for a brain break that is supposed to be a rest in the rigor of the class to incorporate lots of language. So instead of saying Rock, Paper, Scissors, they say 123 ¡Dale!, in French, you could say on the clavo Hola. And Chinese you could say er, son, boy. And I'm sure you can think of other ones have you teach other languages. So basically, they just go around and play Rock Paper, Scissors with different people in the classroom. Every single time I introduce a brain break, I model it with students, I cannot stress to you the importance of modeling enough model everything. If you are noticing that 40% of the class or more are not doing what you wanted them to do. It's probably on you. It's probably because you didn't model exactly what it was you wanted. You have to show them exactly what it should look like and sound like in order for them to do it. Right. And I'm not just talking about for elementary students, for everybody. If you're feeling frustrated that your sophomores are still not doing it right, before you get really frustrated with them. pause and think hmm, did I actually model physically model this and exactly what I wanted them to do. So when I introduce one of those traits that ally, I say, hey, has anybody played rock paper scissors raise your hand if you have. And then I pick out one student who has. I call them up to me and I said, let's play in Spanish. We say Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!. Ready? Let's do Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!. Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!. And we play a few times. And I say great. What beats rock, what beats paper, what beats scissors just to clarify, in case anybody is confused. If you teach adults, though much slower with that many adults have not played rock, paper scissors. That's always fascinating to me. And then you just say great, stand up and play with five other people. If you do this, and it's chaotic, like it probably will be if you teach elementary, you need to worry if you're anticipating it, you need to model what the movement will look like. Great, everybody sit down. Let's try that again. I need four volunteers. Watch how this happens. Y'all play Uno, dos, tres, de la, y'all play. And so they're partnered up, and they're playing. And then I say as soon as one person has one, go and find a new partner, watch their movement, watch how they are safe and calm with their bodies. And then they move to find a new person, they're safe and calm. Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!, awesome, go and sit back down. Watch how they walk calmly to their seats. Again, modeling every single portion exactly as you want to see it that might not be necessary for your middle and high school students depending on how wired or crazy the class is. If you heard that mommy in the background, that was Memphis waking up for naps. So we're going to try and record this again, now that we have a few hours has passed. So once they have that down, you can use that brain break whenever you need it, you can literally just say Class A stand up Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! with at least five different people level one, I always tell my students what noise level or volume level I want them to play at. Because it can honestly control again, classroom management. If things feel really wired, I'm going to say level one because that's at the volume of a whisper. And then I'm going to remind them if it's louder than a level one I'm going to stop everybody was my call response I'll say hola hola. They say in hola. Everybody pauses and I say clase. That sounds more like a level two. Let' try that again at a level one. And I'll remember to if I didn't model it first. That's probably why it's not staying at a level one. So that's just an extra tip. 

Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! with feet! 

Once you know Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! well, and they've done it a lot with their hands. The next variation I like to add is doing Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! with their feet. The way you do this is I'll go ahead and include a video and a blog to all of these brain breaks in the show notes. But the feet are basically you jump Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale!. And when you land on ¡Dale!, your feet are either closed and together under you, that's rock, shoulder with the part under you and that's paper or one foot in front of the other that scissors. Again, this might be more clear if you see a visual representation of it. You can find that in the show notes. But kids jump up and down. Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! and then land either feet together, feet shoulder width apart, or one foot in front of the other for rock paper scissors. Of course they love this same thing they go around the classroom, find different people to play with. And then they sit down after the brain break is over. 

Transitions & Serpientes 

To transition kids out of a brain break, before they ever sit down, I always do my call response. Because they know when I do my call response that doesn't mean go back to your sit in your seat and sit quietly. That means pause what you're doing. Turn to face me voice level zero. Pause your body face me so that they're looking at me with their eyes. Level zero so that they can hear the next instruction because it might not be go back to your seat. But it's an important way to transition them, let's say into another activity on to the next space or whatever it is you're doing. The next variation of this that I've already introduced is Serpientes. This is also called I can't remember there's another thing another thing that people call this, if you took Responsive Classroom training, then you probably know it as a different entourage maybe as a different name. But the idea is you follow each other around if you lose so for example if you are playing versus me and your name is Taj I'm Annabelle we play Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! if I beat you Taj is now following me saying Annabelle Annabelle Annabelle Annabelle chanting my name. I find another person to play with I find Julia I play Juliet Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! if I beat Juliet now Julia and the press And that was following jeulia Get behind Taj and they're all chanting my name and about Annabelle Annabelle Annabelle. Now I find journey journey has five people following her. Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! Sally journey Beats me. So I attached to the back of journeys train, and I start chanting journey journey and all the people that were behind me are also chanting journey journey. My students loved this brain break, but I have not done it a single time with any other class since. Not because it was poorly modeled, but because students were not okay with losing and following somebody the whole time. So they've kind of sneak away and start again from ground Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! playing somebody else. And I was like, oh, no, if we're not gonna follow the rules of the game, we're not playing that one again for a while. So they were very clear clear on the rules. We have modelled it, and they just weren't ready for it. They've asked for it daily since and I'm just gonna wait a little while it felt a little loud and crazy anyways, and we'll come back to it. I know they want to play and hopefully next time we play, everybody's gonna follow the rules. Exactly. If that was a way too quick explanation of that brain break. Don't worry. Again, video and blog are linked in the show notes so you can learn more about Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! or Serpientes. 

Choco choco la la 

The next the next brain break I want to talk to you about is choco choco la la. I learned this from Sarah Broussard, who learned it from musi cuentas blog. And basically it's what I call a hand jive. That's what my students know it as. I've only introduced it as choco latte which is a four syllable word in Spanish that means chocolate. But you can do this with any four syllable words. My French teaching friends I've heard them do show cola show like hot chocolate. I've heard them do a legal tour. I'm so sorry, my friend so bad. But you could do it with alligator in Spanish. You can do any four syllables, muddy post, choco latte, Guatemala, Mauna Kea are so many examples. In Chinese, I would do well Yorkshire fun, I want to eat food. Literally possibilities are endless. But the idea is you start with a fist bump choco choco to fist bumps open hand high five, chocolate chip La La had to think about it. And then closed fist again choco choco reverse high five so it's slapping the backsides of your hands with somebody else. They they and then again, choco closed fist, LA, open high five. Choco close with de Baca backwards, high five. Choco choco lot day, this feels impossible to model on a podcast, I'm realizing. So the YouTube videos and blog will be essential for you to understand this one. But I love it because again, it's an opportunity for kids to interact with multiple people in our classroom community, our community to BB what that is, is that in our classroom community I'm not editing that out in our classroom community, moving around playing choco choco Lala, I have not done this one in three and a half years because the pandemic, I've been reintroducing it, I have hand sanitizer all around my room. I encourage kids to use it before and after. But they are so happy to have it and be introduced to it. They're loving it. I'm loving reusing it, it's been great. 

The Name Game

The third brain break I want to introduce to you is called the name game. The name game is epic for the beginning of the year, because it teaches you names. I actually introduced it to my students in week four. So I had already learned most of their names. I just wanted to make sure that I had my classroom management systems down pat with these elementary schoolers. Before I introduced the name game, I did not feel nearly as solid as I have with my middle schoolers and previous years. I feel like with high schoolers, you should introduce this week one. Students get into a big circle, or in my class, I've been doing two to three circles. You want between, I don't know eight and 10 people per circle. And they spread out so that they have plenty of space and they can see everybody in the circle. You give one person in each circle if you have multiple circles, a stuffy or a ball. When I say stuffy I have you know a million stuffed unicorns in my classroom. So I give one person in the circle a stuffed unicorn. They pass that stuffed animal to anybody else in their circle as they say their name. So again, Journey passes passes to Tosh. Taj then passes to Sadiq Sadiq then passes to Adriana. Adriana then passes to Emily, Emily's going to pass to somebody else, and on and on until everybody in the circles has had it. And then it gets passed to the original person again, to Germany, when Germany receives it again, Johnny's gonna pass it back to the exact same person she did the first time, the only thing that kids have to remember is who they pass it to. Because they're going to keep passing it to the exact same person, every time saying their name. Something I've had to definitely model and be clear about with my elementary school students that I never really had to worry about with middle, or high school or adults, is we're doing a gentle underhand toss. And our bodies are remaining calm, even when we get excited, our bodies are gonna remain calm. quadruples, come models, because they get, I don't know what it is about being in a circle and passing something around. All of a sudden, their bodies are so wiggly and jumpy and so excited, like, oh my gosh, this is so dense. So they're passing this object around to the same person that they did before you're looking for as the teacher, a group that looks ready for a second object, you'll know the circle is ready for a second object by everybody's bodies are calm. And they're passing in a good rhythm, they're remembering who to pass it to and who they get it from. And it's running really smoothly. That's your signal to pass in a second item, pick a student give them a second item, instruct them to continue passing it to the exact same person they did before. Now it's just two objects moving in a circle. When you feel they're ready, you pass in a third object, a fourth object, and so on. The most my students have got up to so far is three objects. But inevitably, one circle has three, another circle might still have one because their bodies are too excited to pass in the second one because people are still dropping it because they're too excited and jumping around to be able to catch it. So that's another advantage to having multiple circles going. When one circle is ready for another object. The other circle doesn't have to be ready before you pass in another one. I have not yet blogged about the name game, but I do have some Instagram videos that I'm going to try and make into YouTube videos as well and those will be linked in the show notes. 

Hachi Pachi  

Hachi Pachi is the fourth brain break. I believe I introduced Hachi Pachi  in a previous podcast if so I will link that podcast. I will also link the blog. But Hachi Pachi is a fantastic community builder. Because basically involves one detective leaving the room and the rest of the class forms a circle. You as the teacher chooses, choose one person in the circle to be hachi, hachi, Hachi paci is the music leader. Basically a person in the circle who leads the rest of the class in a sound or a pattern, maybe patting their laps or tapping their shoulders or tapping their nose, and then you invite the detective in hachi paci changes their movement every five to seven seconds, there's actually no limit you can have them change it whenever they want. But if they're being slow, you have to remind them Hachi Pachi you should change your movement. The goal is for the detective not to find hace paci. So you have to, especially with elementary students, instruct them. Don't forget, we're not looking directly at theHachi Pachi , because you don't want the detective to know immediately who it is just because of the direction students are looking at. As soon as the Hachi Pachi  it changes their movement. So to the rest of the students. So they're going around guessing who it could be. Now, some variations of this that you can add in Are you can have the students doing the motions. And then you can when when a Hachi Pachi  says or when detective says Oh, are you Hachi? hachi, and they're incorrect. You can add in the rejoindre que lastima. Which is like, what a shame. I think in French, it's killed homage. I think in Chinese i would say i Yeah. So the idea is, it's an easy way to introduce a fun rejoinder to kids by them all saying, Ah, darn, as soon as they get a wrong person, and then the regular movement of resumes. The reason I say the regular movement, because when I have my students say, que lastima they're snapping their their thumb or slapping their leg like, Darn, and then going back to the regular movement. So Hachi Pachi is a fantastic game, and it's a great community builder as well, that I would definitely introduce at the beginning of the year. 


Now that I've introduced those four, I want to give you two more variations that will make some of these feel novel again, and interesting and new. And just a way to change up brain breaks that you already have. The first is two lines. Two lines is basically like, I think the blog that I wrote years ago was called Face Off, maybe the idea is students are facing each other in two lines. Once they get in these two lines, you say Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! or you say Uno, Dos, Tres, ¡Dale! with your feet, or you say choco choco Lala, they do that with the person directly across from them. In my classroom, I have to have two lines or two lines. So there's four lines total, one, one set of lines are facing in on the left side of my classroom, the other set are on the right side of my classroom, students are facing inwards towards each other and playing the game, when they hear me say cumbia, they know that the person on the end of the line on the right side doesn't have to be the right side, I'm just trying to give you something to be clear, the person on the end of the line on the right side will run down the middle of the lines, and then their whole right line will scoot up this then places them in front of a new partner to play with the left line doesn't move at all. So Person Number A on the right line, runs down the center of the line, and is now on the end of the line. And everybody scoops up one. So now you have a new partner. And then they keep playing, I'll say choco Choco, and then they'll do chocolate trikala chocolate chip cookie, they they'll do the hand dry. And then I'll say cambia, the next person will run down to the end of the line, line switches up, and they have a new partner. But again, that second line does not move. This took a ton of practice and a ton of,of modeling with my third and fourth graders, it took much less with my middle schoolers took a lot of patience from me, a lot of remembering that they're tinier humans. But now that they have it, it's amazing. And this was one of the brain breaks that, again, my principal, and that admin witnessed that they were like, that was incredible. Everything went on without a hitch. And every now and then you yield cumbia, and shout it out a new game. And they were always playing with a new person. It was awesome. They were so impressed. And I was like phew took us a long time to get there. I will post a video of this, as well as a blog that talks about that two line thing. 

Heads Up 

I think in that blog, it also talks about a new brain break that you could introduce, which is called Heads up. That's what I call it, our face off. And basically kids are trying to beat the other person in doing the gesture that I call out. For example, if I say coming up there trying to do show walks first. I've done a ton of TPR. Actually, that's all I've done. The last four weeks is straight TPR, the very traditional way, inspired by John cowher, shout out, whoop, whoop, thanks for that. So all my kids are familiar with really, really great TPR structures that I would call out, and they're trying to beat the person across from them in doing those. So I'll link those in the show notes. The last variation I want to tell you about is called I call it circle up. That's because before I do this brain break, I say Class A circle up, or as they call them, I'm also on circle, and they quickly stand they get into a giant circle. Again, with elementary, I'm like y'all don't have to scoot up, you're already kind of in a circle, you're sitting in a rainbow, form a big circle. It's like oh my gosh, anyways, the wonders of moving back to elementary. So they form a big circle. I quickly pair them with somebody standing right next to them. I do this by going quickly around the circle, I stand in the middle circle, I say uno dos basically count off using my hands, and then they face each other. As soon as their partner was somebody. I the first time we did this, I said don't worry, that's not going to be your partner forever, because they're not always standing by the person they would want to be partnered with. But I want them to know that you're not always going to play a brain break with your best friend. Brain Breaks or community builders, you're gonna play with a lot of different people. They face the person I paired them with. And then I say okay, one of those three is dealing with your feet go, they play it, and then they'll stay steady. And then they hear me say one of our TPR commands, they'll avoid that which means turn around. Then they turn around and boom, voila, they're facing somebody else, a new partner. I say do choco choco Lala, they play choco choco La La with that person. And then they might hear me say, vamos meet at El Centro. We're going to look at the center. They look at the center, and then we play choco choco La La as an giant circle with our arms facing out to the side. So we're playing with the two people on our sides. I will definitely post a video of this. It is their favorite variation so far. It is incredible for infusing joy. My heart raced every single time I did this with a class last week. They were so celebratory when we were all able to do choco choco La La as one class and unison they couldn't believe it. It was so joyful. Whew, that's a lot of brain breaks in this episode was 25 minutes longer than I thought no, not longer. I definitely thought I was going to be able to do it in 15 minutes. It was a bit longer, but hopefully worth it. I hope that you loved all of these. Again, I'm going to be linking a ton of videos and visuals for you so you can see them in action with my students. I actually don't have any videos on my current students doing these? Well, I do but I can't share them yet. I'm working on getting consent from families before I share any videos or photos of my new students. But there will be plenty of videos for you to check out in the show notes. I'm so grateful for you. Thank you so much for letting me support you this year. I hope you love these brain breaks. Oh, I should do the brain break song. Let's finish with that.

Thank you! 

Oh, that's much better. I hope you have a wonderful week. If this is your first week teaching, make sure you check out my blog on or my podcast on the perfect Back to School activity. I'll link that in the show notes too. And I can't wait to hear how these brain breaks work for you and your students and how much joy they bring you because I'm certainly will. Until next time, I'll be teaching la vida loca and I'm sure you will be too. Take care teacher!

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