The No-Tech-Needed 2-Minute "Brain Gym" Exercises for Better Classroom Management

Learn how one third-grade teacher uses different types of "brain breaks" to accomplish a variety of learning goals in her classroom.

Updated on: March 23, 2018

students taking a brain break in the classroom

When your students return from gym class, are they immediately ready to sit down and get back to work?

If what Brain Break experts say is true, then they should be, right? Well, that depends.

Like many trends in education, “Brain Breaks” began as an effort to help teachers see the benefits of giving students occasional breaks from mental tasks. Teachers took hold of the idea and ran with it. We are always looking for ways to help our students succeed in school.

But this year, I received a call from a parent saying her son wanted to go to another classroom because “they do brain breaks there.” I was bewildered. I’ve been using brain breaks in my classroom for almost a decade. And then it hit me: I take a more low-key approach, and don’t use songs and videos with my breaks. Don’t get me wrong: I use GoNoodle and love its content (Peanut Butter in a Cup is my FAVORITE!).

But here’s why I don’t use it for every break: getting my kids energized is not always my goal.

What’s Your Goal?

When implementing brain breaks, teachers should keep in mind what they want for their students. Are you transitioning from a very tedious routine and want your students to be more alert for the next task? Are students engaged in a group collaboration around the room and you want them to settle down before the next activity? Have students been diligently working for a long period and you feel they could use a break in order to continue?

“Brain breaks” are mental breaks from an activity and are designed to help students focus on academic tasks by improving blood flow and oxygen to the brain. But how each activity leaves your students will determine whether its purpose was successful.

Brain research supports the concept of crossing the body’s midline, so each of these activities has students moving their arms and legs across their body’s center.


I use brain gym “cross crawls” to get my students up and moving, but in a controlled way. Students should stand with feet shoulder-width apart while I give the commands. I direct them to touch their right hand to their left foot, alternating in the front and the back, and then again with their left hand to their right foot. Then they should touch their left elbow to their right knee and vice versa. I also have them march in place, all at varying speeds. Each of these exercises can be rotated through in less than a minute.


I use brain gym “hook-ups” to help get my students centered and calm. Students should stand with feet shoulder-width apart. I give the following commands (we do this so regularly that students eventually don’t need the commands):

  1. “Arms out” - place arms out in front of you
  2. “Palms out” - rotate wrists so palms are facing outward away from each other
  3. “Cross” - cross arms over each other so palms are now facing each other again
  4. “Clasp” - clasp hands, interlocking fingers
  5. “Fold” - fold arms under so clasped hands are resting under chin
  6. “Cross legs” - cross legs, standing firmly on both feet (this can be modified for students to remain seated)
  7. “Press tongue” - press tongue to the roof of mouth
  8. “Deep breath” - inhale and exhale through nose
  9. “Close eyes” - don’t require this, since some kids might have difficulty keeping their balance
  10. Remain silent for up to 60 seconds. When the time is up, say, “Slowly release.” It’s important to keep your voice sounding calm while giving instructions for the next activity.


When I want my students to build their stamina for more controlled focus, I have them do focused breathing exercises. Simply put, students are directed to focus their attention on their bodies and how their breathing feels. I have them place their hand in front of their face to feel the warmth of their exhale, and concentrate on the cool air entering their nose as they inhale. I do this activity for no longer than 30 seconds, and it can be done at their seats.

Yes, your students had an opportunity during gym class to improve their blood flow, moving oxygen to the brain. But unless you want them to continue with that level of energy into the academic task that follows, you might want to consider a more focused "brain gym" transition instead.


How do you break up the day and re-focus your students? Let us know on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Want to read more from this author? Check out Amy's tips for managing student behavior, dealing with difficult parents, building a positive classroom community, or learn what special education teachers wish "regular" education teachers knew.

Author Bio:

Amy McKinney, M.Ed., is a third-grade teacher in Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for eleven years, eight of them in special education. Her experience working with students with special needs has helped form her philosophy on teaching and collaborating with her colleagues. Follow her on Instagram: @theuniqueclassroom.

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