(This is Part One of a two part series by Sarah Said. You can see Part One here.)

Sarah Said currently serves as a Director of Language and Equity programs in the Chicago land area. Sarah is an avid writer about issues regarding English Learners. She is a Contributor for ELL Confianza. Sarah has been serving English Learners for 15 years.


As you are planning instruction, it is also important to think about where you can give breaks in learning.  I have used multiple strategies to do this to allow kids to refuel. Think of it this way: you can’t travel in a car for a long period of time without stopping for gas. This is not time wasting.

Here are ways that I have used brain breaks in the classroom:

Yoga- I have taught myself ways to use yoga through using the Little Flower Yoga  cards. I learned about these cards through another ELL Director who is actually a yoga consultant. As I have transitioned students into groups I have used the yoga poses  after practicing deep breathing. I have also used the poses to incorporate language with younger children. I say things like:  “The Warrior Pose starts with the letter W and that makes the ‘wah’ sound.” I have then had the students quietly make that sound. This becomes an introduction to a larger phonics lesson.

Meditation- I have turned on soft music and the lights to allow students time to meditate. With high school students, I have actually had them visualize their writing or goals as we do this. There are times where I have also told students not think about anything and just take a break.

Fidgets- I am a fan of fidgets. When we thinking about fidgets, we think about the infamous spinners that became trendy overnight.  This has had many teachers concerned about the distraction fidgets can cause. They can cause a huge distraction when they are given to students without discretion.  I have used them as a goal to work towards as students are completing assignments. I prefer to use tangles or brain puzzles as fidgets.  Kids think about something else for a couple of minutes instead of content. This relaxes the brain. As an adult, I went to a eight hour professional development where the presenter had these and other fidgets (like stress balls) on hand for attendees to use.  Since then,I bought a brain puzzle to keep in my purse for long meetings.

Flashlight Reading – You can have students work towards a flashlight reading period or you can incorporate into your routine at some point. You can allow students in your class to choose a spot in the room to read in with a flashlight.


As brain breaks relax your students, energizers lift them up.  This is important for stimulating students who are tired during the day.  

Here are ways I have used energizers in the classroom:

Relationship building games- Games like “two truths and a lie” can help build students’ relationships in the classroom. These games can also bring out laughter and energize your group.

Tissue Game- I have seen a teacher have kids make different noises like “moo” like a cow or laugh loudly as she dropped a tissue on the ground and they watched if fall. Noises stop when it hits the ground. This gives a good laugh to all.

Dance breaks- All age levels of students like a dance break. Who doesn’t?  Have students dance in between stations or just give the class a one minute dance break. Get them back into things with a couple of deep breaths if they are too energized.

Taking the time to really understand your students’ lives may help you understand the importance of brain breaks and energizers.  With all the stress you have on a day to day basis, imagine what that stress could be like if you were doing all of your daily routine in your second language.  That’s what our students are doing. We need to plan more engaging and energetic instruction. We also need to stop and refuel. This will give us more fruitful learning. A valuable lesson our students can learn from this is the importance of taking care of their state mind before everything else. If they do this, they have a sense of calmness and clarity, and a higher chance of success.