Based on my lunch table conversations with other teachers, there seem to be two groups of thought when it comes to engaging students in the classroom. One side is adamant that teachers are “not entertainers” and that students should want to learn for the sake of knowledge. The other side is equally adamant that you must do whatever it takes to get kids engaged in their learning. Is there a right or wrong answer? I know how much I love learning and HATE doing all the silly “ice breakers” that consultants make me do on professional development days. (Hey, I’m an introvert. What did you expect?) However…my classroom isn’t about me. It’s about the learning that takes place for my students. So I am exploring ways to make my classroom a more engaging place to learn.
Incorporating Physical Movement
One way I’ve attempted to make my classroom a more engaging place is by incorporating physical movement throughout the day. In their book The Highly Engaged Classroom, Marzano and Pickering offer research that supports this approach. One easy way teachers can make their classrooms more engaging is through the use of “stretch breaks.” That was too boring for me, so we call them Fun Breaks in Room 411!
Silly Serves a Purpose
Fun Breaks are just 60-second bursts of silliness and physical movement. As a teacher who moves around during her lessons, it can be easy for me to lose sight of just how long my students have been sitting at their desks. A Fun Break isn’t just about being goofy, but about getting more oxygen and blood circulating through students’ bodies so they can concentrate on our learning goals. So the silliness serves a serious purpose, it’s just cleverly disguised with humor and activity.
Fun Break Timing
We use a Fun Break to quite literally break up a lethargic moment in class. This year, my schedule has two large uninterrupted chunks of time for learning. That’s great, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 9- and 10-year-olds to sit at a desk for three hours straight. Sure, some could handle it, but why should they and what about my fidgety students? When I feel the momentum slowing down in class, I call out enthusiastically, “Fun Break!” It’s no exaggeration to say their faces light up, and the energy level perks up immediately.
Fun Break Ideas
We have various scenarios we use in my class during a Fun Break. More and more, I have student volunteers lead the Fun Break, which just makes it more…well, fun!
- Roller Coaster – we put our arms up in the air and pretend we’re riding a roller coaster that does up, down, left, right, and even upside down.
- Swimming…Shark! – pretend to swim casually, then glance behind you and shout, “Shark!” Students pick up the pace and “swim” as fast as they can.
- Jumping Jacks – just what it sounds like.
- Rock Star – air guitar for all you’re worth!
- Disco Fever – flashback to some of John Travolta’s moves from Saturday Night Fever.
- Boxing – as if you’re playing boxing on a Wii, only without the Wii!
- Blast Off/Rocket – squat down and count backward from 10 to 1…then jump straight up and shout, “Blast off!”
Honestly, my students and I just made most of these up “on the fly.” Almost anything goes, as long as we can do it standing by our desks. A Fun Break doesn’t take much time out of your day. I would argue that it’s a great time saver. After we do a Fun Break, my students are more focused, and I spend less time getting their attention for the remainder of the lesson.