Last month, we looked at GoNoodle, a year-old product that provides teachers with online resources to re-focus distracted students. In the eyes of the GoNoodle team, pushing through to instruct students who aren't concentrating is a disservice for all. The idea is that, rather than continuing with sub-par attention, teachers should take five-to-ten minute "Brain Breaks" where they can refocus students and get them ready for a far more productive learning experience.
GoNoodle is not alone. While they may not market themselves as "Brain Breaks," there are a bevy of other products and ways to get students back on track and ready to learn. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Play a short TED talk
Depending on the age group, playing a short motivational TED Talk can be a great opportunity to re-center students and get them ready for the tasks at hand. TED's website makes this process especially easy since it allows users to filter the type of talk they want.
Educators can take note of the type of motivation they need and choose a video accordingly. "Informative," "Beautiful," "Inspiring," "Courageous," and "Persuasive" are just a few of the options educators can pick from. Once they've selected a topic based on the needs of the classroom, they can look for shorter talks. Five-to-10 minute talks are ideal for getting students back on track. We recommend teachers spend some time watching a few TED talks beforehand so they can prepare a "moral" for what they show and easily connect it back to the lesson plan or the importance of focusing.
2. Play a BrainPOP video
BrainPOP is an animated educational website that brings hundreds of lessons to life. Science, social studies, English, math, engineering & tech, health, and art & music are the topics educators can choose from — and a multitude of subtopics are contained within each. For example, the social studies vertical contains lessons on culture, economics, geography, and U.S. and world history, just to name a few.
Whether it's the start of the school day or prior to starting a lesson after lunch, a BrainPOP video is a fun way to ease students into the learning mindset. The animated videos may remind students of Saturday morning cartoons — funny, charming, and well-sketched — but their informative content bridges the gap between Cheerios-and-pajamas time and school time.
Unlike the free TED talks, BrainPOP does require a subscription, which can be purchased by individual teachers or entire schools. Of course, there are dozens of free videos if you're not sure you want a subscription just yet. For example, the math section has three free movies: one on angles, one on comparing prices, and one on interest.
3. NPR Tiny Desk Concerts
Another free resource! The NPR website and iTunes have hundreds of free online videos documenting live "concerts" performed by a plethora of musicians in NPR's offices. The concerts cover a range of artists from all over the world, which allows students to get joy out of seeing individuals they may already know and like while also introducing them to artists they may never have learned about. The videos typically last anywhere from five to 15 minutes and feature two to three songs. For the sake of time, teachers can limit the viewing session to one song.
Music has been known to affect mood and this can be especially powerful in the classroom. End or start your day with five minutes of song, or make it a once-a-week special treat or class tradition for right before a test. Allowing students to choose which artist is listened to allows the students to feel like they have choice and agency, which is also useful in a classroom environment.
And, of course, there is the obvious: Listening to music not only will calm students down, but it exposes them to new and interesting genres. With arts education being cut in so many schools, this is a great chance for teachers to inject some culture into the classroom. Check out Yo-Yo Ma's session with NPR as a possible starting point, or this inspirational session with Somali artist K'naan.
4. Watch Reading Rainbow
LeVar Burton, the host of the now-defunct PBS show recently raised millions via KickStarter to bring the longtime favorite back to life digitally. The new site (with subscription) will offer teachers access to an unlimited number of books, as well as video field trips. Reading a chapter or a few pages of a book is a great way to calm students down, spark their imaginations, and get them in the right frame of mind for learning.
5. Writing in a journal
Going old school, and letting students spend up to 10 minutes writing in a journal may seem boring when juxtaposed with all of the new technology available, but the time to reflect and process can be just as meaningful and important when trying to focus students. Teachers can give students prompts, or just allow them to write and sketch as if it's a diary.