One of my greatest tools for classroom management is pretty easy to implement: giving students a break partway through class.
I know some will say that high school kids should be able to sit and concentrate for 75 minutes, but you know what? I disagree. I know I don’t sit well for that long – and I’m someone who loves to learn and think and read and write. But I still need mental breaks. I need to stretch, And so do many of my students.
That’s why, whenever I can, I create opportunities for them to move while they learn. (Read about strategies that you can use in class to get students moving to learn as well as ways to build action breaks into remote learning).
However, this post is not about designing learning activities that incorporate movement; instead, it’s about providing a simple break.
Breaks will lead to more engagement
Whenever I plan a lesson, I break the class into chunks. Anyone whose been teaching for a few years knows that student attention spans are not what they used to be (nor are teachers’). So, my class usually starts with a writing prompt or a mini-lesson, followed by some independent work and then collaborative, active learning. This pattern allows for lots of variety in the class.
However, not all classes and lessons are conducive to that pattern. Sometimes I need to give a longer lesson, or students are writing or reading for most of the class. When that happens, partway through class I give students a break so they can take a mental break and/or move if they need to.
They can chat, stretch, get a drink, check their phones – whatever they need to take a break and refocus. Some even keep working. They know the drill, and it works because they appreciate the opportunity to just relax for a minute or two.
One of my favorite ways to give students a break is the stand-and-chat. It’s a variation of the turn-and-talk, where students stand and share their thoughts with a partner or a group of students.
The stand-and-share is the perfect thing to do when you look out at a sea of faces and see that you might be losing them. Say: “OK, everyone, stand up and share with a partner one thing you’ve learned/a question or idea that you have, etc.” And, their conversation doesn’t have to be focused on classwork either; you can tell them to just stand and chat about whatever.
You’ll be amazed to see how this simple two minute activity can re-energize the class.
Breaks and short classes
Can you actually build in breaks with a short class? That’s a question, and one I got recently when I posted about this on Instagram.
My answer was a resounding YES!
Even just a chance to stand up and stretch for a minute can make a huge difference for students’ attention spans and engagement. Whether it’s a stand-and-stretch, a stand-and-share, or just one minute to chat with the people beside them (or even check their phones) the minute or two that you ‘take off” will allow students to be more focused in your class, and you won’t feel like you are wasting or losing time.
The break as a classroom management strategy
I began this post saying that giving students a break was one of my favorite classroom management – and engagement – strategies. Why do I put it in those categories? Isn’t it just taking time off?
Yes, it is, but it’s time so well spent. When I can see students starting to drift off or disengage, I say, “Hang on, everyone. You’re getting a break in a few minutes. Let’s see how much we can get done before then.” It doesn’t work for every student or in every situation, but most times, students will refocus and hold on until break.
They also know that if they abuse it, they lose it. They need to work to “earn” the break – because if they haven’t been working, what do they need a break for anyway? 😉 And if they go for a drink and don’t come back right away, or if I have to struggle to get their attention back, we will have a chat about whether or not they will get a break again the next time. Because they appreciate getting breaks in my class, they are usually good to comply.
Technology breaks are also a good way to deal with the ever-present cell phone issue. We always come up with a cell phone code of conduct in my classroom, with the students helping me come up with rules for technology use in the class. But if your rule is that phones have to be away during class, giving them one -two minutes in the middle of class to check their messages, etc. is something they will appreciate. It won’t solve all of your phone issues, but it does help.
I really hope you’ve found something in this post that can help. Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments.