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4 Brain Break Ideas for Middle School

4 Brain Break Ideas for Middle School

Chances are, you already know that brain breaks are a great tool for re-engaging students in the middle of a lesson. Brief opportunities to incorporate movement, humor, or activities into your lesson – or to take a brief “break” altogether – can help students remain on task and focused.

It’s also true that in middle school, a slightly different approach to brain breaks might be needed. Younger students might be more willing to get up and dance, or interact with a cute video, than their middle school counterparts! 

This is why I’ve rounded up my four favorite brain break ideas for students in upper grades! While my focus generally tends to be on middle and high school ELA classes, most of these brain break activities can be used in any subject. 

1. Idiom of the Week

I love wordplay, and what better way to incorporate a bit of vocabulary-oriented learning than with a fun Idiom of the Week task?

I prefer brain break activity ideas that I can structure into my weekly schedule without a lot of advance preparation. This helps my students – and me! – know exactly what to expect.

At the beginning of the year, I introduce the idea of idioms –  phrases or expressions where the meaning is not immediately obvious. Then, I share several examples with my middle school students.

These examples include: 

  • A piece of cake
  • Going the extra mile
  • Between a rock and a hard place
  • Hold your horses

Then, we re-visit the concept of idioms every week on “Turn-of-Phrase Tuesdays!” I like to use a slideshow to display an idiom to the class. Once students have had a few moments to think about the phrase, they pair up with a partner to discuss their ideas. Finally, they share their thoughts with the class.

Sometimes, I use an idiom as a springboard for a short writing prompt or a warmup at the beginning of the day. They’re also handy to have on hand for an ice-breaker. You can even use them to test out a new grouping of students, or to spark a whole-class discussion! 

One of my best brain break ideas for middle school is the Idiom of the Week activity.

2. Fact of the Day

What I love most about the Fact of the Day is that it’s a brain break idea for any subject – not just ELA! I like to incorporate this no-prep brain break activity on “Weird Fact Wednesdays.” At the beginning of the year, I make sure I can easily access my slideshow of interesting facts, with one fact per slide.

Some of my favorite fun facts are:

  • Bats always turn left after exiting a cave
  • Elephants are the only mammal that can’t jump
  • The average office desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet
  • Leonardo Da Vinci invented scissors

Of all my brain break ideas, this one is quite versatile. I find it’s an effective attention-grabber at the beginning of class or as a transition between a lesson and a learning task. Fun facts can also be used to break up a longer lesson or to focus students during a work period. At the end of class, they can also be used to fill in a couple of spare minutes if you move through your lesson more quickly than you planned.

Personally, I find that less is more – I tend to share only one fun fact at a time. But if you have a keen group of early finishers or students who love learning new tidbits of trivia, you could easily extend this idea and invite them into the creative process. One way to do this is by inviting them to make their own “fun fact” slides to add to your collection!

3. Word Puzzles

Sometimes it’s nice to have brain break ideas that work for early finishers or students who need a bit of extra enrichment. In this case, word puzzles are a fantastic way to keep students’ brains working while they are waiting for their peers to wrap up other learning tasks.

I like to make these fun, self-directed brainteasers available as printable cards, which a student can grab when they are finished. I also like to add them to a presentation that can be displayed to the whole class, if you prefer a group activity.

Either way, an example is the word “Jack” displayed inside a rectangle. Once students have correctly guessed that this is “Jack-in-the-Box,” they write their answer on a provided sheet.

You can wait for individual students fill in their sheet completely before submitting it (it could take several weeks!). Or, you may enjoy the “big reveal” of the answer to the entire class (especially if your students are racing to solve the puzzle)!

To raise the stakes, it’s fun to have rewards for students who are able to solve all the brainteasers. I like browsing the dollar store for inexpensive prizes, like colorful erasers, and then letting students choose their own prize!

Word puzzles are one of my favorite brain break ideas, especially for students who are finished early.

4. Joke of the Week

A little bit of humor always lightens the mood. “Funny Friday” is the perfect time to share the Joke of the Week! Here are some jokes that always get a laugh (or a groan, or an eye roll…). In middle school, we take what we can get!:

  • Why can’t a bike stand on its own? It’s two-tired!
  • Why was the baby strawberry crying? Because his parents were in a jam!
  • Why wouldn’t the shrimp share his treasure? Because he was a little shellfish!

The Joke of the Week can be a springboard for students to share their own jokes (appropriate for school, of course)! This activity could also be incorporated into your morning routine – maybe before taking attendance! In addition, I like using jokes to end a brief break. For example, I might set a timer for a two-minute stretch during a lesson. Then, I would re-engage the class with a quick joke before continuing.

The Joke of the Week is a popular brain break idea that can also be turned into a bulletin board display.

I hope these brain break ideas help you (and your students) shake out the cobwebs! These resources are also part of the Brain Breaks/Daily Warmups Bundle, which can be found below.

Looking for more fun activities to jazz up your middle school ELA instruction? Check out 5 Creative Parts of Speech Activities for Middle School.

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