Why and how you should use brain breaks in your Spanish classes for kids
It’s no secret that students, especially the younger ones, are easily distracted. As teachers, many of us have seen first hand the benefits of breaking our lessons into smaller mini-lessons with shorter input sessions instead of the more traditional method of longer lessons with very little down time. We know that attention spans are short and factoring in the fact that we’re teaching in a language that is not the mother tongue of many of our students only makes our jobs that much more challenging (and interesting!). We want to get through to our students, but to do that we need them focused and participating, because who can learn a second language without actually using it?? Queue, brain breaks! Brain breaks come in all shapes and sizes and can be molded to fit the needs at hand. From recess time, where children move and socialize on the playground to a five minute dance break in class, they are one of the best ways to get your students motivated, ready to learn and to help them make sense of new input.
Why use them? The short answer is that they are a time for the students to disconnect from a more focused learning. Barbara Oakley, a professor and researcher in learning methods and STEM education among other things, talks about two brains modes, focused mode and diffuse mode. Focused mode is when we’re really concentrating on a problem or information and use the brain patterns that already exist. We try to relate the information at hand with pathways we’ve developed as a consequence of previous learning. Sounds great, right? But, what happens when the information is completely new and requires a new pathway to be able to understand and use it? That’s when diffuse mode can be extremely beneficial. Diffuse mode is a general term Oakley uses to describe when we are in a neural resting state, which means that we aren’t focusing directly on the problem at hand or new information we’re learning. Instead, we are doing something else to distract ourselves while our brain thinks about the new information with a wider thought range that finds and develops new ways to think about it. This is the time when new pathways are forged and new connections are made. For more information on the different types of learning you can watch a talk she gave to Google workers to help them be more efficient in the work place and how to learn in a better way.
This mode of thinking and the idea of taking a “brain break” is far from new. Salvador Dalí used to use the diffuse method of thinking to come up with new works of art or when he was stuck on a painting or in need of a creative boost. He’d sit in a chair with keys in his hand, relax almost to the point of sleeping, and when he was in that near dreamlike state his mind would run free until his body relaxed so much that he would drop the keys he held in his hand and would wake to quickly jot down all of the free flow thoughts that had occurred to him while in a resting state. He would then use the ideas that had come to him through the diffused mode of thinking and work through them in a focused mode of thinking.
In order to learn successfully and really absorb the information we need to activate both types of thinking. We need to focus on the problems at hand and we need to make those subconscious and unconscious connections that help us find new creative ways to find a solution. Therefore the ideal learning environment uses both modes of thinking by focusing on new information or problems, allowing time for our thoughts to wander, and then bringing those new ideas that occurred to us during the diffuse mode back to the focused mode where we can really refine and use them. Now that we’ve covered how beneficial these little breaks can be for you and your students, here are some ways you can use them in your Spanish classes for kids without straying from the target language.
Sing and dance to Spanish songs for kids
A break that involves physical movement increases oxygen flow, which wakes up the body and also puts the information you were focuses on only minutes before on the back burner. But, just because you’re committing to taking a break from the problem at hand, doesn’t mean that you’re losing or wasting class time. Use this break to review old material, to get the students up and singing and dancing in the target language. They’re entering into the diffuse mode of thinking for the information you are learning now by directing their attention to something else. Our Spanish program for kids provides so many opportunities for brain breaks without missing the chance to practice Spanish. Our library of Spanish songs for kids are a great to review vocabulary, promote movement and they’re something kids love!
Another fantastic teaching resource for Spanish teachers are these movement cards created by Fun For Spanish Teachers. Carolina has created movement cards for all different times of the year and some of the sets were made specifically to practice holiday vocabulary. They all combine visual and colorful images with actions that kids are familiar with, but might not know in Spanish. They are a fun way to combine organized movement with speaking and listening in Spanish. To promote speaking, create a circle and put the cards face down in the center. Take turns having different students pick up the card and read out loud to the class what they must do.
It’s important to recognize and define why you want to take the break. Is it to get the blood circulating and raise the energy level or do your students need a more introspective activity to help them reduce stress and relax the body and mind? Different types of brain breaks serve different functions, but all with the same goal: to do something outside of the normal routine that will reset the attention spans of the students and give them a chance to focus on something other than the subject at hand.
Lead your students through deep breathing exercises. You can have them sit on the carpet or at their desks, place their hands in different areas of the body, breathe deeply and exhale audibly. If you’d like to make it more active have students inhale and lift an arm or a leg and exhale and lower. You can have them put a hand in front of their face and feel their breath hit it. You could also incorporate humming or tongue stretching here.
There are so many wonderful yoga resources in Spanish for kids. You could either have them follow along to a video, read a book that involves yoga or lead your own short yoga session. For specific books and videos check out our springtime blog post with ideas for doing yoga with kids in Spanish in and out of the classroom.
Check out this video about mindful movement for young learners specifically targeting the ages of 4-6 year old students.
If you need inspiration a very successful program: Yoga 4 Classrooms has a website, videos, and free downloads (Note: all in English, but you could easily change them to Spanish!)
Have your students think:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This should be done in a quiet moment. You can have students write them down on a sheet of paper or even draw them. Once you've finished with the quiet part of the activity you can share them as a class having students get up and phsically touch the things they can touch, and point out the things they can see.