Breaks During the Lesson

I was thinking the other day how hard it must be for a student to spend 45, 50, 60, or in some cases 90 minutes in a classroom. Not only do we expect them to behave in the best possible way, we also expect them to be focused and responsive. While thinking all these, I asked myself “Isn’t that too much? Don’t we forget something?” And, basically, we do!

We keep on reading and writing about the effects of technology on our learners’ lives, thinking, expectations etc. but it seems that we forget to think the effects it has on them as human beings. What is the key word we all associate with technology and the web? Speed! Everything happens fast and the younger one is, the less able s/he is to stay focused for long.

So, coming back to my initial question of whether we expect too much from our learners or not, my answer is: Yes, we do! As a teacher, I always try to include a variety of tasks/activities (including some kinesthetic ones) in all my lessons, but I can still see some of my students being distracted or preferring to be somewhere else. And this is something I can totally identify with: as a learner, I am not able to stay focused for long and this is not necessarily connected to the teacher and/or the lesson.


(Image taken from:

This is how I decided to include ‘breaks’ in my lessons. So, this is how it works:

  1. Decide what kind of breaks would benefit your learners.

These can be any breaks that suit your learners. Examples are:

-Dance Break*: Everyone stands back and performs a choreography (without music) – works great with YL and mature adults.

-Mobile Break: Everyone is allowed to use their mobile phones for whichever reason they like – Teenagers and young adults love this.

-L1 Break*: Learners speak to the person sitting next to them in their L1 (you need a monolingual group for this one, though)- Everyone loves them (soon enough, they’ll realize that thy don’t want to use L1 in the class).

-Selfie Break: Learners have to take a selfie and post it on the blog of the class (or on any other medium they are using as a class). – Teenagers adore this one!

-Joke in English Break: Everyone must tell a joke in English – Teenagers also love this one, as long as they have a joke to share.

-Check Emails Break: Learners are allowed to check their emails and/or messages – Businessmen find this one very useful

-Noise Break*: Learners are asked to do nothing but silence. Some students find they need that sensory break, especially those that prefer a bit of alone time. For the others, it is a good exercise in taking some down time.

  1. Monitor carefully so that you understand when your learners need a break (plus be able to identify the type of break they need each time)

Usually, it’s not hard to tell whether your learners need to move a little, or they need to check their messages. The more you use breaks, the easier it’ll become for you to understand the students’ needs.

  1. Let them know that every time you say the “break phrase” they should put what they’ve been doing on pause and do what is that the phrase is asking them to do for a certain amount of time.

Get your students together and decide on the rules of these breaks: For how long would they last? How many breaks can you allow in each lesson? What is that they should/shouldn’t do in order for you to allow these breaks? Even better, turn this decision-making process into a lesson!

  1. When the time is up, go back to lesson mode!

This is a tricky moment because most of your learners won’t want to go back to lesson mode. So, what you would like to do is to make sure the activity/task that follows the break is very interesting and engaging.


* The “L1 Break” was introduced to me by my Marisa Constantinides during a Delta input session.

* The “Dance Break” was introduced to me by Maria Laiou, while working together at DEREE – The American College of Greece

*The “Noise Break” was introduced to me by Nathan Hall as a comment in the original “Breaks During the Lesson” post. It has been included here with his kind permission.

18 thoughts on “Breaks During the Lesson

  1. These are all brilliant ideas, Angelos 🙂
    I’m so intrigued by the fact that mobiles are much more accepted in the classroom environment these days – I know I say that like I’m ancient, but I’m still surprised how quickly classroom trends can change! Last week’s ELTchat really opened my eyes to the multifaceted ways in which you excellent teachers are using mobiles in the classroom – WhatsApp, blogs etc. – so it makes sense to almost reward students with non lesson-based mobile usage for a few minutes to wake them up and energise them for more learning.
    Some nice ideas, thanks!

  2. I don’t see why. We preach daily about the importance of online CPD and how many things do we learn through new technologies, etc. It’s only fair (and logical) to ask our learners to do the same. Have you tried to include some kind of technology in any of your lessons? Would love to read about that. 🙂

  3. Excellent stuff Angelos. I’m seeing, in posts such as this one, next-level thinking where educators are taking heed of their learners environment and behaviour and making what they can work for their benefit e.g. using mobile phones to your advantage or breaks, as in this example.

    Really enjoyed reading this and will try them out in class!

  4. Nice ideas, Angelos. We often get into the routine and fail to break things up once in a while. A break I use in some of my classes is a noise break. No speaking, no headphones or music, nothing but silence. Some students find they need that sensory break, especially those that prefer a bit of alone time. For the others, it is a good exercise in taking some down time.

  5. These are great ideas Angelos and as already stated a good way of showing we are responsive to Ss changing needs/environments. I sometimes have a yoga break where I get Ss to do some basic yoga poses and stretches. I find this, like Nathan’s noise break, helps students to re- focus and it also wakes them up a bit too!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s