Brain Breaks:
Zoom Edition
Activities for generating Positive Emotions and
enhancing Positive Relationships through online
The Benets of Brain Breaks
The Institute of Positive Education has been collating, adapting and writing brain breaks for a number of years. We
passionately believe in the benets of this teaching and learning strategy and hope the suggested activities below
are of benet during this period of remote or online learning.
Studies over the last 20 years have shown promising results, suggesting brain breaks have multiple benets for
student learning. These benets include improved cognitive functioning, increased motivation and ability to sustain
focus for academic work.
By providing students with a social and fun break in a lesson, there is an increased opportunity and a new context
for strengthening student-student and teacher-student relationships. Brain breaks alter the classroom climate by
introducing a new collective action. Such activities have been shown to increase students’ positive emotions and
enjoyment within the classroom.
Brain breaks only take up small amount of lesson time yet the benets are immediately apparent. We’ve
summarised the science behind some of these benets below.
The Benets of Movement
There are many benets related to the physical aspects involved in some of our brain breaks. Research shows
that periodical physical activity breaks can enhance student learning and behaviour. Energiser activities can also
increase blood ow and epinephrine levels among drowsy learners, and reduce student restlessness.
Movement can be an eective cognitive strategy that reinforces learning, enhances memory and retrieval, and
improves students’ motivation and morale. When we exercise, we’re causing the brain to re signals along the
same network of cells involved in cognitive functions, which solidies their connections.
Building Rapport and Co-Regulation
Teachers play a pivotal role in establishing a positive classroom environment that contributes to students’ social,
emotional and academic growth.
As teachers, we are acutely aware of the importance of developing constructive student-teacher relationships.
Studies have shown that forming strong and supportive relationships with students has a positive impact on their
feelings of safety and security at school, and results in increased feelings of competence, positive connections with
peers, and greater academic gains. However, teacher-student conict in younger years can have a negative impact
on student achievement up to seven years later.
Research shows that there are positive reciprocal links between teachers’ and students’ enjoyment, and that these
links are mediated by teachers’ and students’ observations of each other’s classroom behaviours. Therefore, taking
part in shared positive experiences, such as our escalating and positively priming brain breaks, can enhance positive
connections between teachers and students.
Teachers also have an important role to play in co-regulating the class. Responsive brain breaks build upon relational
interactions. Engaging students in short activities that develop teamwork, empathy and interaction also
support classroom behaviour systems. As leaders, teachers are constantly demonstrating how to handle stress and
adversity. Responding to o-task cues by introducing brain breaks is an act of co-regulation that builds a classroom
climate for learning.
The Benets of Brain Breaks
Students feel they belong in school when teachers express involvement and warmth and using humour can be an
eective way to facilitate this.
A number of our brain breaks utilise aliative humour, which involves joking around and laughing with others or
telling amusing stories in an eort to enhance relationships. This form of humour is positively correlated with high
self-esteem, cheerfulness and psychological wellbeing, and negatively correlated with anxiety and depression.
Using humour in the classroom is an important way to produce a healthy classroom climate and to help teachers
to connect with their students, which is essential for student learning and enjoyment. As such, the use of humour
in educational settings can also be an eective classroom management tool, fostering student engagement,
improving motivation, and encouraging on-task behaviours and academic success.
Our ability to think is highly dependent on our emotional state. This means eliciting positive emotions through
enjoyable activities, games and humour can have a positive impact on student learning. In addition, humour helps
teachers to deal with the inherent stressors of the profession.
Research in the eld of psychology suggests that, for many adolescents, humour can serve as a coping style or a
defence strategy to ease psychological distress and improve wellbeing. Therefore, using humour in the classroom
as a coping mechanism may help students to handle feelings of stress. In addition, humour has been shown to
have a measurable positive impact on one’s physical health.
We hope that the following ideas support your use of brain breaks while teaching remotely. For additional brain
breaks resources, please see our online shop and our PEEC website.
Baumeister, R.F. & Vohs, K.D. (2011). Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. New York: Guilford Press.
Beard, C. & Wilson, J. P. (2013). The Power of Experiential Learning: A Handbook for Education, Training and Coaching (3rd ed.). London: Kogan Page.
Berk, R. A. (2002). Humor as an instructional debrillator: Evidence-based techniques in teaching and assessment. Sterling, Va: Stylus.
Brunzell, T. Stokes, H. & Waters, L. (2016). Trauma-Informed Positive Education: Using Positive Psychology to Strengthen Vulnerable Students. Contemporary School Psychology, 20(1), 63–83.
Erickson, S. J. & Feldstein, S. W. (2007). Adolescent humour and its relationship to coping, defence strategies, psychological distress, and well-being. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 37(3), 255-271.
Frenzel, A. C., Becker-Kurz, B., Pekrun, R., Goetz, T. & Lüdtke, O. (2018). Emotion transmission in the classroom revisited: A reciprocal eects model of teacher and student enjoyment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(5),
Hamre, B.K. & Pianta, R.C. (2006). Student-teacher relationships. In G.C. Bear & K.M. Mink (Eds.), Children’s needs III: Development, prevention, and intervention (pp. 59-71). Washington D.C.: National Association of School
Hamre, B.K. & Pianta, R.C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72, 625-638.
Hamre, B.K., & Pianta, R.C. (2010). Classroom environments and developmental processes: conceptualization, measurement, & improvement. In J.L. Meece, J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Schools, Schooling and
Human Development. Routledge: New York.
Harlin, R. P. (2008). What do you really know about learning and development? Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 23(1), 125-134.
Hattie J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analysis Relating to Achievement. Routledge: London, UK.
Jennings, P.A. & Greenberg, M.T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), pp. 491-525.
Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Lovorn, M. (2009). Three easy ways to bring humour into the social studies classroom. The Leader, 23(1), 15–16, 20–21.
Martin R.A., Puhlik-Doris P., Larsen W., Gray J., Weir K. (2003). Individual dierences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being; development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of Research in
Personality, 37, 48–75.
Payne Bennett, M. & Lengacher, C. (2008). Humour and laughter may inuence health: III. Laughter and health outcomes. eCAM, 5(1), 37–40.
Posnick-Goodwin, S. (2009). Laughter makes you smarter. California Educator, 13(4), 16–20.
Ratey, J.J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little Brown.
Savage, B.M., Lujan, H.L., Thipparthi, R.R. & DiCarlo, S.E. (2017). Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education, 41(3), 341-347.
Skinner, M.E. & Fowler, R.E. (2010). ALL JOKING ASIDE: Five Reasons to Use Humor in the Classroom. Education Digest, 76(2), 19-21.
Trost, S.G. (2007). Active education: Physical education, physical activity and academic performance. Active Living Research, Fall.
One, Two, Three Three
Energy: Low
Equipment: None
Duration: 3 minutes
Have a laugh with these two Zoom variations on a time-tested classic
from our rst Brain Breaks book.
Place students in ‘Gallery’ view and ask them to close their eyes. Any student can
begin this brain break by calling out one. Another student must then call out ‘two
and so on in numerical order until all students have called out a number. If two
students call out the same number at the same time, the count resets and the
game begins again.
This brain break can also be played by using the chat’ function, with students
quickly typing a number in the chat box.
Story Savouring
Energy: Low
Equipment: None
Duration: 4-6 minutes
Research shows the many benets of savouring. Enjoy this brand
new brain break with both students and colleagues as you spend time
Ask students to close their eyes and a recall a memory that sparks joy. Place
students into breakout groups of 2-3, giving them a couple of minutes each to
share their memory.
Encourage participants to share when the event happened, who was there, what
occured and why this memory brings them joy.
What Do You Look Like
Energy: Low
Equipment: None
Duration: 3 minutes
This brain break harnesses the power of aliative humour. Have a
laugh with this activity from our original Brain Breaks book.
Place your class in Gallery’ view and ask students to sit side-on to their screens.
Ask students to express their reactions physically using the phrase: ‘What do you
look like when… E.g. ‘What do you look like when it’s Friday afternoon?’
After two seconds of silence, as a moment of facial preparation, each student
faces the screen with their best facial expression depicting their reaction to the
scenario described.
Paper, Scissors, Rock!
Energy: Low
Equipment: None
Duration: 3 minutes
Have a laugh with this Zoom version of a popular playground game.
Place your class in Gallery’ view and ask students secretly choose a competitor
for each round of this game.
Initiate each round by calling out the actions, paper, scissors, rock!’ Upon hearing
rock, students show their desired symbol and see if they beat their secret
If appropriate, have a few students share who they were competing against at the
end of this brain break.
Air Karaoke!
Energy: Medium
Equipment: None
Duration: 3 minutes
Bond together as a group through music with this fun brain break.
Place your class in Gallery’ view and mute everyones microphones.
Encourage your students to activate their character strengths of Bravery,
Open-Mindedness and Creativity!
Play a fun and familiar tune and encourage everyone to dance, mime a musical
instrument or sing their own karaoke version of the song, while muted.
Character Strength
Energy: Low
Equipment: Bingo cards
Duration: 5
Heartfelt thanks to our friends at Saigon South International School who gave us
permisison to share this activity with you.
Ask students to write nine character strengths in the grid provided. Place
students in breakout groups of three or more. Once in a breakout room, students
take turns to share one of their signature strengths and an example of how they
have used this character strength in their life.
After a given period of time, students return to the main session and then enter a
new breakout group.
While in each group, students can cross out up to three strengths o their bingo
card mentioned by others in their group. Type ‘BINGO!’ in the chat between
breakout groups to indicate you have won.
Character Strengths
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