…and let’s take a break. Maybe you’re doing that now, by reading this Think Tank in your free time. Presumably you’re at your desk at work. You’ve likely been there awhile today—or perhaps sitting is a brief respite for you after being on your feet and teaching. Reading something like this might not seem like much of a pause but, as far as your brain is concerned, the shift in focus is indeed a welcome break. And you need a break—we all need the occasional break—because our minds are just not meant to sustain their focus on a single task for an extensive amount of time.
This applies not just to us as teachers, but to our students as well. It’s just a little harder for them to take a mental break during our lessons—teachers don’t typically take kindly to students who demand a break during class, after all! Yet our students’ brains need breaks, need to shift their focus, and if we as teachers don’t build ways for our students to do so, they’re going to find their own ways to pause during class. From my experience with teenage students, that means they find ways to use their smartphones during class or to gossip with their friends. Not exactly the most productive use of class time, as far as I’m concerned!
So how can we, then, find useful ways to give our students meaningful breaks during our classes, ones that still serve towards the larger goal of learning English? Well, that’s where this issue comes in (we hope)! We put out a call to our readers asking for activities or ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms, and that call was very thoroughly answered. Many of these practical activities and materials that we present to you in this month’s issue are brain-inspired, often based on ideas from our previous issues.
To get things started, we have two introductory pieces for you to look at. The second one, labelled Lite is a video by Etacude English Teachers with 10 English speaking activities that can be used by more advanced learners (though I certainly thought of some adaptations I could use with my own lower-level students). I particularly liked the suggestions towards the end of the video for fluency-building activities.
Unlike what we normally do in our issues, the Main introductory piece is neither a video nor a podcast: it’s an article. Written by William Massey for Neuroscience News, How Recess Helps Student Learn is a succinct article that looks at the brain research behind the importance of regular breaks for our students. While it’s written with a primary-aged student in mind, the science here applies to students (and teachers) of any age. The article focuses particularly on how necessary regular exercise is for healthy brain functions, something we’ve also covered at length in our previous issues on Body Matters and Exercise.
Of course, all this research on taking breaks matters to us as teachers, too! Our brains aren’t that different from our students’. For your own sanity and mental health, we hope that you too give your mind the rest it needs throughout your day. Time is often in such short supply for teachers, with the demands of our profession. May this month’s issue, with its assortment of activities and classroom ideas, help reduce your lesson-planning load and help invigorate you, your classroom, and your students. And maybe, you can take an extra break today since you’ve saved some lesson-planning time by using the materials in this issue!
Julia Daley is a lecturer at Hiroshima Bunkyo University, where she teaches English conversation and writing. She earned her MA in TESL at Northern Arizona University and is certified to teach secondary English in Arizona. She appreciates everyone’s patience as she’s been learning how to build a website.