Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brain Breaks

Last Wednesday, my Spanish 1 lesson plan included the following:

1. Listen to Billy la Bufanda - (song of the week)
2. Read TPRS class stories from yesterday (from pd 2 & 7)
3. Read 1st half of chapter 2 of Piratas book
4. Venn diagram - describe Carlos & Felipe; asked students if they are more like Carlos or Felipe; what they or their friends have in common with the characters
5. pd7 only - Looked at sketches with document camera - Sra. put eraser on one of the 6 sketches on each paper and Ss said a sentence that related to that sketch 

 Activities 1-4 was packed with Input, Input, Input, with limited Output from students. We were moving from one activity to the next and I was pleased with how the students were responding and with the level of student engagement.  Before I started #5, with only 15 minutes remaining in the class, it surprised me when one of the students, that is usually first to acquire and internalize new words and structures, said, "I need a brain break."

Wow - he was completely right.  They had been getting a steady flow of Input  and, because they were responding so well, I had forgotten to give their brains a chance to relax - to have time to digest the information without additional input.  (That's also evidence that he had been paying close attention at the beginning of the year when I told them I knew that listening to another language was hard work and I would provide them with the breaks that their brains needed throughout the class period.)  

It is so easy for me to forget that when students are listening to the target language, their brains are mentally engaged because they are listening with the intent to understand, and listening for meaning in what is said.   

The next evening, the Thursday night #langchat discussion on Twitter was on RIGOR in the language classroom.  I mentioned the students' remark and said:

One of the participants in #langchat commented that the students' brains are constantly ANALYZING the language and structures as they receive comprehensible input.

Yes, even when the TL is completely comprehensible, it is still hard work for the language learners. When I forget how much work it is for language learners, I have to remind myself of two times that I experienced how much work it is to learn a new language:
   1 - when I spent a semester in Spain studying Spanish. Some days, long before evening arrived, my brain was screaming for a break because input, when living in the country where the language is spoken, never ceases.
   2 - this summer when I went to NTPRS and spent 7 hours learning Chinese.  Linda Li was sensitive to our needs as language learners to have short periods of "brain breaks" to be able to process the material. Those brain breaks were not a luxury, they were needed!

To an observer, it may appear that the students are not doing anything because they're "only" sitting and listening, but that is an inaccurate assessment.  The longer I teach with TPRS, the more evident it becomes to me that when students are actively listening and/or reading in the target language, it is far more productive and a better use of time than if they were completing verb worksheets or vocabulary exercises.  

During the #langchat discussion, Lisa Butler, a Spanish teacher at Hershey, tweeted this link to me from her blog which explains the connection between Bloom's taxonomy and teaching with TPRS.  It's an interesting post and worth reading when you have a few minutes. Thanks for sharing Lisa!

So, as I complete this week's lesson, I am making a conscious effort to write notes for myself on the lesson plans to provide Brain Breaks for the students before they realize they need one.  

There's always an area on which I can find room for improvement. :)

Note:  If you have a Twitter account and would like to join in on the language teachers' discussions on Twitter, please join us on Thursday evenings from 8:00-9:00 Eastern time for the #langchat discussions.  I consider it (one of) my weekly professional development session.


  1. I've noticed the need for these in my 90 min classes (at new school)! Do you do them in English? And about how long do they take for you?



    1. It depends, mostly in English for the beginning levels or they may not feel it was a break. My goal is to keep them 5 minutes or less.

      If you want music for the brain break, here are 2 ideas:
      - I was at a workshop one time and Laurie Clarcq had us follow her lead for motions (fun dance moves) to "Little Red Riding Hood" song by Sam The Sham and the Pharoahs and that was in English.

      - The "5 a day Hula" is in Spanish.

      At times I still need reminded to stop for a brain break.