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Are Your Students Working Hard? Time for a "Break" Dance!

By Angela Bunyi on October 29, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5


I love my class. I really, really love my class. They work hard, they stay in the struggle, and they have slowly learned to accept my favorite mantra: "There are no shortcuts." With that being said, hard workers also need to have a little break now and then. A break of two minutes and 45 seconds, to be exact. This post will share two practical methods I use in my room to create even harder working — and happier — kids. I love my job. This post demonstrates a few of the reasons why.




Let's Dance!


Recently our school was handed a minute by minute daily schedule from Central Office, indicating exactly how each breathing minute should be accounted for. And you know, I think it is wonderful. The six page rainbow-colored arts schedule and the special schedule that goes with it are a different story. But why did we receive Central Office's assistance? The goal was to create an uninterrupted literacy block, provide a common grade-level math block, and have a thirty minute block at the end of the day for required interventions and enrichment activities. I am especially thankful for one essential component of the schedule that often gets overlooked in its importance: Taking a break.  

Take a look:

8:15–8:35: Warm-up/attendance/lunch (with aides to collect and log money; attendance is online)

8:35–10:30: Literacy block (an aide is also provided for this slot, to help students)

10:30–10:35: Movement break

10:35–11:35: Math block

11:35–11:39: Prepare for lunch

11:39–12:09: Lunch

12:09–12:29: Recess

12:29–12:40: Workshop share time

12:40–1:40: Social studies/science

1:40–2:25: Special areas

2:25–3:00: Intervention/enrichment block (no new material taught during this time)

3:00–3:05: Pack up to leave

3:05–3:20: Read-aloud

I chuckled when I saw the movement break in our carefully planned schedule (again, disclaimer: I do love my schedule). I was happy to see a brain-researched movement break in the schedule, as I know many schools do take a walk around the track for transitions. Then I started thinking about it. We really didn't have breaks before. Not even a restroom break. I started thinking, wow, we are working hard. Really hard. My class needs some breaks in the schedule.

So, Midway Into Our Civil War "Reliable Resources" Research . . .

I happen to really notice the intensity of focus. They are diligently working hard, and I feel proud. I head toward my laptop, open up iTunes, and find "It's a Party in the USA." I turn up the sound and declare a "break" dance. The lights are turned off, and my room is transformed into a silly, happy, carefree kid zone in fewer than ten seconds. I make sure to dance ridiculously badly around the kids that sit and stare at us like we are crazy. "Do I look crazy to you? You're crazy for not trying out this move!" I think to myself, "Why didn't I do this before?"

The music then stops. "Okay, no messing around. Get back to work," I say matter-of-factly. The smiles are still on their faces, the energy in the room has lightened, and the kids are ready to move forward with their studies.

Tips for Adding "Break" Dances Into Your Schedule

Here are my top tips:

~ Don't schedule a "break" dance and have it at the same predictable time every day. Use it when a quick break is needed, perhaps mid-lesson. Better yet, use it when students are working really hard so that they associate the reward with hard work.

~ Create a time limit on songs. Two minutes, 45 seconds is good. If a song is longer than that, slowly lower the volume on the main chorus to indicate the song is ending.

~ Ask parents to donate clean, kid-friendly songs for your class.

~ Set "break" dance guidelines. Mine include: no falling on the ground; take care with class materials; and immediately transition back to work when the music stops, with no talking.

~ Carefully review lyrics. For example, I used my iPhone and docked it to play "Today's Gonna Be a Good Day," which the Black Eyed Peas played on Oprah, rather than the popular "Tonight" version. Any lyrics that reference drinking, questionable activities, or questionable language/content are a quick and easy "no" for me. 

~ Start with easily accessible songs, ones that you already have, such as Kidz Bop and Schoolhouse Rock songs.

~ Recruit songs from other friends, parents, and teachers. Some of the songs recommended by my Facebook friends include "Shout," "Give Up the Funk," "Domo Arigato," Chubby Checker's "Twist," "Staying Alive," "Cha-Cha Slide," "Y.M.C.A.," "Macarena,"  "Don't Worry, Be Happy," portions of Queen songs, and any song by Micheal Jackson. I dare say Weird Al Yankovic songs would be excellent ("Another One Rides the Bus" is hilarious).

And if "Break" Dances Aren't Enough for You, Try a Quick Break With Paper

Important Video Disclaimer: My version of this activity involves six or seven different paper throws, allowing individual sheets to spread like feathers in the air. Transition time with this method is also much more efficient in my room (and we have more physical movement than shown in this video), with an average of less than one minute!

I watched a split-screen video of this method last year that showed two different classes, with a timer running on the screen. One showed the traditional method of passing out papers. The other screen showed a teacher flinging the papers into the air, with no cares, as the students smiled, giggled, and moved around with ease. You'd be surprised how much faster throwing the papers in the air is. And I know this from my two years of trying it out. The class prefers it and knows there are basic guidelines (don't step on paper; if you catch more than one paper, you may throw it back into the air; no rough-playing; etc.). If they don't have staples, the papers usually get to my class via a flood of paper raining down from the ceiling. Two students offered to build a paper-passing-out contraption that will hook from the ceiling and open to release the papers like a bucket of water. I don't have the finished product to show you yet, but doesn't that just sound wonderful? 

Let's Dance Together!

Have any song suggestions? Have some music tips of your own? Have an interesting break tip to share? Please use the comments section to share your ideas!

I found the video posted above at the Brain Breaks blog.

To learn more about our class, visit http://bunyi.weebly.com/.


Comments (14)

In the paper toss, are you tossing up papers that are being returned to the students?


What a great idea. I think I might steal that one myself. If you happen to visit here again, please feel free to share your song list. I am sure others would be interested too.


I took your dancing idea and created a "Point of View" dance party for my fifth graders. After discussing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person point of view, I played songs where the students had to determine which point of view the song demonstrated and hold up that many fingers (1 finger for first person, etc.) All other moves were up to them. :-) I just created a playlist in my itunes library ahead of time. It was a great time, and my principal even stopped by for the festivities.


What is the exact name of the program? I Googled Dance DVD and you could imagine that a billion things came up with that.

And I know what you mean about the ones that don't like it. I have two, but they sit and watch us like we are crazy. Maybe we are. I don't know, but we are having fun.



Hi Angela,

My kids beg for us to fit in the Dance DVD weekly. They actually look forward to rainy days because I offer it is an indoor recess option for the upper.

Some of the kids enjoy it because they like to dance. Others enjoy it because it gets them laughing. Of course, there are a couple who don't enjoy it and they always have the option of watching.

Since it is meant to be just a brain break, it is only 5-10 minutes, so the few that don't really "like" it, know there is an end in sight.



Oh, great. We were just talking in my room about needing some new songs. That's a quick, easy one.

And no, I am not surprised that they didn't know Gilligan's Island. They don't know what they are missing out!



I am so glad to know that I'm not the only teacher who loves a good dance break.

I have established something similar in my classroom. I call it our suprise song. When the students are working especially hard or when they have busy work such as cutting out foldable books, I will give them a "surprise song." They never know what will be playing. It could be an oldie like "Andy Griffith" whistlin' theme or a modern favorite of every tween, "Phineas and Ferb" theme song. Check out www.televisiontunes.com for great downloads of hundreds of theme songs. Most of these songs are less than 2 minutes. They love this especially when they never know what they are going to get, but they always know all the words! (I take that back, can you believe none of them knew "Gilligan's Island"?)


Oh, you went wwwwaaaaayyyyy back to one of my very first blog posts from 2008. Okay, that is not too long ago, but technologically speaking it is!

Okay, this seems prehistoric now, but because I wasn't provided one at the time, I would film a science experiment within reach of the TV, hit stop, have it plugged to the TV and hit replay so the kids could see it on the big screen. That's really about it. Hopefully, you have access to some grants for an actual document camera. The one I have now runs in real time (no delay), has screen capture, switches from laptop to projector with ease, and can swivel around to see the room, etc.

Best of luck to you!


Hello! I am a fellow fifth grade teacher, and I am so inspired after reading your posts. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas!

I have a question, and I wasn't sure where to ask it. Somewhere (I can't remember because I have been reading and watching multiple videos from you the past few days) you mentioned using your flip video camera as a document camera. I tried it with my flip today, and I couldn't get it to work. Do you mind letting me know the model of your flip, and/or any tips get get it up and running? My projector would only show videos I had previously recorded.

Thanks! Linda

I just put my iPhone on my dock and used Youtube (we only used the audio portion and it wasn't blocked). There are several programs online that allow you to capture Youtube videos to share it safely at school. It seems like everything is on there, but you can't load it in class.

Hope that helps!


Hey Angela, I love this idea! Dancing makes everyone more happy and energetic. Can you please fill me in on where to download the version, "Today is going to be a good DAY?"...I can't seem to find it. Thanks! Kristin

Thanks Jennifer! I love that they have exposure to other culture dances. What a neat idea! But it is important to have student buy-in as well. If you visit here again I'd be interested to know if the students enjoy the workouts. Our school did regular workouts on the announcements (jumping jacks, squats, etc.), and it was completed like a chore by many of my students.

Thanks for the share!


I use the DVD called "65 Energy Blasters with Judy Howard" as quick 75 second movement breaks. There are 65 different workouts and my 4th graders seem to really enjoy them. The kids can choose from 4 categories: African, Athletic, Latin and Hip Hop.

Judy Howard also has another DVD called"6 Fit Kids Workouts". They are longer, about 10 minutes a piece.

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