Classroom Activators

Activating the Brain for Learning

Children can learn almost anything if they are dancing, tasting, touching, hearing, seeing and feeling information."

Jean Houston - Educating the Possible Human

In this course we will be modeling classroom activators. These are brain break activities that allow students to learn and recall information at a much higher rate than regular passive learning. At the end of each section you are invited to participate in an activation exercise prior to completing the section quiz.

Did you know that fifty percent of a person's ability to learn is developed in the first four years of life?

Another thirty percent is developed by the eight birthday. Those vital years lay down the pathways on which all future learning is based.

Youngsters learn best by what they experience with all their senses. Our homes, beaches, forests, playgrounds, zoos, museums and adventure areas are the world's best. 

We Learn…

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we both see and hear
  • 70% of what is discussed with others
  • 80% of what we experience personally
  • 95% of what we teach someone else.

Engaging Students to Learn

Instruction Time Limits

5 to 8 minutes for K-2,

8 to 12 minutes for Grades 3-5

and 12 to 15 minutes for Grades 6-12 

Reinforce Information with Tasks

After tasks, regain their attention using a variety of techniques. Variety is key because the brain will desensitize its response after too many repetitions. 

Have a hand signal, a bell or tone, wind chimes, clapping or stomping to redirect children's attention. Using surprises, changing your location or emotional level helps the brain retain information because it stands out from the norm. 

Have students sit in class no longer than 20 minutes. If children need a boost: stand, do an energizer, go outside, walk or stretch.

Play music with a slow tempo and have the students stand and stretch. Reach for the sky, rotate at the waist, whatever they need to do. Young children can be led through Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes or the Hokey Pokey dance.

Older children can do ten to fifteen toe lifts - aside from the heart, calf muscles are the best pumps the body has for moving blood through the body and energizing the brain.

Changing seats, or playing musical chairs can help student's long-term memory. This is because memory is dependant upon emotion and environment. Movement wakes students up, silly games and music improve everyone's mood, and novelty and mystery activate the emotional and attentional centres of the brain.

Breathing exercises are also helpful. A deep breath helps deliver richly oxygenated blood to the brain, keeping it fully alert and functioning optimally. Have students stand up, take one or two deep breaths, and slowly sit down on their last exhale.

To Grab Attention at any point in a lesson, use: Novelty, relevance, curiosity, emotion, story, question, problem, video, drama, anecdote, guessing game, quotation

Wear a costume to introduce a lesson, or better yet, let the children choose costumes for dress-up and make-believe games. Using props and magic tricks to spice up a lesson. Accentuate with sound effects. Hide an object in the room for students to try and find. Have a mystery bag on display for children to touch and feel to see if they can guess what's inside. When you are about to display the children's artwork, have them do a drumroll on the desks with their fingers.

Use dramatic lighting to tell a story. Use a flashlight under your chin to light up your face. Have different colours of light bulbs for the holidays.

Change the posters, displays and bulletin boards in your classroom every 3 to 4 weeks. Occasionally introduce different visual elements into your classroom. Add flowers, unusual objects, posters or holiday decorations where appropriate.

Quality of Retention 


  • Formally introduce one new vocab word each day or use them in discussions or post them in the room.
  • Show a video, go on a field trip, mention things as an aside, display a poster, do pre and post quizzes.
  • Review information as a form of repetition.
  • Involve as many areas of the brain as you can (art, music, verbal, writing, visual, auditory) and use variety.
  • Allow students to answer questions as a pair. It is less threatening.
  • Do not teach your 1st hour the same way you teach the rest of the day. They are still asleep and need more engaging learning environments.
  • Use stories, movement, humor and music to tap emotions.

The best way to learn is to receive input, discuss it, and then take a walk! Settling time is critical. Give students classroom chores, recess, a walk, pair time, lunch, quiet music or quiet choice time. Even 5 to 10 minutes is good.

Emotions and Emotional States

  • Students remember learning experiences more vibrantly when emotion is involved.
  • Role model a love for learning and enthusiasm for your content.
  • Tell a true, emotional story about yourself.
  • Get the students involved in class-related community service.
  • Let students know what excites you.
  • Have celebrations (parties, high fives, food, music, fun).
  • Use humor.
  • Integrate physical activity into your class.
  • Use more standing than sitting, more walking than standing, more organized physical movements.
  • Have purposeful physical rituals for arrivals, departures, getting started (clapping patterns, cheers, chants, movements). Change them often to keep their brains at attention.
  • Get personal by having the students write in journals, discuss, and share with each other.
  • Make students feel safe and happy.


The brain needs oxygen and glucose to work effectively, also water. Let students drink water in class, which may cause more bathroom breaks. Be flexible!! Get them up and moving with activators and energizers.


  • Pair up and clarify goals for day, how to achieve them, and why(reward)
  • Have students do role plays, charades, commercials.
  • Use energizers to increase blood pressure and epinephrine, decrease restlessness, and reinforce content.
  • Have students play Simon Says.
  • Do cross-lateral activities to increase communication in brain: pat head and rub belly, march and pat opposite knee, touch opposite elbows or heels.
  • Do stretching to increase oxygen.
  • Allow more mobility.

Physical Environments


  • Let students stand, sit on floor, walk around the room, sit on an exercise ball.
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temp by using fans, open doors or windows, blow fan across a tray of water, keep windows shaded, use cool colors.
  • Keep lighting bright.
  • Try to expose your students to as much natural light as possible.
  • Go outside on nice days.
  • Post student work and interesting, rich displays.
  • Be sensitive to special needs.

Lesson Activator

Stand up and walk around your space. Take deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling while raising your arms up to the ceiling and back down again. Move your head from side to side and back down again. Stretch out any stiff muscles.

Look out the window and take in the view. If there is a piece of nature in the room such as a plant or a stone, take a moment to admire its beauty, or pick it up and connect to it. Drink a glass of water, poke your head out the door for some fresh air, and come back inside. Learning can be fun, and breaks are good for the brain!