Managing Breaks in the Classroom

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“For each class, faculty will…Ensure breaks occur during the lesson time to support student needs.”

Course Delivery Procedure (January 2021) 

Breaks are time-bound periods in which students stop doing class work to rest and re-focus. 


There are many student benefits to structuring breaks into class lesson time. These include increased attention, decreased stress, and boosts in brain functioning. Evidence examined by Immordino-Yang, Christodoulou, & Singh (2012) suggested that resting the brain is associated with improving mental health and cognitive abilities. Breaks also reduce physical and cognitive ergonomics issues associated with sitting and repetitive tasks (Middlesworth, n.d.). Finally, during remote learning, free and structured breaks can lessen the negative impact of Zoom Fatigue

In addition to the wellness benefits associated with breaks, according to the faculty’s collective agreement, the teaching contact hour includes a 50-minute block plus a break of up to 10 minutes (11.01C). 

Free breaks 

Free breaks allow students to decide how to use their time between lesson content and class activities. Breaks should not be skipped, even if some students mention not needing a break. 

Tips on Providing a Free Break 

  • Set a time period between 3-10 minutes 
  • Indicate orally the time to return, and reinforce the time to return in the text chat 
  • Invite students to refresh themselves with a walk or a stretch, or to get some more water 
  • If remote, ask participants to raise their hand when they are back and ready to continue 
  • If in face-to-face, ask students to do their best to return on time, and enter the room quietly if they are late 
  • Turn on your camera to make it clear class is resuming 
  • Share music during a break, then stop 1 minute before resuming. Note that music must be appropriately licensed to re-broadcast for non-educational purposes). See Conestoga Library’s document Teaching With Zoom for more information. 

Remember, the break time is for your benefit as well, so make sure you give yourself enough time during the break for some rest and refocus. 

Bringing Students Back From Break 

Here are some ideas for encouraging students to come back from a break rather than leave class. Regardless of the strategy, it is always a good idea to make explicit to students before breaktime the importance of attending class. 

  • Build in time in a breakout activity just prior to the break that, in case students finish their work early, they can have additional break time 
  • Provide after a break a review or a self-assessment activity 
  • Announce that you are taking attendance after the break (it is a good idea to take attendance more than once/in more than one way) 
  • Plan a short but fun after-break transition activity that students will enjoy 
  • Provide after a break additional assignment information and tips 

Structured in-Class Breaks 

Short breaks that take place with all students during class time may be beneficial to add to a lesson. The best kind of structured breaks are those that feel different from work. Timing may be best for these kinds of breaks as a transition between class activities or between long periods of focus. 

Stretch break 

Breaks that include physical movement are beneficial after periods of sitting. At the K-12 school level, research suggests that physical activity breaks led to an increase in effort students put into activities and an increase in their ability to stay on task (Howie, Beets, & Pate, 2014). 

Stretch breaks can be done for 1 or 2 minutes together with the class, cameras off or on (but if recording then pause). See 17 Stretch Breaks for some stretching ideas. Note that students should not be encouraged to stretch past what feels good and safe. 

Mindfulness breaks 

Mindfulness breaks are about becoming more aware of what you are doing in the moment (Mindful staff, 2020). They can include breathing methods guided imagery, and other simple activities. These breaks promote calm and focus. Here are some mindfulness breaks that can be facilitated during class: 

 What are your tips for effective breaks during class? Join the Teaching @ Conestoga Teams community and share your ideas! 


Howie, E.K., Beets, M., Pate, R. (2014). Acute classroom exercise breaks improve on-task behavior in 4th and 5th grade students: A dose–response. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 7(2). 65-71.

Immordino-Yang M.H., Christodoulou J.A., & Singh V. (2012). Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education. Perspectives on Psychological Science,7(4):352-364. doi:10.1177/1745691612447308 

Middlesworth, M. (n.d.) Ergonomics 101: The Definition, Domains, and Applications of Ergonomics. 

Mindful staff (2020). What is mindfulness? 

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  • Published: February 19, 2021
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Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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