Frequent Breaks

The Strategy

Frequent breaks include 1 to 5 minute pauses from academic activity. The use of breaks during academic time is thought to increase student productivity and attention by providing an opportunity for the brain to rest and for the body to move. These breaks can be short to provide a brief pause in the academic content or lengthier to allow time for moving around. 

  1. Identify content areas or specific times of the day when the student(s) may be more prone to disruptive behavior or restlessness. During these times, consider opportunities to pause and allow students to take a break. Work breaks into your lesson plan as appropriate.
  2. Discuss the expectations and plan for breaks with the student(s). Identify the length of the break, expectations regarding behaviors during the break, and expectations for returning to work once the break is over. Provide students with examples of behavior that are appropriate (e.g., stretching next to the desk; getting a drink) and those that are not appropriate (e.g., getting out art supplies to do a craft; loudly talking to peers).
  3. When it is time for a break, clearly state how long the break will last and any other relevant information. For example: “Please close your workbooks. We are going to take a 3 minute break. I will give a warning when the break is almost over. I am setting the timer now.”
  4. Use Beacon progress monitoring tools to evaluate the extent to which this strategy is improving the target behaviors as intended.

  • Be clear with expectations including whether this is an appropriate time for students to leave their area, ask to use the restroom, or get a drink. Depending on the length of the breaks, these activities may be more or less feasible.
  • Typically students will struggle with remaining focused for any extended period of time (e.g., more than 30 minutes). This will be particularly difficult for students with additional behavioral problems. Consider if you want to use an activity break for one student or the entire class during these longer academic periods.
  • Praise students for returning to their academic work quickly. Sometimes teachers worry about losing time when kids are out of their seat during breaks. Provide a warning when the break is almost over and provide clear feedback (consequence or redirection) after a direction to return to the seat is given.
  • For young children, it may be helpful to provide a visual reminder of activities that are appropriate during the break
  • If the break is being afforded only to one student (or a subset of students), you may need to explain to other students why this student is allowed to have a break. Teachers can talk to their class about how all students have strengths and areas where they may need assistance.
  • Breaks can be structured or unstructured. In some cases, giving students a few minutes to stretch or walk around may be perfectly appropriate. For younger kids, building in a fun movement based video or group sing along may be a useful strategy to provide a break from cognitively taxing tasks without losing structure.
  • Depending on the nature of the academic activity, breaks can differ with respect to length and allowable activities. Just make sure that expectations are clear prior to the beginning of the break.

Because providing frequent breaks does not effectively build the skills students need to independently meet age-appropriate expectations, it cannot be evaluated for effectiveness. The goal of providing more frequent breaks is to give a student time to refocus and take a break from a demanding assignment or activity. If this strategy is selected for use in the short term, it is recommended that it be replaced at some point with an intervention to help the student develop the skills needed to independently meet age-appropriate expectations for sustained effort and focus over time.

Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

Select an age group:


Other suitable presenting problems