Sit, Snack or Snooze? Getting the Best from Your Break Times

Sit, Snack or Snooze? Getting the Best from Your Break Times

Graham Dixon
by Graham Dixon 9,248 views

The lesson comes to an end, and your students make their way out.

Unless your employer is truly unreasonable, there will now be some kind of break, hopefully ten or fifteen minutes to recharge your batteries before the next challenge. I’ve been giving some thought to how I might best use this time, and here are my suggestions:

Learn 5 Simple Ideas for Getting the Best from Your Break Times

  1. 1

    Have a List of ‘Things to Do’

    I couldn’t operate without my lists. They give me structure, direction and an aid to a rather stretched memory. My lunch and break times are often spent making way down this list, which could include:

    • Grading and/or correcting student work. You might find it better to tackle grading in small chunks, although some like to block out an hour and just complete it all at once.
    • Planning future classes. I recommend that you arrive at school with all of the day’s classes already planned. But, we’re all human, and you might discover that break times are essential for some last-minute preparation. In any event, glancing at your plan for the coming class is a good idea, whenever you prepared it.
    • Researching or reading for a future class. I’m always gathering ideas for the later weeks of the semester; they’re sometimes left relatively blank on my course plan, as I know that interesting ideas will crop up along the way.
    • Analyzing the classes I’ve just taught, and looking for ways to improve for next time. Recordings help enormously with this.
    • Carrying out evaluations of my students as part of my assessment system.
    • Completing required paperwork for my school. This can seem endless, so I recommend you streamline your approach early on, learning from your colleagues.
    • Designing new material: a new handout, quiz, puzzle or reading exercise. I think it’s truly healthy for teachers to create their own learning materials, and build up a portfolio of terrific exercises.
    • Making copies. Try to find the time of day when the copier is less busy. Hint: right before the first class of the day is normally not a good time.
    • Organizing and purging my old folders; recycling useless stuff. I like to stay organized, and there’s something very satisfying about slimming down my paperwork.

    However, you might work for the kind of school which does not pay you for your break time. In this case - or if you’re up to date with your paperwork - consider spending this time in another way.

  2. 2


    Do something completely unrelated to teaching, or English, or your school. Read a chapter of a novel, check your email, read the news, or even just close your eyes in a quiet room for a few moments.

  3. 3


    If there is somewhere in your school which is quiet enough, close the door, sit on something comfortable, and focus purely on your breathing for ten minutes.

  4. 4

    Spend Time with Colleagues

    I’ve learned an enormous amount from listening to the experiences of my fellow teachers. Early on, I learned to talk less and listen more, and even to make surreptitious notes on my phone or a legal pad, so that I wouldn’t forget to chase up an interesting resource, or read a new piece of research they’d recommended.

    However, I’d like to recommend against sitting together with other teachers and simply complaining about things. It might feel good on some level, and it’s nice to vent from time to time, especially with those who feel just as you do, but it reinforces negative neurochemistry and can lead to feelings of depression and powerlessness about your personal and professional circumstances. Problem solving is one thing; bitching is probably a waste of everyone’s time.

  5. 5

    Go Outside

    Unless you live in Boston and it’s February (brrrr!) I heartily recommend that you get some fresh air at least once during your working day. If you’re an ex-smoker, like me, find out where the other smokers go, and head in the opposite direction. Taking a walk helps clear your head, especially if you can manage not to think about school and teaching for a few moments. Any kind of exercise is also positive for your state of mind.

  6. 6

    Keep Your Energy Up

    I’m trying to end my habit of getting on the sugar rollercoaster, but a candy bar at break time does provide a welcome boost. I’ve been switching to nutrition bars, which are healthier, and ultimately fruit would be the answer. I’ve also switched from coffee to tea; the caffeine buzz is more moderate and lasts longer, and again there are no health implications from green tea in particular.

  7. 7

    Call or Text

    You’re busy and there are a million things to take care of, but it’s important not to forget to reach out to your friends or significant other during the working day. My wife really appreciates a random ‘how are you doing?’ text, especially when she knows I’m up to my ears in students, grading and lesson plans.

  8. 8

    Prepare Your Board

    If you’ve already taken your walk, made some tea and read the headlines, consider getting a head start on your next class by preparing the whiteboard or blackboard. Students are immediately engaged if they walk in and find a question or puzzle on the board. Good warm-ups in this regard include:

    • half-completed words of vocabulary from the previous class; the students will complete the words when asked
    • funny gap-fill exercises, to check the last lesson’s vocab
    • drawings which are going to elicit vocab
    • a multiple choice question
    • a question which leads to a cool fact you recently discovered
    • the lesson play for today, so the students can immediately see what’s coming up

Break time should be just what it sounds like - a break, and I hope that you find time to rest, take time away from the challenges of teaching, and refresh yourself for the next class.

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