Brain Breaks Part 3: Be the PRETZELS of the Teaching World!

img_4839Teaching with Comprehensible Input means that we are automatically teaching in the world’s most “student-centered” classrooms. Often, when a teacher or administrator observes, that is NOT familiar with the TCI methodology, they see what they assume is a lot of teacher talk. They may not hear it for the student-centered, student-driven, compelling comprehensible input that it is. I always have a description of the method attached to my syllabus close to my door, that I can hand observers for just this purpose.


One of the skills we develop as CI teachers is extreme flexibility. All teachers are flexible, but CI teachers are the pretzels of the teaching world! We learn to adapt and change our lessons at the mention of ONE compelling word or topic that the students themselves bring up. Then we have to be MASTERS at talking about that compelling topic using the language that our students know, and in the beginning little levels, that means talking about whatever it is with a VERY limited vocabulary. This is challenging to say the least.


Some of my favorite Brain Breaks are those that are unplanned, and spontaneous. These moments are when teachers show off their finest flexibile pretzel skills. Since they are unplanned, random, and completely unpredictable, it is challenging for me to tell you HOW to do these, the best way is just to give you examples of what they have looked like in MY classroom.


  • Last week we read the story about Mickey Mouse and Pokemon Go! that I had created at iFLT. One of my students in the MIDDLE of me talking about the one of the slides, stood up and walked up to the board, turned toward the screen and started mimicing the face that Pikachu was making on the slide. I always create my stories with moving gif pictures because it make it way more entertaining. The class fell apart laughing so we made it a thing. Every single slide we would start by standing up and mimicing the action that the gif was doing. It was hysterical on the slides when Mickey was crying hysterically.


  • Last year in a fifth grade class we were doing a DO NOW which involved them writing (in Spanish) about 3 ways their families bring in the New Year. This was to prepare for a lesson on the traditions people in Spain have for New Year’s Eve. I usually ask one or two students if they want to share what they wrote, but every single student rose their hand eager to output and circumlocute and share what they wrote in Spanish. I improvised and told them to take their paper out of their binder, I turned up the music on my speaker (which has Pandora pre-loaded and always playing in the background) and I quickly modeled that I wanted them to dance around while the music was playing and when it stopped they would share their traditions IN SPANISH with whoever was closest. They understood quickly as this is a system I often use. They hopped up and shared what they wanted to say 4 times with 4 different people and I played the music in between. This got students up and moving and allowed for every student to feel that they were able to share their family’s traditions.


  • Yesterday, in one 7th grade class, we were doing PQA focusing on the structures le gusta (s/he likes) and quiere comer (s/he wants to eat) but then ended up adding prefiere (s/he prefers) too. We ended up having a very heated debate over preferences of icecream until all of a sudden one, VERY quiet student, exclaimed that he preferred avocado icecream (in perfect Spanish I might add!). The class was stunned, horrified, and excited all at once. Immediately after, someone asked how to say icecream cone in Spanish. I didn’t know (so I gave them 20 points) and looked it up on the screen in front of the whole class so everyone could read it together. It is “cucurucho”, and the kids, couldn’t stop saying it. They thought it was HYSTERICAL. So, since they were already laughing and not going to focus for a minute or two I took the opportunity to stand them all up, and I modeled that I wanted them to move across the room like penguins, highfiving one another and each time they high-fived someone they needed to say that word. That way it got out their giggles, and allowed for everyone to have fun saying the weird new word. When I called them back we were ready for more PQA.


  • One class last year (4th grade) created a story which involved transport by car, which made farting sounds as it drove. I had one student doing the sound of the “fart” as the car moved. However, I noticed that there were a few boys also trying to sneak in the sound…. Rather than getting upset and telling them that they weren’t the actors, and noticing that everyone clearly thought they did a better “fart” sound than the next person. I stood EVERYONE up, and told them that for 60 seconds the ENTIRE class had to move around the classroom making their own “fart” noises and when I called them back together, it would be ONLY the actor I had chosen again. It worked like magic! Everyone was satisfied, and everyone got to laugh! Immdiately afterwards, everyone was so winded, and their cheeks hurt from doing it for 60 straight seconds so they weren’t desperate to outdo the one student I had chosen any more!


  • Three weeks ago, somone actually farted in my room. I saw three boys’ faces and reactions immediately, and rather than have them derail the WHOLE class with their giant “OMG! DUDE! ¡PEDO! UGH! ¡Qué asco!” squeels (which were sure to follow), I screamed dramatically and told the whole class to quickly stand up and run to the windows (on the other side of the classroom from the fart) and LOOK at what was happeneing outside. They all were looking and saying “what?! Where?!” they were all staying in the target language, and their brains were breaking, and the three boys who noticed the fart forgot about it , and nobody else even knew! After about thirty seconds of them desperately searching for what could’ve made me scream, I told them, “Oh I could have sworn I saw a unicorn!” (in Spanish)and they all sit back down and we jump straight back into the lesson.


As you can see, it is impossible to “teach” these pretzel style Flexible Brain Breaks, however, I have found that my class can’t function any more without them! I love them! This requires teachers to take great risks, but if we ask our students to do it all the time then we should model that we are also willing to take those same leaps of faith! J


Yay! Until next time,





La Maesetra Loca



  1. Love this! Maybe I’ll hang a picture of a pretzel in my room to remind me to look for the pretzel moments.

    On a side note, would you be willing to share your paragraph describing TCI? I’d like to have something to hand out for Back to School Night and would love to avoid reinventing the wheel if I can.

    Mil gracias!

    1. I would love to see your TCI description as well. My school email is We will be having open house at our middle school and high school a week after school starts, so this would be very useful (plus sharing it with other teachers and a new admin!). Also – I’ve been reading about your brain breaks for a while now and am excited to incorporate these into my classroom!

      1. Yay! I am glad to hear it! I am working with a big group of teachers in Vermont this week. As soon as I am able I will be posting the rubric and syllabus. I promise. I just can’t tell you what day it will be! 🙂 It will be my next blog though!

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