Break Cards

At times last month, it was a challenge to manage some of the behaviours demonstrated in my classroom.  I have some students who have difficulty focusing and completing tasks even when I have supported their learning with modifications and/or accommodations.   Each evening I would drive home trying to think of a new plan for settling these students so they are not disturbing lessons and the other students’ learning.   Through conversations with resource teachers, research and trial and error, I think I have found a keeper!   At least it seems to be working in our classroom community…so far:)

It was recommended that I provide “break cards” to the students in my class who struggle with staying on task.  These students would start the morning with 2-3 break cards and they would be able to hand me a break card whenever they wanted to take a break from their assigned activities.   At first I didn’t like the idea.  What about the other students in the class who work hard and stay focused throughout the day?  Shouldn’t they deserve break cards as well?   Of course they do!  So I decided to provide “break cards” for everyone!

I feel that breaks should be earned.  At my discretion, I give break cards to students throughout the morning and again in the afternoon.  My decision to provide break cards varies from student to student.  I know that 10 minutes of sustained learning for some students is equivalent to 20 or 30 minutes for other students.  Each break card provides students with 10 minutes of “free time” in the classroom.  But, to avoid the possibility of students wandering aimlessly during their break and disturbing others, the breaks must be spent at one of the centers set up throughout our classroom.  I try to have a center for most learning styles.  For example, since we are doing strong and stable structures in science, I have set up a Lego table, for the kinesthetic learner.  I have music and books on tape for the auditory and musical learner, of course there are the two computers in my classroom, and my favourite, a cut and paste centre (which I call the arts and crafts table…after all this is grade 3!).

I am encouraging students to use their break cards wisely.  Some students choose to use their break card immediately. Others choose to save their cards until they have 20 or 30 minutes saved up.  I am thinking that I am going to have to create a new “rule” that students can only use 2 break cards in any given time.  Also, I need to create a planning board with pocket cards for the centers to avoid the arguments that arise when more than 2 people want access to the computers during their break.

We have only been using break cards for a short time.  Perhaps the novelty will wear off in time.  One way or another, I will check in and let you know if this strategy was sustainable in a few weeks from now:)


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  1. Tina.Ginglo says:

    The break cards continue to be a successful way to motivate some students to stay on task and complete activities and a reward for those students who regularly stay focused and productive. However, for those same students for whom the break card idea was suggested, the break cards have not worked as well. For these students, I have introduced…colourful craft sticks! Each time these students earn 5 craft sticks, they can trade the sticks in for one break card. I can also take back a craft stick if a student doesn’t follow classroom expectations or continues to ignore our classroom agreements.

    Other students initially asked why they can’t also earn craft sticks. I explained to the students that “fair doesn’t always mean equal.” This phrase is now written across our class chalkboard. We discussed what the phrase means and now there doesn’t seem to be a problem with this differentiated approach.

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