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Teaching after Recess or Lunch: Challenge Accepted

School kids meditating

Whether you're dealing with elementary school kids or high school students, teaching after recess and lunch is tough. It can be challenging to get students to pay attention and focus. Luckily, there are some ways to make teaching after recess or any extended recreational time easier.

The Bell Tolls for Thee

When I was struggling to get my students on task after lunch, I asked my colleague, Erin, for advice. She's someone I would affectionately describe as a "hippie"—she wears hemp clothing, runs an after-school yoga class for teachers and students, and once followed the Grateful Dead across the country. Erin is always calm, cool, and centered, and it didn't seem like she had a problem teaching after lunch, so she was who I turned to for help.

When I brought it up with her, she said, "You need to get the bell. You tap it once to let students know it's 'time to arrive.'" I was puzzled. "What the heck does that mean?" I asked. Erin explained to me that when she was having trouble getting students to focus after coming back from lunch and recess, she decided to try her yoga bell. Once she tapped it, she told her students to take a deep breath, leave their baggage behind, and become mentally focused for class. They needed to start realizing that it was "time to arrive" to English class.

The first time she tapped the bell, she asked students to sit in a circle, facing outward. Next, she played a five-minute "mindfulness guided meditation" video. This gentle meditation was designed to help listeners reconnect with their body and relax. At first, students tittered and giggled, but they eventually settled down and did a shortened version of the exercises in the recording. Erin told me that her students started to look forward to the bell. If she forgot to ring it before teaching, they'd yell "Wait! We haven't arrived yet."

Guided Imagery

Because Erin's class seemed to always be on task, and often performed well on tests, I decided to give the yoga bell a try. High school students have a great deal of stress in their lives, leading to frequent feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Using a yoga bell to help my students "arrive" and become calmer through short meditation has been a true gift.

In fact, it worked so well, I thought I could use it in conjunction with my lesson plan. I decided to try a guided imagery exercise that would enable my students to feel like they were in the novel we were reading, Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I rang the bell, turned down the lights, and told students to close their eyes. Then I began:

  • Take a minute to adjust to a comfortable position.
  • Listen to your breathing and slow it down.
  • You feel totally relaxed.
  • You are going to take a trip back in time.
  • You are traveling back to the year 1921.
  • You are sitting down at a table in an outdoor cafe.
  • You hear the bright sounds of a jazz band playing inside the bar.
  • You hear the sounds of people laughing and glasses tinkling.
  • About five people sit at the table.
  • One of them is a beautiful woman. She has a dark haircut in a cool style. She's wearing a flapper-style dress, embellished with sequins and fringes. She doesn't look like the other women in the cafe; she looks much more stylish.
  • The men at the table are handsome and well-dressed.
  • You can tell from the conversation that everyone at the table is smart and funny.
  • They are also quite drunk.
  • The people at the table are laughing and joking. They are getting kind of loud.
  • You can tell two of the men are looking to get the attention of the woman.
  • One man is handsome but a little nerdy. The other is very, very cool.
  • This is very interesting, but it's time to go. You wave goodbye to this cafe bar scene. Begin to take deeper breaths as you prepare to come back to the present. Slowly sit up and open your eyes.

I was amazed by how much the guided imagery exercise helped students get into the spirit of learning. They really felt like they were part of the story, and the exercise helped them relax and connect to the literature.

When returning to class after lunch or a recess period, students are either exhausted or fired up, and there's not much middle ground. Using a yoga bell and trying guided imagery are two effective ways to help students refocus and get down to business.