Self-Regulation Strategies

Students use self-regulation strategies like mental breaks, body and movement breaks, fidgets, and self-talk to maximize their learning
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About This Strategy

Most adults use self-regulation strategies throughout the day to stay focused, motivated, and productive, whether that means taking a walk to get an extra cup of coffee when feeling drowsy, pausing to take a few deep breaths when stressed, or tapping a pen when deep in thought. This strategy allows teachers to teach and support students to use their own self-regulation strategies, such as taking mental breaks, taking body and movement breaks, using fidgets, and engaging in positive self-talk to maximize their own learning when they start to feel distracted or discouraged. This strategy also includes tips to ensure students’ self-regulation strategies are used purposefully and effectively without becoming a distraction to the learning environment.

Implementation Steps

15 minutes
  1. Consider what types of breaks to provide in the classroom based on the age, learning styles, and preferences of your students. Here are some examples of some self-regulation options:

    • Mental Breaks: Take a mental break, especially after an emotionally or cognitively challenging activity or before transitioning to another activity. Mental breaks allow students to refresh their mental energy and refocus. Options:

      • Drawing/coloring

      • Completing a puzzle/sudoku/maze

      • Playing with a quiet toy (legos, kinetic sand, silly putty/play-doh/clay)

      • Reading a free reading book

      • Listening to a song on headphones

      • Sitting with a weighted blanket or stuffed animal

      • Journaling

      • Closing eyes

    • Body/Movement Breaks: Do a physical activity of some sort to release pent-up energy and get the blood flowing. Body breaks help students relax their bodies before settling into the task ahead.

      • Taking a walk

      • Stretching or doing yoga

      • Deep breathing or other breathing visualization activities

      • Getting a drink of water

      • Visiting a "calm down" classroom area

      • Playing with a quiet toy (legos, kinetic sand, silly putty/play-doh/clay)

      • Using a tactile bin (i.e. fill a shoebox-sized plastic container with sand, dry rice, or dry beans and let kids run their hands through it)

      • Cleaning up the classroom (i.e. wiping down the board or tables, putting away materials, or pushing in chairs)

    • Fidgets: Use a fidget (a small toy or object that a student manipulates in his or her hands) while reading, working or listening. Fidgets provide subtle movement and touch input that can help calm students' bodies and keep their minds attentive and focused.

      • There are tons of fidget toys available for sale online, but inexpensive fidgets can also be created from common materials: rubber bands, pipe cleaners, key rings, binder clips, etc.

    • Self-Talk Strategies: Talking to ourselves productively can help guide, motivate, and support our best work. Purposeful self-talk can boost productivity, motivation, and confidence.

      • Teach students explicit self-talk strategies. Consider using the self-talk model from Psychology Today (included as a resource below) so students can create their own self-talk phrases, or provide students with a list of self-talk affirmations like the free resource below from Teachers Pay Teachers.  

  2. Prepare any necessary materials and identify a dedicated "self-regulation resource" area in your classroom. Consider adding visuals to your classroom, either identifying self-regulation strategy options or reminding students of self-regulation expectations.

  3. Spend time in class explicitly teaching students about self-regulation strategies.

    • First, guide students in a discussion of when self-regulation strategies might be important. Consider modeling a personal example, i.e. explaining how, when you're feeling frustrated by a task, you like to take deep breaths before diving back in. Have students brainstorm self-regulation strategies that they already use.

    • Explain to students the expectations for self-regulation strategies. Consider:

      • Is there a specific way for students to signal to you that they need to take a brain or body break? This could be a special hand-raising signal, a sign-up sheet, or a laminated card they can give to the teacher to request a break.

      • How will students track the timing of their break? Depending on the students' age and experience with self-regulation, this could be a public timer, verbal reminders, or a student-monitored timer system.

      • Are there any norms you need to agree on for shared resources? You may want to create a sign-out system for any fidgets or toys, or designate a specific zone of the classroom for breaks so that they are not distracting to other students.

  4. Allow students to begin using self-regulation strategies, and adjust self-regulation resources and expectations as needed.

    • Consider prompting students to use self-regulation strategies at specific intervals of class as they get used to using the strategies.

    • Praise students for successfully using self-regulation strategies. Give students the opportunity to praise one another for using self-regulation strategies effectively when they notice it.

    • After some time, give students to opportunity to reflect either individually or whole-class on how the self-regulation strategies are working.

      • Are students using the strategies?

      • Are the self-regulation strategies helping students focus? Which strategies are helping the most?

      • Are there specific self-regulation resources that they would like more or, or that are being used incorrectly?

      • Are students using self-regulation strategies in a way that is not distracting to other students?

      • Are there any additional self-regulation strategies that you should explicitly teach students? Consider having them practice a new breathing visualization technique or a new stretch they can do in their chair.

      • How can students better use self-regulation strategies that match what they are struggling with? If a student is stressed, that may require a different strategy than if they are tired or if they are antsy.

Special Education Modification

Students with emotional disabilities or ADHD may struggle in particular with self-regulation, and they may have additional trouble developing the self-awareness necessary to identify when they would benefit from a break.

As a teacher, consider which students would benefit from reminders from you to take a break. Consider setting a timer to remind yourself to prompt specific students to take a mental or physical break during class. Similarly, you might consider giving a few students a fidget right when they enter your class, so that they have it on hand when they need something to fidget with.

Tech Tools

GoNoodle

  • GoNoodle is a web-based way to get younger kids out of their seats and moving. These short physical activities provide brain breaks that can help keep them focused throughout a long day.

  • Studies have shown that physical activity increases blood flow, which increases concentration and attentiveness. GoNoodle make it easy to integrate short and fun brain breaks throughout a long class period.

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street

  • Sesame Street's newest human resident, Mando, narrates while kids and a blue monster together tackle everyday frustrations -- like struggling to tie shoes, dealing with separation anxiety, taking turns, and going to bed -- and learn how to deal with them. Students must work through one problem before unlocking the next. Animated video clips show the blue monster's problem, then kids tap his belly to help him breathe deeply and calm down. When the monster is calm, students tap thought bubbles, which produces three possible strategies. Students get to choose which strategy the monster will try and then see him do it in another animated video clip. The technique of breathing, thinking, and doing is reinforced throughout.

  • This app supports this strategy by providing young students with a fun and interactive way to learn self-regulating strategies