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Give Us A Break! A summary

Compulsory education is a kind of crime. One day it will be looked upon as slavery is looked on now. One of the most important factors in creating motivation to learn is choice. Teachers may not be in a position to change the structure of the educational industry but they are in a position to minimise the effects. One of the ways teachers can do this is to give more choice to the students. By introducing breaktime into lessons teachers can increase the efficiency of the lessons and give the students some degree of choice and control.

The notes which follow describe an experimental program developed at Gonokawa High School, Shimane, Japan.

Situation and Initial Strategy

The class size was 24 students drawn from all three years. One whole day (five 50-minute periods) was given to the class. Lessons took place in a separate building. Two rooms were available. Two native English speakers team-taught. Originally the students were divided into two groups by ability. The students were used to the usual breaks between periods. Initial action taken:

  1. The students were put together in one class.
  2. The notion of 'periods' was abandoned. Students were given one morning break.
  3. The teachers provided refreshments for the morning break.
  4. The teachers provided files for the students' work.
  5. The teachers made a plan for the day. One of the requirements was that the plan was completed even if this meant keeping the students back.
  6. Elements of the plan were coded with symbols. The symbols indicated the type of effort expected.
  7. Green, Red, and Orange Feedback cards were given, one set to each student. The teachers would take cards according to effort and behaviour. Cards were exchanged throughout the day. The card held at the end of the day formed the basis for the class mark (continual assessment): Red 0-40%, Orange 41-70%, Green 71-100%.
  8. Music was used to herald the start of the day and as BGM to indicate types of activities. At the beginning of each session (morning, after the break and after lunch) a starting piece of music was played. This told the students it was time to get ready.

The Strategy Evolves

Activities were introduced in which the students could 'earn' breaktime. The starting music was faded out when all the students were ready. The time remaining to the end of the song became the initial breaktime.

An English only breaktime was introduced equal in time to the length of the 'Japanese breaktime'

Some graded work became graded co-operatively. I.e. the average mark of the group was used as the actual mark. Students were told their individual mark for each piece of work and the group mark. The message was if your personal mark was higher than the Group Mark who could you have helped. If your personal mark is lower than the Group mark who could you have asked for help? We left it to the students to decide what do about 'lazy' students.

Results: comments and criticisms

The students became more efficient in their use of time. Because the day was over when the plan was completed the students 'got on with it'.

The English only breaktime created an environment in which English could be used naturally. Students were not required to speak in English (silence was an option) but they chose to use English.

The lesson symbols guided the students in the use of different learning styles and strategies. Rest and relaxation could be seen as legitimate activity rather than as 'time-wasting'.

The students were able to see the relationship between their own efforts and improvement in ability (this was confirmed by interviews with the students).

Though the students had choice in their breaktimes their choice of learning material was limited. More choice in selecting learning material would have created intrinsic motivation. The program was too top-down.

The system motivated the students towards efficiency. It did not motivate the students to learn more.


The use of breaktime is a viable strategy in a compulsory education setting. Giving students lesson plans with guidelines as to the importance of each activity making up the plan is an important step. The teacher can spend less time teaching and more time facilitating. Students become more efficient and English only breaktimes can create situations in which the students use English voluntarily. The system as a whole does not in itself increase intrinsic motivation but does create situations in which intrinsic motivation can come alive.

References and Resources

Covington, M. V. & Teel, K. M. (1996) Overcoming student failure: Changing motives and incentives for learning. American Psychological Association, Washington.

Kohn, A. (1993) Punishment by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans. A's, praise and other bribes. Houghton Mifflin, New York

Slavin, R. E. (1998) A model of Effective Instruction. Success for All,


We used the following symbols:

Lesson Symbols

  1. Think & Concentrate – put your maximum effort in now! (Einstein)
  2. Be quiet and listen (Buddha)
  3. Have a go – try to use English (Indy Jones)
  4. This activity affects your term mark (Rocky).
  5. Relax! (Elvis)
  6. Use a language different from your native language. (a town crier)
  7. You can earn extra breaktime doing this activity. (Uncle Sam)
  8. Use Japanese, explain to others, check you understand. (Hirohito)
  9. English only! At first we used the drawing by Sharaku. Later we got hold of a Russian roulette water pistol and so we created the gun symbol. Students (and teachers) were required to shoot themselves if they spoke a word of Japanese during the English only sessions. An apt metaphor.
  10. English only break time (Brown Cow)

Below: A typical plan for the day. The day is built around part of the script of the movie Harold & Maude. Different activities recycled the script in different ways.

Plan For The Day

June 1999

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