Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • To help students engage more deeply with an academic concept
  • To cultivate students’ ability to experience awe and wonder in simple ways
  • To increase student well-being by helping them to slow down and engage in a moment of expanded awareness
  • To foster a greater sense of community among students


Time Required

  • ≤30 minutes



  • Required materials (e.g., food, flowers) are dependent on the sense


Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Engage deeply with one or more of their senses
  • Notice how the sensory experience shifts how they feel physically, mentally, or emotionally


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Awe
  • Wonder
  • Curiosity


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management


Mindfulness Components

  • Focused Attention
  • Open Awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Take a moment to relax by taking a few deep breaths.
  • Now, consider the space you are in and choose one of your senses to engage with, whether sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell.
  • Focus on this sense and the experience of it (e.g., seeing your family play a game or gazing at a work of art, hearing the noises in your neighborhood or listening closely to a piece of music, tasting the food you prepared or savoring a treat, smelling the candle in your room or the fragrance of a flower, touching the hand of a friend or loved one or the softness of a rose).
  • Try to really slow your perception and take a few minutes to just engage the chosen sense with your experience. Did any thoughts or feelings, particularly of expansion or connectedness, come to mind?

Before You Begin

Slowing down our perception of a sensory experience can often bring about a sense of awe and wonder. This practice can help engage students more deeply in an academic concept (ideas are noted throughout the practice), and can also help lower their levels of stress by guiding them to slow down and engage with a sensory experience.
Special Notes:

  • While not all students will experience awe, any response that they do have to the stimuli should be honored and validated.
  • Make appropriate adjustments for students who may have sensory sensitivities.


How To Do It

  • If possible, have students do this exercise outside, allowing them to practice using their senses to connect with their everyday environments.
  • Begin by taking a moment to slow down as a class. This might mean taking a few minutes to simply have students close their eyes and breathe.
  • Using the directions below as an initial guide, have students engage one or more of their five senses with the environment. When possible, have students choose the sense and/or item with which they’d like to engage.


  • Provide students with a small piece of food such as a strawberry or orange (be sure to make adjustments for food allergies). If your school has a garden, have students pick an item of food and clean it off before eating it.
  • Ask them to eat the food item slowly while focusing closely on the taste and texture, trying to make it last as long as possible.
  • Have students reflect on what the item of food tastes like and whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction as they tasted the food.
  • Academic Integration Ideas: Use this when teaching a unit on nutrition, agriculture, food/cooking science, food supply chain, or socio-cultural influences and practices around food.


  • Have the students touch a rock or other natural item and simply consider what it feels like. Have them take their time holding the rock in their hands, thinking about its weight and texture. They might even compare a couple of rocks.
  • Have students reflect on whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction as they felt the rock.
  • Academic Integration Ideas: Use this when teaching a unit on textiles, geology, or other natural sciences.


  • Have students walk around for a bit simply focusing on what they might smell as they walk. If they catch a smell, ask students to simply pause for a bit and just take in the smell, considering what it is like (e.g., Where is it coming from? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? What does it remind them of?). Have students reflect on what smells stood out to them and whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction as they focused on trying to find and identify smells in their surroundings.
  • Alternatively, provide students with flowers, spices, fruit, or other pleasantly scented items, asking them to take in the smell slowly and deeply and reflect on their experience of it.
  • Academic Integration Ideas: Use this when teaching a unit on botany, environmental science, culinary science, or chemistry.


  • Have students take some time to study the transformation of a cloud in the sky. They might consider what the cloud looks like initially and just watch it as it moves and evolves.
  • Have students reflect on what the experience was like and whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction as they saw the transformation.
  • Alternatively, play a nature video for students and have them reflect on whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction from watching it.
  • Academic Integration Ideas: Use this when teaching a unit on environmental science, astronomy, earth science, or to inspire students before writing poetry or other forms of creative writing.


  • Have students spend some time just closing their eyes (if they are comfortable doing so) and listening to all the sounds they can hear (e.g., birds, cars, people).
  • Have students reflect on what sounds stood out to them and whether they experienced any physical, mental, or emotional reaction as they listened to the various sounds.
  • Alternatively, play a song and have students listen closely to the structure of the piece and how that structure helps convey different emotions.
  • Academic Integration Ideas: Use this when teaching a unit on the science of acoustics, music theory, or emotions.

Finish by having students share with partners, small groups, or the entire class what the experience was like for them. Do they notice a change in how they feel compared to how they felt before doing this exercise? What thoughts arose as they were doing this practice? How would they describe the experience to an older family member? To a younger one? Would they do this exercise again, perhaps using a different sense or a different object? If so, what might they do differently?


Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (inspired by Rachel Carson)

Reflection After the Practice

  • Did any of your students mention a feeling of expansion, whether mental, emotional, acoustic, or cognitive, or a greater sense of connectedness—both common reactions to awe?
  • Did your students seem more relaxed, motivated, engaged, thoughtful, kinder?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

In a study of 447 high school students in a Midwestern state (56% White, 25% Black, 6% Hispanic-American, 3% Asian American, and 10% multi-ethnic; 54% middle class), researchers found that dispositional awe (the tendency to feel awe in general) predicted academic outcomes, i.e., work ethic, behavioral engagement, and academic self-efficacy, via curiosity. In other words, awe-inducing activities may improve academic performance.

In another study of 72 veterans and 52 youth from underserved communities, the experience of awe during a whitewater rafting experience predicted improvements in well-being and perceived stress, e.g., “unable to control the important things in life”, unable to “cope with all the things that you had to do.”

And finally, researchers had 353 youth from the Netherlands ages 8-13 watch a video clip that prompted either joy, awe, or a neutral response. Those who watched the awe video showed greater prosocial behavior, donating their experimental earnings towards benefitting refugee families. In addition, they had greater parasympathetic nervous system activation—the system that calms us down.


Why Does It Matter?

Awe is a natural part of learning. It inspires us, making us feel connected to something larger than ourselves and changing how we think about our place in the world. In other words, awe can help students find meaning in what they’re learning—a powerful tool for motivation and engagement. Here is a beautiful story from Humans of New York about a student who most likely experienced awe during a science experiment.

Awe can also help students who feel bogged down by daily routines and worries about belonging and academic performance. Such stress has been associated with various negative outcomes, including lower academic performance, poor sleep, and decreased mental health. Learning to find awe in simple, everyday sensory experiences provides students with a lifelong skill to broaden their sense of connectedness, relieve negative moods, and increase their happiness, helping to support their overall well-being.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
–Rachel Carson
Enroll in one of our online courses

Do you want to dive deeper into the science behind our GGIE practices? Enroll in one of our online courses for educators!