Planning For It

Why Do This?

Stop and Think Power helps students to wait patiently, to resist temptations, and to think carefully before making important decisions. Students also use stop and think to self-monitor and to reflect.


When You Might Use This Practice

  • Integrated into a daily or weekly schedule as a routine
  • During a designated SEL block of 10-15 minutes per day for Kernels practice or as time allows
  • During a morning meeting, a transition, after recess, or at the end of the day
  • Throughout the school year to create a supportive classroom community


Time Required

  • ≤ 15 minutes



  • Dance music


Learning Objective

Students will:

  • Practice self-control


Instructional Supports


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • How well do you practice self-control when faced with a challenging or tempting situation? What strategies and practices help you to practice self-control (e.g, taking deep breaths, walking away from the temptation, counting to ten)?
  • Take a few minutes to read the “Stop and Think Power” practice before introducing the game.

Note: Click here to download and print a card version of this practice that can be added to the other Brain Games practices to make an easy-to-use hand-held collection. See the SEL Kernels pack for additional activities.


The Big Idea

  • This game is about exercising body control–stopping yourself from moving or dancing when the music stops. It is also about listening and remembering the feeling/motion you need to demonstrate when the music stops.



  • Introduce Stop and Think Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Cue up some music to use during the game.
  • Ask students to find their own space in the room where they can move around without bumping into others.
  • Tell students that before each round, you will say a feeling like “happy” (or sad, angry, scared, embarrassed, etc.). You’ll also give them a moment before each round to Stop and Think about how they would show that emotion with facial expressions and body posture (and without talking or moving).
  • Let them know to dance when the music starts. When the music stops, they should freeze in a pose that shows “happy” (or other emotion for that round).
  • Play multiple rounds. Give students a new feeling before each round.

Must do

  • Must require students to stop and think about how they would show a certain emotion.

Can adapt

  • Change the song and/or the feelings.


  • For younger students, limit the feelings to the few they’re familiar with. Introduce new emotions gradually.
  • Over time, use this game to explore more complex feelings vocabulary with the group (e.g., frustrated, proud, jealous, etc.).
  • To increase the challenge, ask students to freeze when the music stops for a count of five BEFORE doing the specific pose.

After the activity, debrief

  • In this game we used our brains to Stop and Think about how to express the emotion with our faces and bodies. What was easy or hard about this game?
  • I was picturing different emotions in my mind and what they look like on my face. What were you thinking about before you froze?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • Play music in emergent bilingual learners’ home languages.
  • For students who may struggle to demonstrate emotions with body language or read social cues, model each feeling that you call-out and/or have picture cards featuring children demonstrating each emotion.


This practice is part of the SEL Kernels project developed by the EASEL Lab at Harvard University.

Reflection After the Practice

  • Do you notice students’ self-control increasing?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

Children who are able to effectively manage their thinking, attention, and behavior are also more likely to have better grades and higher standardized test scores.


Why Does It Matter?

Children use cognitive regulation skills whenever faced with tasks that require concentration, planning, problem solving, coordination, conscious choices among alternatives, or overriding a strong internal or external desire—all key skills for behavioral and academic success.

These skills enable children to prioritize and sequence behavior (e.g., put their pants on before their shoes), inhibit dominant or familiar responses in favor of a more appropriate one (e.g., raise their hand rather than blurt out the answer), maintain task-relevant information in mind (e.g., remember the teacher’s request to wash hands and then put coats on before going outside), resist distractions, switch between task goals, use information to make decisions, and create abstract rules and handle novel situations.

“Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let’s dance.”
–James Howe
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