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Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus: An SEL Kernels Brain Game

A game of rounds in which students count to ten, say, “hocus pocus, everybody focus,” then, in subsequent rounds, begin replacing numbers with a hand motion.

Level: PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
Duration: ≤ 15 minutes
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Planning For It

Why Do This?

  • Focus Power helps students to listen and follow instructions, stay engaged in classroom activities, and persist even when interrupted or when facing challenges. They also use Focus Power to pay attention to others and have engaging conversations with peers.


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



  • None


Learning Objective

Students will:

  • Practice focusing and attention


Additional Supports


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • How well do you sustain attention on something or someone, while ignoring distractions? What strategies and practices help you to maintain focus and attention (e.g, mindfulness, removing distractions from the room or setting)?
  • Take a few minutes to read the “Focus 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 listening carefully as we count and remembering the right motion for a key number.



  • Introduce Focus Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Gather students in a circle. For the first round, go around the circle and count to 10 (have each person count one number). After the tenth person has said “10,” the next person should say, “Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus.”
  • Practice. Repeat the “1-10 + Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus” sequence until every student has had a turn.
  • Say:
    • Great! Now, we’re going to add a challenge. Every time we get to the number five, the person with that number will clap instead of saying the number five. Remember to just clap without saying the number. Pay careful attention to when it’s your turn and whether you need to say a number, do a motion, or say “Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus.” Let’s practice.
  • Go around until every student has had a turn.
  • As your class becomes more comfortable with this game, feel free to add additional challenges for different numbers.

Must do

  • Must require students to listen carefully for a specific number.

Can adapt

  • Change the motions and number of motions in the series.


  • To make the game easier for younger students, try shortening the phrase to just “Hocus Pocus.” Or, only ask them to count to 5.
  • Create additional challenges that have an academic focus. For example, every time you get to a certain number, name something from a subject you’re studying, such as:
    • Different animals
    • The name of a country
    • State capitals
    • Different kinds of angles
    • Addition or subtraction sentences that equal X
    • Different verbs for even numbers, different adjectives for odd numbers
    • Etc.
  • Encourage the last student (i.e., the student who says, “Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus”) to make up the next challenge.

After the activity, debrief

  • During this game, we had to pay careful attention to when it was our turn and what to say or what to do. What other times of the day do you need to pay careful attention to what to say and do?
  • What strategies did you use to be successful in this game?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • Ask emergent bilingual learners to say “Hocus Pocus, Everybody Focus” or a similar phrase in their native language when it’s their turn to say it.
  • This game can be tricky when students are first learning! The first time you play, intentionally make a mistake, and have a follow-up discussion about how mistakes are normal and to be expected in this game. Model how to move on quickly after making a mistake and how to keep playing with a good attitude.



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’ ability to focus improving?

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.

“Concentration is the secret of strength.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
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