A string on a finger signifying a reminder to remember something

Hot Potato: An SEL Kernels Brain Game

Students pass a “hot potato” while music plays; when the music stops, everyone does the same dance move, except for the person with the “hot potato” who does a different one.

Level: PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
Duration: ≤ 15 minutes
My Notes: Add/Edit Notes

Planning For It

Why Do This?

  • Remember Power helps students to remember directions, follow steps in the correct order, and keep track of multiple things at the same time. It helps students to plan and work towards goals over time. Remember Power also helps students (and adults) to multi-task and keep track of multiple goals, tasks, or items at once.


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



  • A “hot potato” (e.g., ball or eraser)
  • Music that can easily be turned on and off


Learning Objective

Students will:

  • Practice memory and attention


Additional Supports


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • How well do you remember the multiple things you need to do? What strategies and practices help you to develop your working memory (e.g, making a written list, repeating the information out loud)?
  • Take a few minutes to read the “Remember 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 remembering what you’re supposed to do while doing a different motion (passing around the hot potato as quickly as possible).



  • Introduce Remember Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Find an object that can be passed easily from hand to hand to use as your “hot potato” (e.g., ball or eraser), and cue up some music for the game.
  • Gather students standing (or sitting) in a circle.
  • Say:
    • I have a hot potato (show the object) that we’re going to keep passing around as long as the music is playing.
  • Tell students that when the music stops, everyone will do this dance move:_________ (e.g., jump, turn around in a circle, touch your head, etc.). The person who is holding the hot potato will do a different dance move:__________. Practice the two moves.
  • Demonstrate and have kids repeat.
  • Start the music and play multiple rounds.

Must do

  • Must require students to remember an assigned movement/dance move.

Can adapt

  • Change the object and/or the dance moves.


  • Kids can take turns deciding the dance moves for each round.
  • To make things more challenging: increase the number of “hot potatoes” or increase the number and/or complexity of motions. For example:
    • When the music stops, turn around to the right one time, walk to the window, look out the window to the left, and tell me one thing you see.
  • To integrate this game with academic content for older students, ask a math/science/grammar question before you start the music. Students should not answer the question right away, but keep the question and answer in their mind as they play the game (pass around the hot potato as quickly as possible); students have to remember and say the answer when the music stops. For example:
    • When the music stops, name a parallelogram.
    • When the music stops, answer: what is 12 x 7?
    • When the music stops, say three different verbs (or other part of speech).
    • When the music stops, name a mammal/reptile/etc.

After the activity, debrief

  • How did it feel to play this game? Did anyone feel nervous about ending up with the potato or worried they might forget the move? Everyone feels nervous sometimes!
  • What are things we can do to remember next time? (E.g., when I’m nervous, take a deep breath to calm down and stay focused on what we should be doing when the music stops; give each other hints to support each other when someone forgets; say the two actions to myself to distract myself from the nerves.)
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • For emergent bilingual learners, use music featuring their home languages.
  • As an added challenge, ask each child sitting on either side of the person with the hot potato to do a third dance move.



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 remember 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.

“Forget your troubles and dance.”
–Bob Marley
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