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



  • None


Learning Objective

Students will:

  • Practice self-control


Additional 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 using self-control to do the correct (silly) motion instead of the automatic one.



  • Introduce Stop and Think Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Tell students that to play this game, they need to learn a motion. Ask:
    • Can everyone drum quietly with your fingers? (Demonstrate drumming on the desk or floor.)
  • Say:
    • This is the silly part: you’re going to do the drumming motion every time you hear the word “guitar” in the story but NOT when you hear the word “drums.”
  • Ask students to pay attention as you read the story, and be prepared to do the silly motion:
    • Benny’s Big Booming Band had a big show the other night. Benny was the main singer, Bobby played the guitar, and Bubba played the drums. Poor Bubba, he banged those drums so hard they broke, and a piece hit Bobby’s guitar and broke it too. Benny had his eyes closed and just kept on singing. He didn’t even notice that the drums and the guitar weren’t playing!

Must do

  • Must require students to replace an automatic response with an opposite response/motion.

Can adapt

  • Change the story and/or the motion.


  • As a challenge, read the story faster or add in a second motion (e.g., “sing la la la” every time you hear the word “drums”).
  • Use stories from your curriculum that contain word repetition, or make up your own!
  • As a challenge, ask students to create their own short stories with repeating words and accompanying actions to share with the class.

After the activity, debrief

  • What was easy or hard about our silly story and mixing up the motions? How did Stop and Think Power help you?
  • Being able to control impulses is helpful but hard. In this game, we had to Stop and Think to NOT drum when we heard the word “drums.” What are other times we need to do this in school? (E.g., when I get excited to share and want to shout out an answer but need to raise my hand instead.)
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • For students who may need additional support, have them start this game with shorter stories. You can also provide support by asking them to do a motion that represents the word–as opposed to doing a silly version (e.g., pretending to play the guitar every time they hear the word guitar).



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.

“By constant self-discipline and self-control you can develop greatness of character.”
–Grenville Kleiser
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