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 listening for a key phrase (Simon Says) before you do the motion.



  • Introduce Stop and Think Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Ask students to find their own space in the room where they can move around without bumping into anyone else.
  • Say:
    • Watch me and copy my actions, but only when I say “Simon Says” first. For example, if I say, “Simon Says touch your nose,” you should touch your nose. But don’t do anything if I just say, “Touch your nose.”
  • Give a series of fun, active commands–some with “Simon Says” before, some without.
  • End with:
    • Simon says sit down for our Post-Game Talk.

Must do

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

Can adapt

  • Change the phrase “Simon Says” or the actions to copy.


  • As students get better at the game, increase the speed that you play.
  • To practice careful listening, insert other, but similar, phrases like “Simone says.”
  • To make the game more challenging, you can do the action yourself whether or not you say “Simon says,” which tempts players to follow instead of listening closely.
  • A more challenging variation that also practices mental flexibility: after a few rounds, change the rules. “Now we’re going to pretend it is opposite day. You will copy my actions only when I DON’T say ‘Simon Says’ first.”

After the activity, debrief

  • In this game, Simon is telling us what to do. In real life, our brains tell our bodies what to do. The brain is a very special muscle that can grow and become stronger with regular practice and exercise.
  • What does it feel like when you are trying NOT to do something you want to do? What does it feel like to tell your body to Stop and Think?
  • Do you ever talk to yourself to help yourself do something the right way? You can build your Stop and Think Power by noticing what you are doing and thinking about whether you are doing the right thing: We can say, “Hey Brain, let’s stop and think right now!” What are other ways we can help our brains Stop and Think?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • For emergent bilingual learners, invite them to share how to say “Simon Says” in their native languages, and play in different languages.
  • For students who may need additional support, play with them 1:1 beforehand to help them understand the rules of the game.
  • Allow all children to play even after they make a mistake during practice rounds. Feel free to play one final round where you ask children to line up or go to the rug for the next activity after they make a mistake.



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.

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
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