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



  • Cards showing various singing styles (e.g., loud, quiet, quick, slow)


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 manage how you sing a familiar song–loud, soft, fast, slow. Body (movement, voice, etc.) control is a great way to practice self-control.



  • Introduce Stop and Think Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Create large cards with different styles (e.g., loud, quiet, quick, slow) visually represented with words and/or images. Choose a classic children’s song that has associated motions that you’d like to sing with the class (e.g., “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”; “5 Little Monkeys”; “Hokey Pokey”, etc.).
  • Ask students to spread out and find their own space in the room.
  • Say:
    • We are all going to sing ________ together. Let’s sing the song normally first to learn the words and motions. Repeat after me and follow along. (Lead students through the song.)
  • Say:
    • Now let’s try singing the same song in different styles. I have four cards that say “fast, slow, loud, and quiet.” Let’s try singing in one of the styles. (Show one card, and sing together).
  • Continue singing new rounds in different styles.

Must do

  • Must require students to replace the automatic style of singing a song with a new one.

Can adapt

  • Change the song and/or the styles.


  • Variations: switch styles mid-song or invite students to choose styles.
  • This game gives students clear practice for common classroom expectations such as “slow down” or “use a quiet voice.” Incorporate other styles that you’d like to work on in your classroom.
  • Invite children to create their own styles (e.g., robotic, like an opera singer, like a rapper, etc.).

After the activity, debrief

  • We had to use our Stop and Think Power to do something different than what we were used to. It can be hard. How did that feel? What can help us when it’s hard to do this?
  • Let’s pay attention to styles today. When I tell us to use “quiet” voices during _____, think about how to Stop and Think to talk in a different style.
  • When are other times that you’re asked to do something in a specific way? Do you always feel like doing things that way?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • Translate the different style words (i.e., loud, quiet, quick, slow) into the native languages of bilingual learners, and add those words to your cards.
  • If you have children in your group who have experienced trauma, use caution with the “loud” styles, and only use it if you think it won’t be too stressful for the students.



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.

“When in doubt, sing loud.”
–Robert Merrill
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