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 exercising self-control to wait before doing a series of motions.



  • Introduce Stop and Think Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Say:
    • First, I will say or do a series of movements. Then we will stand very still and count to five.
    • When we are done counting and I say “GO,” I want you to repeat the same movements, in the same order.
  • Example 1: Point to two body parts, count to five, then say, “GO,” and have students do the movements in the same sequence.
  • Example 2: List a series of movement instructions (e.g., “touch your head, stand on one foot, squat down”), then wait, and have students carry out those movements in that order.

Must do

  • Must require students to remember a series of movements and wait for a specific word before carrying out the movements.

Can adapt

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


  • To make things more challenging: increase the number of instructions in each sequence, increase the wait time, or add intentional distractions (e.g., other students singing a song of doing jumping jacks in view of students trying to remember the sequence).
  • To make the game more challenging, incorporate “rules” associated with each movement. In the “opposites” game, students must remember the rule and complete the opposite movement when they see it (e.g., “Look tall” and students squat down). “Rules” can also be specific to each game, such as “When I touch my elbow in the sequence, you have to touch your head when you replicate the same sequence.” For added challenges, add multiple rules per sequence.
  • Another advanced option with a “rule”: Students assign a movement to numbers (touching your head is 1, fist in the air is 2, smiling is 3). The leader carries out a series of those movements in front of the class, and students must then report out (or write down) which number sequence matches the movement sequence they observed (e.g., “You did a 3, 2, 3, 3, 1”).

After the activity, debrief

  • Was it easy or hard to wait when playing this game? Why?
  • What strategies or skills did you use to help you wait to begin?
  • What skills or strategies did you use to remember the movements/instructions?
  • Are there other times during the school day that you have to wait? To listen/remember directions? What about at home or at school?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • For students who may need more support, start with two movements. As they become comfortable with two movements, gradually increase the number of movements.
  • Play background music with a beat as you play to help everyone do the moves at the same time.



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.

“You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.”
–Craig Bruce
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