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Zip, Zap, Zop: An SEL Kernels Brain Game

Students stand in a circle and take turns clapping their hands at each other as they say, “Zip”, “Zap”, or “Zop”, in that order.

Level: PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
Duration: ≤ 15 minutes
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Planning For It

Why Do This?

  • Focus Power helps students to listen and follow instructions, stay engaged in classroom activities, and persist even when interrupted or when facing challenges. They also use Focus Power to pay attention to others and have engaging conversations with peers.


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 focusing and attention


Additional Supports


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • How well do you sustain attention on something or someone, while ignoring distractions? What strategies and practices help you to maintain focus and attention (e.g, mindfulness, removing distractions from the room or setting)?
  • Take a few minutes to read the “Focus 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 paying attention to know when it is your turn and to know the right thing to say.



  • Introduce Focus Power to students, if necessary.
  • Say the Big Idea (see above).
  • Gather students in a circle. Say:
    • Let’s use our focus skills to pay attention as we take turns and send the chant “Zip, Zap, Zop” around the circle.
  • Have students repeat after you:
    • Zip, Zap, Zop
  • Tell students:
    • During our game, we are going to take turns passing the Zip, the Zap, and the Zop around/across the circle. I will start by saying ‘Zip’ and clap my hands at someone else. That person will then say ‘Zap’ and clap their hands at someone different, who will they say ‘Zop,’ etc. We will send this same chant around the circle over and over again.
  • The goal is to send the chant quickly around the circle. While students are waiting for their turn, they should pay careful attention and follow the chant around the circle. They should also pay attention to make sure everyone gets a turn!

Must do

  • Must require students to pay careful attention, say the right word, and do the correct motion.

Can adapt

  • Change the chant (e.g., Zoop, Zeep, Zipe).


  • To make the game easier for younger students, go around the circle in order chanting “Zip, Zap, Zop.” To change things up, add a ball for them to gently toss around the circle as they go.
  • For a variation, ask students to do a different motion, such as winking, while saying their part of the chant.
  • To make the game more challenging, add additional words to “Zip, Zap, Zop” (e.g., Zoop, Zeep, Zipe).
  • To boost phonemic awareness for younger children, adjust the chant to reflect any letters or concepts you’re working on (e.g., if you’re focusing on the letter “b,” the chant could be “Bip, Bap, Bop”).
  • For added challenge, ask children to pass around each word of a children’s song to each other until they get through a verse, e.g., “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” It will require them to pay extra attention to where they are in verse.

After the activity, debrief

  • Was it hard to use your Focus Power and pay attention to where the Zip, Zap, and Zop were in the circle? What helped you stay quiet or react quickly?
  • Is it easier or harder to focus when playing this funny game versus when doing something serious (e.g., school work)?
  • What other times of the day do you have to pay careful attention to do something in a certain order?
  • For more debriefing questions, see Brain Games Practice.

Tips for success

  • For students who may need additional support, use different words that don’t sound so similar and aren’t confusing, such as banana, apple, and grapes, or cat, dog, and bunny.



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 focus 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.

“Concentration is the key that opens up to the child the latent treasures within him.”
–Maria Montessori
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