Experimenting with Self-Discipline

6, 7, 8

Learners experience an opportunity to practice self-discipline, and they compare and contrast discipline and self-discipline.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 20-minute lesson

The learner will:

  • participate in an experiment that demonstrates delayed gratification and impulse control.
  • define discipline, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and impulse control.

Individually wrapped chocolate candies, enough for two for each student (ex. chocolate "Kisses") Note: Be sure to have an alternative for students who have food allergies or limitations.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Before students enter the room, place one piece of chocolate candy on each desk. As soon as the students arrive, ask them to unwrap the candy. Tell them that they have a choice: they may eat the candy immediately, or they may leave the uneaten candy on their desks until the end of the class period, in which case they will receive a second piece of candy.

    Teacher Note: If the candy on student desks might be a temptation to other students,instruct theclass to rewrap and take their piece of candy with them when they form groups. "Resisting temptation" could also be included in the experiment discussion at the end of this lesson.

  2. Ask the students to take out a piece of "scrap" paper and label two columns "discipline" [training to act according to rules] and "self-discipline" [restraint of oneself or one's actions, such as anger]. Then ask them to brainstorm and list all the words and phrases they can think of for each concept.

  3. After a few minutes, have the students form groups of 3 or 4 students to discuss their lists. Distribute two pieces of paper to each group -- the blank back of "scrap" paper is fine. Ask them to label one paper "Discipline" and the other "Self-Discipline," and to write their agreed-on words or phrases about each concept on the papers. (They should write clearly and large enough to be read when the papers are posted on the wall.)

  4. Have the students tape their notes about discipline on one classroom wall and about self-discipline on a opposite wall.

  5. Allow the learners to do a "walk-about" to read each group's notes. Leave these posted on the walls for the next lesson.

  6. Just before the end of the class period, give each student who still has his or her piece of chocolate a second piece and tell them it's now okay to eat the candy.

  7. Write "delayed gratification" [to put off immediate reward to pursue a longer term goal] and "impulse control" [the ability to think before acting] in a display area. Tell the students that they were participating in a variation of an experiment done with 4-year-olds in the 1960's by a psychologist at Stanford University. He offered them one marshmallow to eat immediately or two marshmallows if they could wait for him to return in 20 minutes. Then he left the children alone with some toys. He was testing their ability to delay gratification and control impulse (point to the phrases and their definitions) in an effort to test his theory that these are important traits for attaining wealth and being successful. Some of the children ate the one marshmallow and some waited to receive two later. The scientist tracked the children for the next 14 years and compared their ACT College Entrance Exam scores. He found that the children who chose to eat one marshmallow immediately scored an average 210 points lower than the children who delayed gratification to get two marshmallows.

  8. Ask the students what this experiment helps them understand about self-discipline.

Cross Curriculum 

This character education mini-lesson is not intended to be a service learning lesson or to meet the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The character education units will be most effective when taught in conjunction with a student-designed service project that provides a real world setting in which students can develop and practice good character and leadership skills. For ideas and suggestions for organizing service events go to generationon.org.