Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

This lesson plan, adaptable for grades 3-8, challenges students to use what they learn about classical conditioning to play a game in which they train a dog to drool on command. Students experiment until they identify the correct combination of food and sound to accomplish the goal.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Watch a movie about behavioral conditioning and how to create a conditioned response.
  2. Create a concept map that shows how to develop a conditioned response (drooling) by associating a neutral stimulus (bell) with an unconditioned stimulus (food).
  3. Play a digital game, Pavlov’s Dog, in which the object is to create a conditioned response using a neutral stimulus.



conditioning, conditioned response, reflex, response, stimulus, unconditioned response


This lesson features a game called Pavlov’s Dog developed by The game challenges players to use what they know about classical or behavioral conditioning to train a dog to drool upon hearing an arbitrary sound.

Preview and play Pavlov’s Dog to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be working in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations. Depending on your classroom routines and available technology, you may want to consider these grouping options:

  • 1:1 with students and devices
  • Two to three students sharing one device and swapping ideas and the device back and forth
  • Station model where small groups rotate through using the devices
If you plan to use the Cause and Effect printable, print and make copies for each student.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Conditioning, Scientific Method, Dogs, and Behavior.  BrainPOP ELL also offers a Scientific Method movie on this topic.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students who have pets what happens when their pet hears the can opener and/or what happens when they take out the dog leash. Encourage them to explain why they think their pets respond as they do from these stimuli. Then tell the class that today they will discover the science behind these behaviors.
  2. Show the movie Conditioning on a whiteboard or other display to the whole class once through without pausing.  
  3. Next, if you have access to multiple computers and/or devices, divide the class into pairs or small groups and have them open the Make-a-Map feature, which is available for My BrainPOP subscribers, for the Conditioning movie. NOTE: If limited access to computers, you can do this as a whole class activity, or distribute the Cause and Effect printable (see Preparation) for students to complete offline.
  4. Have pairs watch the movie again from within the Make-A-Map feature. As they watch, prompt them to pay close attention to what causes the dog’s response and have them create a concept map showing how conditioning works, or the cause and effect relationship between stimuli and a dog’s response. Suggest that they pause the movie as they create their concept maps. Remind them that they can use clips of the movie in their maps. When they are done, invite pairs to share their concept map with another pair to ensure that they understand the concepts. Here is an example of what your students’ maps might look like: Pavlov's Dog MAM sample
  5. Now invite students to play the game Pavlov’s Dog independently or with a partner. Explain that the object of the game is to train the dog to respond to a signal that it will associate with being fed. Choose the right signals with his food and you will become successful; choose the wrong options and the dog will refuse to respond. Encourage students to use the concept maps they created to help them.
  6. If playing in pairs, remind students to collaborate before trying out their ideas. If they have more than one solution, encourage them to try all of their ideas.
  7. After students have successfully created a conditioned response, bring them back together for a whole class discussion. Invite volunteers to share their strategies using the terminology they learned in the movie, such as conditioned response, stimulus, unconditioned response, etc.

Extension Activities:

Challenge students to experiment with conditioned responses by training a pet to do something new, or even conditioning a friend or family member to respond to a stimulus with a certain behavior.