The Marshmallow Test is an experiment into self-control and deferred gratification. It involves leaving a young child alone in an empty room for 15 minutes with no other distraction than a solitary marshmallow. The child is promised that if they resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow, they will receive a second marshmallow, thus being rewarded with two instead of one. The original experiment was conducted at Stanford University in 1972 with the participation of 600 children, a third of whom managed to resist temptation long enough to get the second marshmallow. In follow-up studies many years later, researchers (maybe not surprisingly) discovered that the children who were able to delay gratification longer had gone on to be happier, healthier and more successful in their adult lives.
This lesson includes a selection of videos and a conversation activity. It is suitable for adult learners at upper-intermediate or advanced levels of English.
Step One : Predicting
- Tell your students that you are going to show them a short video and that you want them to guess what is happening.
- Play the video from 00.10 (make sure they don’t see the Marshmallow Test title) with the sound off. Let it play for a couple of minutes, then put your students into pairs/groups to discuss what they think is happening.
- Get some open class feedback and maybe hold a quick vote on which pair/group has the most plausible explanation.
Step Two : The Main Video
- Tell your students that the video they’ve just seen was of a child-psychology experiment called The Marshmallow Test.
- Tell them that are now going to see a different video which explains what the experiment is about. Ask them to take notes on the following while they watch:
- what the experiment involves
- the findings of the original Marshmallow Test
- suggested advice for parents
Note : I haven’t had time to write comprehension questions, but if anyone would like to volunteer, I will be more than happy to include them in this post. :-)
Note : Fans of TED Talks might prefer to use Joachim de Posada‘s 6-minute talk titled Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet.
Step Three : Conversation
Ask your students to discuss the following questions in pairs or groups.
Optional : Extra Videos
You might like to show your students a few of these related videos before or after they discuss Questions 7 | 14 | 15
a) Video to accompany Question 7 (1)
b) Video to accompany Question 7 (2)
c) Video to accompany Question 14
d) Video to accompany Question 15