Lesson Plans

Mind Over Matter

Marcus Sapere practices Reiki massage on a client in his office in Alameda, California. Reiki is based on the idea that sickness is caused by the changes in energy and that a therapist can manipulate that energy with his hands and mind. Image by Erika Larsen.

Marcus Sapere practices Reiki massage on a client in his office in Alameda, California. Reiki is based on the idea that sickness is caused by the changes in energy and that a therapist can manipulate that energy with his hands and mind. Image by Erika Larsen. Alameda, California, 2016.


  1. Look at the three pictures of food items. If someone put that plate of food in front of you, would you eat it?

    Discuss with the person next to you, why or why not? If you want, you can try to guess what these dishes are.

  2. [Survey the class. Then tell the students what the food items are]
  3. Now that you know, have you changed your mind? Discuss with the person next if you have or have not.
  4. Discuss as a class what factors impact if you would try a food item.



  1. Conduct a taste test experiment to explore how companies try to mirror the taste of their "regular" products in the “diet” version of those products.
  2. Divide the class into groups. Each group will go to a station.
  3. At the station, the group will see product A and product B. Each group member will taste product A and write about how it tastes.
  4. Wait 1 minute and then drink some water to cleanse the palate. Then wait 1 more minute.
  5. Now taste product B. Write down your observations about its taste and compare it with product A. Determine which of the two you preferred.
  6. Rotate the groups so each group is at a new station.
  7. Drink some water to cleanse the palate.
  8. Repeat steps 3 – 6 until each group has visited each station.



  1. As a class, graph the results of the taste test.
  2. Discuss why students preferred one option to another.


Go to the Educator Notes to View the Rest of the Lesson Plan

Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan is designed for 4th – 8th grade students.

Engage Notes -

1. The first picture is of fried frog legs. Frogs legs are popular in France and parts of the US. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fried_Frogs_Legs.jpg

2. The second picture is layers of haggis (bottom), tatties (middle), and neeps (top). Haggis is the national dish of Scotland. It is made of sheep's heart, liver and lungs, and onion, oatmeal, suet, spices encased in stomach or sausage casing. It is commonly served with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haggis,_Neeps_and_Tatties.JPG

3. The third picture is of stinky tofu with kimchi. Stinky tofu is a fermented tofu with a strong odor. Many people say it smells like rotting garbage or meat. It is common in China and its neighboring countries. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetienikki/5672711792

Explore Notes -

Make sure to determine if any students in your class have food related allergies or restrictions. If they do, avoid selecting food items with those ingredients or have the students participate in everything but eating and handling the food items.

You can set up as many tasting stations as you want for the experiment but provide at least three stations. Pick "regular" and “diet” (low-carb, low-fat, low-salt, low-calorie, low-sugar, etc.) food items that look and taste similar. For example, Coke and Coke Zero or Wheat Thins and Reduced Fat Wheat Thins.

The real point of the taste test experiment is to see what impact packaging has on the perception of taste. Before the student’s arrive to class, swap the food items’ packaging. For example, if you have Oreos and Reduced Fat Oreos, remove the interior container of both. Place the container of “regular” Oreos in front of the wrapper for the Reduced Fat Oreo and vice versa. Make sure the labeling is visible to the students.

When the students are sharing their results, most of them should prefer what they think is the non-“diet” version. This is because they think they are eating the “regular” version. Student should say they prefer these foods because they are full-fat, salt, etc. Most people think that because the “diet” versions are lacking in some ingredient, they are also lacking in taste.


Remainder of the Lesson Plan. Continue from Here

Explain Continued:

  1. [Explain to students that you swapped the packaging]
  2. Rediscuss the results of the taste test experiment.
  3. Ask the students what effect do they think seeing the labels had on their observations.
  4. Explain that what we think can have a biological impact on our bodies. When we eat something we not only use all our senses including taste, smell, and sight to inform what we think about what we are eating but also our brain. Knowing what a food item is, where it came from, how it was made, and the context of these things can change the way you taste and enjoy it.



  1. This does not only apply to food but also different aspects of life. Have students read the description of the Suggestible You project on the Pulitzer Center website.
  2. In groups, have students research phenomenon the rely on suggestibility such as the placebo effect, Ouija boards, acupuncture, mass hysteria (for example the Salem Witch Trials), and hypnosis. For younger students, assign them an age appropriate topic. For older students, allow them to select a topic they are interested in. Students can use the reporting from the project along with other reliable online sources. *WARNING - The Tim Ferriss Show podcast with Erik Vance contains adult language*
  3. After conducting research into the topic, have the groups share their findings with the class in a 5-minute presentation.
  4. After the presentations, discuss
    1. What role does suggestibility play in these topics?
    2. Do students think that this is a good thing or a bad thing?
    3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being susceptible to suggestibility?



Engage – Note student participation in group and class discussion.

Explore – Note student participation in the taste test.

Explain – Note student participation in discussion.

Elaborate – Note student participation in research, the presentation, and discussion. See if students understand the role the mind plays their personal experiences from what they like to eat to healing.

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