Reaction Time 2: Zap!

What You Need

Reaction Time 2: Zap!


To further show how skills can improve through practice and awareness, using a reaction-time activity that focuses on both visual and auditory responsiveness.


This lesson is the second of a two-part series that encourages students to think about their own learning and the strategies that best help them learn new skills and ideas. Research suggests that students' ideas about learning are resistant to change, and that students should have many opportunities to think about what they have learned, how they have learned it, and to document their learning. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 345.)

In Reaction Time 1: How Fast Are You?, students engage in two online reaction-time tests. They track their progress, taking note of any strategies that help them improve their performance. This lesson takes a small step toward the broader learning goal described above; it encourages students to think about their learning and illustrates that skills, when practiced, can become automatic.

In Reaction Time 2: Zap!, students build upon what they have already learned by participating in another online reaction-time activity—this one testing their visual and auditory abilities (both separately and together). As they play the game and record their reaction times, they quickly learn that there are very different skills and strategies involved in reacting to something when seeing and listening are required. Nevertheless, they also learn that greater self-awareness, strategy development, and ongoing practice of these skills can improve their visual and auditory reaction times—and, ultimately, their survival and success in life. 

Planning Ahead

Note: The Zap! interactive involves sound, so computers will need sound capability for this lesson.


Review what students learned in the first lesson of this series, Reaction Time 1: How Fast Are You? Encourage students to elaborate in their responses using examples. Questions may include:

  • In what kinds of real-life situations is it important to react quickly?
  • What would happen if you had a slow reaction time in these kinds of situations?
  • How does practice affect a person's reaction time? Why do you think this happens?
  • What skills did the baseball and ruler activities test?
  • Did practicing the baseball activity help you improve your reaction time with the ruler activity? Why or why not?
  • What strategies did you use to improve your reaction times in these activities?

Close the review by pointing out that the two activities in the first lesson involved testing their reaction times to visual changes. As a lead-in to this lesson, ask students to offer examples of situations where their reaction times to changes in sound are important. (Examples include home smoke alarms, police sirens, threatening noises, someone in need of help, etc.)


This section of the lesson is based on Zap!, which is an online interactive activity in which students test their reaction time by catching a fly as soon as they see or hear it.

Begin by dividing students into pairs and distribute the Zap! Reaction Time Data Sheet. Students can use the Zap! student esheet to guide them through this activity.

As directed on the student esheet, students will read the "How to Play" section. To gauge their understanding of the activity, have them answer these questions:

  • What is the goal of this game?
  • What happens if you hit the Zap! button too early?
  • How is Round 2 different from Round 1?
  • What do you have to do in Round 3?

For clarity and reinforcement, remind students that the goal of the game is to catch the fly. They should zap the fly in Round 1 when they see it, zap it in Round 2 when they hear it, and zap it in Round 3 when they see OR hear it.

Because of all the tricky variables in the game, students should be allowed to have ONE free warm-up practice round before testing their reaction times and recording their data using their reaction-time data sheets. Answer any questions they may have about how the game actually works before they begin.

Testing and Recording
Students should read over their Reaction Time Data Sheets and take turns playing and recording their scores. Encourage players to be careful not to click the Zap! button between rounds until their partner has recorded his or her scores.

When students have finished the Zap! activity and data sheet, have them read the "Learn More" section of the interactive activity to understand the step-by-step process that occurred in their bodies when they were trying to zap the fly. Then students can answer these questions using the Understanding Your Reaction student sheet.

  • Which was harder for you to react to—seeing or hearing the fly?
  • What do you think caused your reaction time to be slower in this case?
  • Which round was the hardest? Why?
  • How did you feel while waiting for the fly?
  • When you saw or heard the fly, in what ways did your body react?
  • Why can practice help to improve your reaction time?
  • What are the benefits of having a quick reaction time?


Assess student understanding according to how well they answered the guiding questions. Using their completed data sheets, further gauge and reinforce students' understanding of their different reaction-time skills, the data they collected, and the different strategies they can use to improve these skills over time. Have students address the questions that are found on the Understanding What You Learned student sheet, using their average scores in each category:

  • In which round did you have the fastest reaction time—seeing, hearing, or both? (Raise hands.)
  • In which round did you have the slowest reaction time—seeing, hearing, or both? (Raise hands.)
  • What does this say about how you react to the things you see or hear?
  • Do you think if you practiced this game more, your reaction times would improve or become automatic? Why or why not?

For those who had slower Visual reaction times:

  • What are some ways you could improve your visual reaction time (in this game and life in general)? Offer examples.

For those who had slower Auditory reaction times:

  • What are some ways you could improve your listening reaction time (in this game and life in general)? Offer examples.

For those who had slow combined Auditory and Visual reaction times:

  • What are some ways you could improve these combined abilities (in this game and life in general)? Offer examples.


Students could revisit the Exploratorium's Fastball Reaction Time and design and conduct their own tests of human response time. For example, do students have a faster response time using the hand that they write with or the opposite hand? Are students' times the same when they listen to music?

Students could try the Colorful Reaction Time Tester at the Neuroscience for Kids website. This activity tests how fast students respond to different colors and allows students to explore how their reaction times vary with different colors.

Students could go to Explorescience.com's Sight vs. Sound Reflexes where they'll respond to visual and auditory cues to determine when response time is quicker.

Students can evaluate their reaction times further by playing this simple and enjoyable online Hit-the-Dot activity, which tests the accuracy of their hand-eye reaction times and coordination.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks State Standards

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