Classical Conditioning Lesson Plan

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Classical conditioning is an essential element of any psychology curriculum. This lesson plan uses two short videos as well as hands-on activities to explain classical condition and compare it to operant conditioning.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define 'classical conditioning' and 'operant conditioning'
  • identify the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, neutral stimulus, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response in classical conditioning
  • identify examples of positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment
  • compare and contrast classical conditioning and operant conditioning


  • 1.5 - 2 hours

Curriculum Standards


Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Key Terms

  • Classical conditioning
  • Unconditioned stimulus (US)
  • Unconditioned response (UR)
  • Neutral stimulus (NS)
  • Conditioned stimulus (CS)
  • Conditioned response (CR)
  • Generalization
  • Extinction
  • Operant conditioning
  • Reinforcement
  • Punishment


  • Lined paper
  • Pencils
  • Stopwatches

Instructions - Part I

  • Ask students if they have every trained an animal. How did they do it? What was the result? Allow students time to share their stories.
  • Explain to students that in this lesson they will be learning the theory behind training animals and people: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
  • Show students the lesson Classical Conditioning. Pause at 2:00.
  • Check for understanding by asking students the following questions:
    • What is classical conditioning?
    • Describe the similarities and differences between Pavlov's dog experiments and Watson's 'Little Albert' experiment.
  • Return to the video, this time pausing at 3:40.
  • On a piece of paper, have students create a diagram for Pavlov's dogs similar to the one they just saw for the Little Albert experiment. They should properly label the unconditioned stimulus (US), unconditioned response (UR), neutral stimulus (NS), conditioned stimulus (CS), and conditioned response (CR). To check for accuracy, have students share their responses with the class.
  • Continue the video. Pause at 5:00.
  • Discuss the terms 'extinction' and 'generalization.'
  • Watch the video to the end.
  • To check for understanding, project the lesson quiz and complete it with the class.


  • Divide students into pairs. One student in each pair will be the 'Recorder' and the other will be the 'Subject.'
  • Provide each pair with a stopwatch, lined paper, and a pencil. Ensure that students understand all of the directions before they begin the activity.
  • The Subject will relax in his or her chair for 2 minutes while the Recorder times. After 2 minutes, the Subject will take his or her pulse (count heartbeats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2). The Recorder will record the Subject's resting heart rate.
  • Next, the Recorder will tap his or her pencil on the desk 5 times. As soon as the Recorder has finished, the Subject will hop up and down on one foot for 30 seconds. At the end of the 30 seconds, the Subject will take his or her pulse again and the Recorder will write it down.
  • Students should complete this sequence (resting for 2 minutes, recording the resting heart rate, hopping for 30 seconds, recording the elevated heart rate) another 3 times.
  • Have the Subject rest for another 2 minutes and record his or her resting heart rate. This time, after the Recorder taps his or her pencil 5 times, the Subject will NOT hop. Instead, the Subject immediately takes his or her pulse one more time.
  • Conclude with the following discussion questions:
    • What did you observe in this activity?
    • Name the US, UR, NS, CS, and CR from the activity.
    • Did the conditioning not work for anyone? Why do you think this happened?
    • How could you test for generalization?
    • How could you test for extinction?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account