Many kids and young adults would benefit academically and socially by improving their executive functioning skills. These skills include: planning, organization, time management, task initation, working memory, metacognition, self-control, sustained attention, flexibility, and perseverance. If you need more background on each of these specific skills, read my post on Executive Functioning Skills Explained.
Strategies to help support and strengthen executive functioning skills don’t need to be complicated. There are many strategies and activities teachers, paraprofessionals, and counselors can do in the classroom right away. If you want a guide to help you teach all executive functioning skills without any prep, consider my Executive Functioning Advanced Workbook, which includes over 100 pages packed with executive functioning lessons and practice.
Here are some simple ideas for practicing and strengthening executive functioning skills in the classroom that you can start right away:
Planning – People with weaker planning skills may jump into assignments or projects without thinking things through, or may forget to begin tasks when needed. Strategies for those who struggle with planning include making lists, writing short-term goals, and using a calendar or planner. Homework logs can be a huge help. Teachers can also support kids by setting up specific routines such as a daily homework bin, daily homework board, and schedule for the day.
Organization – Those who lack this skills might have disorganized binders/lockers, misplace important assignments, and forget to do assignments entirely. Many kids who struggle with organization need to be taught and shown how to systematically organize their binders and materials. Then, planning for weekly binder checks can help kids stay organized, too. Teachers can help by giving extra time in the beginning and end of class to write down homework, take papers out, and put papers away in the right spot. Organizational checklists can help, too.
Time Management – Kids and adults with weak time management skills might over- or under- estimate the time it takes to complete something, have trouble prioritizing tasks, and ultimately not meet critical deadlines. Strategies for time management include teaching kids to estimate time needed for tasks, setting specific time-based goals, and learning to prioritize the importance of tasks/assignments. One huge help from teachers can be to incorporate mini-deadlines into long-term assignments.
Task Initiation – Those who struggle with task initiation often feel they “can’t” start an assignment, even when they want to. In turn, this leaves many tasks incomplete or never even started. To support kids with this weakness, help them to make a specific list or plan for each assignment. For longer assignments, chunking into smaller ones can make a huge difference.
Working Memory – Kids and adults with weaker working memory often struggle to remember directions when said aloud, complete mental math, and even copy information from one place to another. Tips for working memory are mainly to develop compensatory strategies, such as repeating information back and learning to paraphrase information while reading or listening to a lecture. Teachers can give these kids a copy of clean notes to follow along in class, which will reduce the need to go back and forth while taking notes.
Metacognition – Those who struggle with this skill often have no clue on how they did on a recent test or quiz, or have no idea what material to study right before. One excellent strategy is to learn to self-monitor your own learning. Teaching kids to stop and answer, “What did I just learn?” can allow them to develop an understanding of what they know and what they still need help on. Sticky notes are great for this! After an assessment or unit, it might also be helpful for the teacher to conference with the student to determine what he or she learned, what worked well, and what they need to work on more.
Self-Control – Kids with weak self-control skills might call out in class frequently, make impulsive decisions without thinking, or have anger management problems. These kids need extra support in learning to manage their emotions. You can practice self-control with games. My favorite is to use Blurt. Kids have to practice self-control by not shouting out when it isn’t their turn. This becomes really challenging if a student knows the answer but it’s not their turn. In the classroom, teachers can help by having lots of structure and routines. You can also teach kids and young adults to use I-statements as a positive way to express emotions.
Sustained Attention – When attention skills are weaker, kids and young adults might struggle to pay attention to a class lesson, miss out on directions, or appear to daze off during a working session. One of the shortest but most effective ways to help increase attention is to help kids become aware of their personal distractors and work with them to reduce those distractions. To teach and practice paying attention, you can also play a fun game of Simon Says! It’s a great way to have a brain break serve as practice for focus and attention.
Flexibility – People who lack flexibility skills struggle significantly with change. Changes in the schedule or plans can cause emotional outbursts or an inability to cope. This might include when there is a substitute or if an assembly changes the daily schedule. To help support these kids, it’s helpful to prepare them for changes to the schedule ahead of time. Teaching perspective-taking skills also goes a long way with learning flexibility skills, as kids can learn to understand different points of view and make sense of them. Most of all, encourage these types of kids to try new things and go outside of their comfort zone.
Perseverance – Those who struggle with perseverance often give up on tasks and assignments before they are done. They are the kids who ask for help before trying sufficient strategies on their own, making them usually over-reliant on support or not finishing tasks at all. To strengthen this skill, teachers can teach specific strategies for what to do when a student is stuck. Also, riddles of the day and brainteasers can be a fun challenge to incorporate into your class.
As a next step, you might want to read up on some top games to improve these executive functioning skills. The key is to continue practicing and reinforcing these skills over and over!
If you need a place to start right away, download my free Executive Functioning Workbook Sampler. If you like that, consider the full product, my Executive Functioning Advanced Workbook. With over 100 pages, it includes comprehensive information and practice for every executive functioning skill with no prep for the teacher.