Teaching executive functioning in the classroom is an important part of social-emotional learning and character education. Executive functioning refers to our mental process that enables us to be able to focus, plan and complete tasks, and be organized. These skills involve both thinking and behaving, and help us lead successful productive lives. When students struggle with these skills, success in the classroom can be harder to achieve.
I often cover executive functioning in my lessons, I use this Time Management activity and this goal-setting lesson to reinforce those specific skills. My favorite resource that I use is the Executive Functioning Passport which includes everything you need for teaching executive functioning in your classroom. Looking for more ideas on how to teach executive functioning in the classroom? Check out this blog post on Teaching Self-control in the Classroom.
What is executive functioning?
⭐Planning– Figuring out how to complete a task or goal, and deciding what is most important to get done first.
⭐Self-monitoring (metacognition)– Looking at your own behavior and making changes to improve.
⭐Self-control– Managing your feelings and thinking about what you are going to do before you do it.
⭐Focus (attention)– Keeping your attention on what you are supposed to be doing long enough to complete a task.
⭐Task initiation (starting tasks)– Getting started on a task right away and without being prompted by others.
⭐Working memory– Being able to hold information in your mind long enough to use it.
⭐Time management– Using your time effectively to complete a task.
⭐Organization- Maintaining order in your work space by keeping track and taking care of your belongings.
⭐Perseverance– When things get hard, continuing to work towards a goal and not giving up.
⭐Flexible thinking– Adjusting your plans when unexpected things come up.
When students have difficulty with these skills, they can have a hard time with many necessary parts of the school day like remembering classroom routines, working through feelings, and multi-tasking. Integrating executive functioning strategies throughout the classroom creates a positive environment for the success of ALL students!
Strategies to use in your classroom
Use visuals around your classroom to help remind students of important information like classroom rules and processes for assignments. Label frequently used areas such as the headphone bin and homework drop-off area.
Display a daily schedule in an easy-to-find spot for students. Use visuals to make it understandable for younger students or more engaging for older students.
Use pre-made resources like my Passport to Executive Functioning skills. This option is engaging and filled with real-life examples and easy-to-understand examples for students!
This resource is truly an interactive way to help students make connections to real life skills. Keep it fun with map and travel themed activities. A virtual option makes it easy for you to incorporate this lesson for virtual learners and as a lesson switch-up in the traditional classroom.
Use Books & Videos
Students love stories! Books are a great way to incorporate teaching executive functioning in the classroom in a fun, relatable way. Need more book ideas? Check out this blog post about Children’s books that teach Perseverance. Here are a few highlights of my favorites:
*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission that costs you nothing and helps me continue to provide this content.
Breathe like a bear is a collection of mindfulness exercises using kid-friendly animal and nature themes. It starts off explaining that we all feel hyper and need help calming down sometimes. The exercises found within the book are meant to help you feel calm and peaceful, so you can make better choices and stay focused. The book is divided into five sections: Be Calm, Focus, Imagine, Make Some Energy, and Relax. It highlights different breathing and visualization exercises in a kid-friendly way.
The patience spot teaches about learning how and when to wait. The little spot goes through different situations that require patience, such as growing a tree, coloring, solving a puzzle, baking food, long car rides, waiting for glue to dry, waiting in line for your turn, and waiting for your turn to speak in class. The little spot discusses how to find your own calm spot by being creative and using your imagination to keep busy or distract yourself from waiting. Patience spot also explains that there are things you can do to grow your patience.
Lisa and her brother Johnny go to swim class. Johnny jumps in the water and is naturally a fast and awesome swimmer. Lisa is not, and she feels upset and that swimming is too hard. Her coach tells her, she can’t do it YET. The next day, the coach challenges Johnny to swim without the kickboard which will be harder and he prefers the easy way (fixed mindset). Lisa decides to swim without the kickboard (growth mindset). Each time Lisa tried different ways to swim, it was hard, but she kept going and she became a stronger and better swimmer. Her brain was also getting stronger. When Lisa and Johnny’s family take a trip to the beach, Johnny does not want to go swimming because he does not want to take the risk, while all of Lisa’s hard work pays off with her swimming skills. Johnny changes his non-risk taking ways and starts to challenge himself more in the future.
Check out this short video by Nessy that explains executive functioning.
Decrease Classroom Clutter
When there is clutter in the classroom, this is visually distracting. For students who already have a difficult time processing information, multi-tasking, and focusing, this visual clutter is just another thing to keep them from optimal learning.
You can decrease clutter in your classroom by labeling specific places for classroom supplies, books, bookbags, and more. Use visuals to help students easily identify areas items belong.
Teaching executive functioning skills is super important for students. These skills will help them succeed in school, day-to-day lives, and the future!
Check out these other executive functioning-related resources: