6 Ways To Boost Executive Functioning In Young Students


Every student needs to develop a set of cognitive skills to navigate through life. Self-control, working memory, and mental flexibility are examples of such skills. Collectively known as executive function, these skills help people organize and manage day-to-day activities. 

Executive functioning is the process by which the mind accumulates and manages all the information from the senses. It allows you to focus, think, and make connections to what you already know by assisting you in creating meaning from what you see, hear, touch, taste, and experience. With this function, you can follow directions, control emotions, and achieve goals. 

If you are a teacher, you may have observed that some students find it difficult to do simple tasks like remembering appointments, utilizing agendas, or turning in homework. The good news is that the frontal lobe, the region of the brain that controls executive function, continues to develop in children and adolescents.  

Thus, here are some ways to improve executive functioning skills among young students:

1. Teach Students To Make Plans

The ability of a student to think about the future, devise a strategy, and prioritize tasks is a strong indicator of cognitive growth. A young student’s planning skills enable him to create a list of methods that will allow him to efficiently complete work. Moreover, planning also makes priorities clear thus, maximizing productivity. 

To help a student craft a plan, you can start with the following: 

  • Ask them to list their tasks and rank these tasks according to importance. 
  • Assist them in making a consistent homework schedule. 
  • Break down enormous assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks.

2. Set A Time Management Table That They Can Follow

The ability of a student to properly organize a schedule, finish duties on time, and exhibit patience throughout assignments is referred to as time management. Time management is essential for a person in many situations since it allows them to hop from task to task seamlessly and improves productivity, timeliness, and goal-setting abilities. Completing a multi-step project before the deadline without compromising quality is an indicator of good time management. 

Here are some ways to help students manage their time efficiently: 

  • Create a class timetable that lays out the whole day for students and prepares them for what’s to come.  
  • You can add details to a class timetable with an activity schedule that divides time into smaller chunks and specifies how each period will be used and what activities will be offered in what order.  
  • Post these schedules in places where a student can readily see them. 
  • Use technology such as smart clocks, timers, counters, or applications to make the time a concrete, measurable thing.
building executive function skills

3. Train Them To Develop Their Organizational Skills

Teaching pupils how to become organized at a young age is a skill that will benefit them. Because homework, afterschool activities, and spending time with friends can be overwhelming, a young student must learn to organize his task. 

While there isn’t a school discipline dedicated to teaching children how to be organized, some methods can assist pupils in learning organizational techniques. The idea is to create an environment at school and at home that instills the value of organizing. 

The following are practical methods to develop organizational skills: 

  • Have the student designate a specific notebook for each subject. 
  • Let them create concept maps and outlines. 
  • Teach them to use graphic organizers.

4. Make Them Learn Metacognition Techniques

Metacognition is, at its most fundamental level, thinking about thinking. It’s the ability to recognize and comprehend one’s cognitive processes. Metacognitive thinking practices help people become more aware and improve their learning and memory. 

For example, if a student struggles to complete a long-term project due to distractions and poor organizational skills, becoming aware of this is the first step toward metacognition. Allow students to reflect on why they were distracted and how they can plan more efficiently to avoid hitting the same roadblocks the next time. 

This self-monitoring technique enables students to track and reflect on their progress on a specific assignment and recognize that adjustments may be needed to complete the task at hand. An example of positive self-monitoring is when a student sees an error in his computation and investigates what went wrong. 

These are example activities for students to learn metacognition techniques:

  • Assess what they know by asking them review questions.
  • Have them write journal entries and diaries.

5. Instill The Value Of Self-Control

Self-control, also known as self-regulation, is the ability to establish priorities and resist impulsive acts or responses that are unrelated to those priorities. It’s about controlling yourself through willpower or self-discipline to achieve your objectives.

Students with more self-control have more ability to focus, and the more focused they are, the more self-control they have.

To develop self-control, here are some steps:

  • Keep distractions and temptations to a minimum.
  • Allow them to declutter and organize their surroundings.
  • Allow them to take breaks. It is an activity to use the brain as a muscle and to improve one’s capacity to focus. Break time is necessary for pupils to maintain longer focus.

6. Practice Positive Reinforcement

While positive reinforcement has a specific definition and many complex considerations, it is a powerful teaching tool. Students who struggle with executive functions will find it difficult to motivate themselves to complete tasks that do not have immediate gratification. Short-term rewards reinforce long-term goals, which increases a student’s sense of self-motivation. 

In such cases, artificial forms of motivation, such as merit points or simple gifts and tokens, are preferable. Moreover, you can motivate students by appreciating their efforts, displaying their works, and allowing them to play after they finish their tasks.

Compassion Is The Ultimate Key

Boosting the executive function takes time. Students with problems in executive functions are as capable as their peers. However, they may have a problem demonstrating their abilities.   

As a result, it is critical that the people in their lives, particularly their parents and teachers, demonstrate compassion and a willingness to assist them in learning. When a student makes a mistake, figure out what went wrong and assist him in learning from his error. Remember, the executive function can be developed so, don’t be afraid to try.

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Education born and bred. I have worked as a teacher for many private language schools, as a test centre administrator, as a teacher trainer, as an educational consultant, and as a publisher. I am an advocate for literacy and a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom. I mostly write about English Language Teaching. I live in Oxford.


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