The Importance of Executive Functions in the Classroom


Supporting Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom


Executive functions are the basic skill sets in our brains that drive us to pay attention, make plans, keep on track, prioritize, and hold information in our minds. They are the building blocks of learning. Students with underdeveloped executive functioning skills struggle with self-control, filtering out distractions, and focusing in a classroom setting. Educators can get creative with ways to support the improvement of their students’ executive functioning skills. At LearningWorks for Kids, we focus on utilizing the power of digital technologies to support children’s development in these vital areas. Video games and mobile apps are a great way to meet today’s kids at their points of interest and engage them. However, in a classroom setting, more traditional approaches are useful. Recognizing which executive functioning deficits are common in your particular classroom will direct the design of your educational strategies. Below are some strategies that could be implemented to support executive functioning in your classroom.


Allocate class time for students to organize materials. 

Building in time to your classroom routine for writing down homework, identifying and organizing materials, and making a homework plan can support children in their organizational skills, working memory, and time management. Ten minutes per day could make a significant difference for many students!

Schedule movement breaks.

Many children struggle with restlessness and carry lots of energy in their bodies. Rather than forcing them to repress this, accommodating more hyperactive children can help with the entire classroom dynamic. Recent research supports the theory that breaking between lessons for a series of stretches or a mini dance party can support difficult transition time while helping students with sustained attention, working memory, and task initiation. 

Use a timer for written assignments.

Clearly communicating how long students have during written assignments with a visual aid can support them in time management and task initiation. When they can see how much time they have left, it may help keep them on track. Fun visual timers like these can add a little flair to your lesson, too. 

Provide note outlines. 

For children who struggle with certain executive functions, the process of taking notes may pull their attention away from absorbing the information being delivered. In providing the skeleton of the lesson through note outlines, students can better keep up with listening while still noting essential information. This will help with working memory and task persistence. 

Incorporate peer review sessions.

Whether for a written assignment or a math assignment, setting up peer review sessions can help students to teach each other and learn from each other. This revision of coursework will give them the opportunity to practice reviewing others’ work while rechecking their own. Engaging in a dialogue such as a peer review session can support metacognition, working memory, and flexibility skills.

Nontraditional Strategies to Support Executive Functions

As an educator, you serve as an important point of contact for children and families regarding their development. While you can implement supportive classroom routines during school hours, many students may benefit from additional practice at home. Digital technologies, such as video games and mobile apps, capture children’s attention and engagement. For children, learning occurs through play. Considering how they are already using these platforms, students are more likely to be more focused and motivated to practice these skills. 

Rather than being a tech wiz themselves, teachers are in a great position to refer students to a variety of apps and games depending on their needs. This general knowledge of which technologies are supportive can make a huge difference in the lives of students. 

Here are a few resources to have on your radar as an educator:

School Library

Oftentimes, a school or district library will have access to relevant resources and technologies made accessible to your students. It is worth scheduling a meeting with your librarian to see what options are available to you.

LearningWorks for Kids Courses

Our website has a variety of resources to support improving executive functioning in the digital age. We offer courses that specialize in specific executive functioning skills through gameplay. There are a number of options to accommodate all different kinds of learners. 

Executive Skills Test

LearningWorks for Kids also has an executive skills test that can help you figure out exactly what your students need. Click here to head to the link for this test, which can be filled out by parents to get an overview of their child’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Apps and Games

Forgetful – an iOS app where users create simple to-do lists with reminders. This app provides video audio, and text reminders and can help with organization.

Hay Day – a farm simulation game that illustrates the concept of time management. To do well in the game, one must develop an understanding of time and planning. 

myHomework – an app that helps with planning and scheduling. Students can input dates due dates for assignments, relevant details, and information into an interactive calendar.

Evernote – a multifaceted and incredibly useful app that helps with note-taking and archiving. This supports executive function skills such as organization and metacognition. The app can be used simply for keeping track of notes but also supports more complex utilization that is useful to high school and college students.