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3 Executive Function Skill Tips for Secondary Teachers to Use the First Day of School

Welcome back to school!! The first day of school is filled with anticipation and excitement for you and your students. As teachers, we know that what happens the first day of school starts building the foundation of the expected academic and self-regulation behaviors needed to facilitate the learning process. Here are 3 easy tips for implementing executive function skills with all of your students to help them achieve success.


Tip #1:  Set routines and practice, practice, practice. (Working Memory).

·      Explain, establish with students, model, and practice the expected student behaviors when they enter the classroom. Should they check in, turn in homework, complete a warm up activity, arrange a specific seating arrangement and location, gather materials for the class lesson, follow the directions posted on the board, etc.?

·      Discuss, model, and practice appropriate work behaviors such as being on-time to class, turning off and putting away cell phones, gather the materials need for the day’s lesson, etc.

·      Discuss, model, and practice having the students raise their hand when wishing to share something pertinent to the topic at hand, waiting patiently to be recognized to share information, and listening courteously to others.

·      Create checklists for students who have difficulty remembering the expected routines, create acronyms to support memory when it comes to following a daily routine, etc. The idea is to have the student assume responsibility and become independent.

·      Build in routine change to practice flexibility and the ability to shift when the routine changes.


Tip #2: Organize the learning environment. (Organization and Planning, Time Management).

·      Place the materials the students need to gather for the class lesson in a specific location so that the students can readily find them.

·      Post activities such as a warm up or drill in a specific location for your students each day.

·      Post visuals that label the locations for materials, warm up activities, drills, submitting homework, etc.

·      Post objectives for the lesson and review these prior to teaching. At the end of the lesson, return to the objectives and have the students determine if the objectives were met and briefly discuss how they were met. 

·      Post student assignments and other things that need to be completed by a specific date in a designated location or on the class website, and provide the students time to record this information using an app such as Can Due or a planner.


Tip #3: Set behavioral expectations and provide students time to practice these expectations. (Self-regulation).

·      Teach students the SLANT strategy (Ellis, 1991) so that they learn to Sit up, Lean forward to show they are listening, Activate their thinking, Note the important points, and Track the talker. Develop a visual cue for the students when they need a reminder to use this strategy.

·      Teach the student STA strategy (Strosnider & Sharpe, 2009, pp. 195 - 197) so that they Stop and Think before they Act.

·      Teach the student SWT strategy (Strosnider & Sharpe, 2009, pp. 199 - 200) so that they Stop and Wait before they Talk.


Allowing a few minutes each day for students to practice these points during the first week of school will save you time in the long run. You will find that you will spend less time repeating directions and correcting unnecessary or inappropriate behaviors. This can result in an increase in instructional time. The idea is to focus on prevention of rather than reaction to non-contributing behaviors.



Strosnider, R & Sharpe, V. (2019). The Executive function guidebook: Strategies to help all students achieve success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Ellis, E. (1991). SLANT. Retrieved from https://kucrl.ku.edu/slant


Content provided by Strosnider & Sharpe, www.instituteonexecutivefunctioning.com, authors of the EF Guidebook, Corwin, 2019.