Executive Functions in the Classroom

How do executive functions impact academic performance?

Executive functioning skills are the basic processes that allow us to pay attention, remember information, prioritize, and create plans. Our brains support focus, filter out distractions, and use self-control with this set of skills! 

Contemporary times demand a high level of executive functioning, such as skills that involve thinking and working creatively and collaboratively. As children grow, they’ll be asked to call upon these foundational abilities in a variety of scenarios. 

Children develop and strengthen executive functioning skills over time, like a muscle. Although each child will grow at their own unique rate, educators can support this growth in a classroom setting. Many compelling studies demonstrate that teaching executive functioning skills to preschool and elementary school students has a greater impact on long-term academic achievement than teaching specific academic skills. Highly applicable skills, such as self-management and planning, tend to have an effect across educational domains throughout a student’s academic career. For example, working memory plays a significant role in math word problems, and organization is key to writing a coherent essay.

Here are a few examples of how executive functions impact specific academic skills:


  • Composing ideas in a logical order
  • Creating transitions between paragraphs
  • Filtering out important content
  • Revising drafts
  • Managing homework assignments

Working Memory 

  • Juggle multiple ideas in mind at once
  • Balance big picture with minute details
  • Thinking about sentence that was just written while writing the next sentence
  • Apply present task to larger task
  • Keeping different steps to a math problem in mind
  • Recalling the correct formulas 
  • Keep different sounds of a word in mind while sounding it out


  • Recognize how to think about the organization of content
  • Review and recognize what needs to be edited and corrected
  • Staying on task
  • Comparing present content to previous work


  • Thinking ahead about what sort of problem needs to be solved
  • Arranging the options for solving math problems
  • Time management for larger assignments
  • Gathering resources to support work
  • Write down homework assignments

To learn more about how executive functioning skills are used across many other academic subjects check out our Educator Resource Guide.

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