Thinking Skills: Organization


Our definition of Organization is derived directly from the Organization executive function. This is the Thinking Skill students use in order to develop a systematic approach to achieve a goal. Students with strong organizational skills are able to analyze a complex situation and break it down into different components needed to complete a task. For example when writing a research paper, students have to use organizational skills in order to brainstorm a topic, collect necessary research, and determine the best way to compile information while following multiple steps in the writing process.

Organization is also important in other academic areas. For example, students need to be able to mentally organize all of the steps they need to complete in a science lab. Students also use organization skills when they categorize information and make comparisons between two different topics. Organization is also important for reading comprehension, like when students are asked to put a series of events from a novel in order, or to show the relationships between different characters in a story.

Click here for more Organization Fundamentals.

Organization Skills in the Classroom

Students need to use Organization skills in a variety of contexts in order to succeed in the classroom. The following list outlines some common classroom tasks that require the use of Organizational skills:

  • Managing class materials effectively: In order to be able to effectively use their school materials, students need to keep them organized. This includes maintaining a clean backpack, binder, desk, locker, etc. and making sure all materials are brought to and from the classroom in a way that makes them easily accessible.


  • Collaborating with peers in unstructured settings: When students are given unstructured time to interact with each other, they often need to use organizational skills to get along successfully. For example, when playing a game, students need to make sure everyone understands the rules, pick players, distribute materials, etc.


  • Completing tasks consisting of multiple steps: Many classroom tasks involve more than one step, and students need to stay organized in order to keep track of which steps they have completed, and which ones they have yet to complete. This includes keeping track of materials, dividing tasks when working in a group, as well as determining progress.


  • Completing steps in the writing process: Putting ideas down on paper requires a great deal of organization. Some examples include: prewriting (brainstorming) ideas, drafting logical sentences, and revising and editing to make sure written thoughts are sequential, wording is easy to understand, and writing includes accurate grammar and punctuation.

Teaching Organization Skills with Digital Media

Organizational skills are important for success in many video games and are supported by several digital technologies. Many games require collecting items or tokens in order to acquire a new skill or capacity. Children frequently need to remember not only what they need to collect, but also that they need to have a certain type or number of items. They often need to utilize a systematic approach in searching or completing a game level. Game play often requires that children complete an entire sequence of events before moving on in the game. Children may also need to combine strategies from past levels and apply them to later levels in the game.

Digital technologies such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, and iPods provide opportunities to practice and support organizational skills. Organizing a contact list or play list, arranging one’s schedule, or keeping an active “to do” list are all readily accomplished on a range of hand-held digital technologies. Learn more about how digital game play can help develop Organizational Skills.

Check out our classroom guides for information on how to use specific games and digital technologies to teach Organization skills.

Alternative Learning Concerns and Organization

Some Alternative Learners struggle with organizational challenges in the classroom. Many of these students need explicit instruction on how to organize classroom materials, compile notes for studying, or even outline ideas for a writing assignment. It is important for Alternative Learners to practice using organization skills in a variety of contexts. Our Classroom Guides provide teachers with ideas on how to integrate digital media into instruction in a meaningful and fun way that can help Alternative Learners work on their Organization skills.

ADHD & Organization

Students who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or with other attentional difficulties can often have trouble with Organization in the classroom. Many of these students can become easily distracted, especially during routine classroom tasks like writing down homework or filing papers in a binder. Sometimes these distractions can lead students to miss important teacher directions about how to organize materials, leaving them with a messy or overflowing desk, backpack, or binder. Students with attention problems may also have trouble organizing their ideas on paper for a writing assignment, or neatly showing their work on a math problem. Often these students experience thoughts that are moving faster than their hands can keep up, leaving the results to appear disorganized to the teacher or their peers.

Incorporating video games and other digital media in the classroom can be a great way for teachers of students with ADHD to help them learn to slow down and organize their thoughts. Many games and technologies require students to think before they act and organize information in order to be successful.

Anxiety/Depression & Organization

Organizational tasks can also be troublesome for some students diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. These students can sometimes become distracted during organizational tasks and forget to write down their homework or pay attention to where they are putting important papers. These students can also become overwhelmed with certain academic tasks that require organization, like prewriting an essay. They sometimes have trouble generating ideas and can easily get caught up in negative thinking and self-criticism.

Incorporating digital media into instruction can help students with anxiety and/or depression work on focusing on on thing at a time and organize their thoughts. Many video games are broken down into smaller tasks that seem more managable to students, and they can better think through a process and organize their approach to solving a problem.

LD & Organization

Organization can also be a challenge for students with Learning Disabilities. All students learn in different ways, and the difficulties faced by students with Learning Disabilities will vary based on the students’ individual learning profiles. Some students might struggle to organize their classroom materials effectively. Others might have a difficult time organizing their ideas in a way that makes sense on paper. Others might need a lot of guidance about how to organize notes and information to study for assessments.

Incorporating digital media in the classroom provides many opportunities for differentiation in order to meet the needs of all students, and to help build Organization skills. Our Classroom Guides are great tools to use for teachers of students with Learning Disabilities because they are adaptable, meaning teachers can decide how best to use them based on the individual needs of the students.

Educators Guide to the Executive-Functioning Skill of Organization

Organization is the ability to arrange elements and develop strategies to reach an ultimate goal.  There are two types of Organization:  Organization of self and Organization of materials.  Organization of self pertains to children and their ability to complete tasks and plan ahead.  Organization of materials is the ability to have the necessary materials when needed.  Through Organization one must form a systematic approach that will assist in goal-directed behavior.  It may involve both short- and long-term goals and requires one to take all aspects of a situation into account.  Organization includes the capacity to arrange elements into a functioning whole and the ability to organize all facets of an activity conceptually to create a unified approach.  It requires  a systematic approach that facilitates goal-directed behavior.  Organization  may involve sequencing and analysis of a complex situation and promotes efficiency and task completion.  It includes taking care of one’s schedule, as well as the materials necessary to complete a task.  Organization often requires obtaining necessary information, making it accessible, and then being able to use it for decision making.

How can I tell if a student is having trouble with Organization?

These descriptions might help you identify a student who is struggling with Flexibility in the classroom.  Problems with Flexibility may be exacerbated by challenging academic demands but are likely to be present across situations.  As with all of the Thinking Skills in the Playing Smarter curriculum, struggles with Flexibility are likely to co-occur in most students with other areas of weakness in their thinking skills.    

These descriptions might help you identify a student struggling with Organization in the classroom.  In general, look for difficulty in arranging and keeping track of assignments and belongings.  Students who are always losing their homework, books, or personal items may experience difficulty with Organization.  Students who have difficulty in putting their thoughts together in written assignments may also find it hard to be organized.  As with all of the Thinking Skills in the Playing Smarter curriculum, struggles with Organization are likely to co-occur in most students with other areas of weakness in thinking skills.  

All Students:

  • Keeping a disorganized backpack, locker, cubby, or desk
  • Failing accurately to record and complete homework
  • Struggling to maintain an assignment pad
  • Losing homework and assignments
  • Forgetting to take lunch or books to school

Particularly Important for Elementary Students:

  • Having difficulty with games at recess
  • Frequently losing or misplacing items
  • Having difficulty recognizing and identifying materials needed to complete a project
  • Producing disorganized written work

Particularly Important for Middle School Students:

  • Being unprepared for individual classes
  • Having difficulty when writing a lengthy paper, book report, or lab report
  • Retelling disjointed stories and information
  • Having difficulty organizing ideas

When do students use Organization skills at school?

These are common school-based situations where the thinking skill of Organization is needed.  The best way for students to learn the skill of Organization is to practice it while engaged in daily activities.  Take the time to recognize these common situations and when you can encourage your students to employ and improve their Organization skills.

  • When recording and completing homework assignments
  • When organizing one’s backpack, desk, and locker
  • When preparing and having needed items at school and sporting events
  • When playing games played at recess (picking players, establishing rules, setting up)
  • When keeping track of and planning for events
  • When completing tasks consisting of multiple steps
  • When writing a paper

How can I help my students practice their Organization skills in the classroom?

  • Teach by doing.  Discuss plans for the day or verbalize the steps of completing a series of tasks such as preparing for lunch.  Use calendars, sticky notes, and other visual reminders for yourself to model these organizational skills for your students.  Display regular routines for your students to observe.
  • Help your students break larger tasks down into smaller ones.  Students with organizational problems often have a hard time prioritizing what is important and struggle to find a place to begin.  By breaking down the tasks with your students, you provide them with a form of structure to follow consisting of smaller, achievable tasks.  Help your students to prioritize what is needed to complete a task.
  • Develop a plan and a description of what constitutes a clean desk, cubby, or locker by taking photographs of what a clean one of these looks like.  Schedule a weekly time for your students to clean these areas.
  • Present information in a well organized manner.  Children who have problems with organization grasp new concepts better when they are well structured.  This is important in both home and school settings.

What tips can I give my students to help them improve their Organization skills?

  • Organization is an action, it doesn’t just happen, so you need to organize and reorganize on a routine basis.  For example, many kids clean out their backpacks on Sunday nights, throwing out what they no longer need and putting away what they want to store.
  • Put your most important items in a special place where these things are always stored such as a shelf in you room where you keep your backpack and cell phone.
  • Remember that organization takes time and effort.  Make time to put your homework assignments away in the right place at school and after you complete them at home.
  • Try a hobby requiring organization such as collecting Pokemon or baseball cards, rocks, shells, American Girl dolls, or stamps.  Use an  “organizer” such as a shelf, tackle box, or card sleeves to systematize your materials.

Classroom Guides for Organization

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