Thinking Skills: Planning


Our definition of Planning is derived directly from the Planning executive function. This is the Thinking Skill students use in order to develop a strategies to help them accomplish a goal. For example, when faced with a long-term group assignment, students have to plan ahead in order to divide tasks, determine the materials needed, and develop a time-frame for completing the work together.

Planning is important in a variety of academic contexts. Students have to plan ahead when they are using a procedure to complete an experiment in science class. They have to plan when they prewrite a paragraph or essay they will write. They also have to plan ahead when they are working on a math word problem and need to figure out how to approach the question and what operations and formulas to use. Planning skills are important for students to have in order to consistently meet with success in the classroom.

Click here for more Planning Fundamentals.

Planning Skills in the Classroom

Students need to use Planning skills on a consistent basis in the classroom. The following list outlines some common classroom tasks that require the use of Planning skills:

  • Using time wisely in class: When trying to accomplish a task in the classroom, students need to think about the time and resources required to complete that task and come up with a plan in order to finish the task efficiently and on time.


  • Remembering to bring important items to and from school: Students need to plan ahead in order to make sure they bring important items like permission slips, clothing for physical education, notices, etc. to and from school. If students don’t actively plan for these things ahead of time, they will likely be forgotten.


  • Completing homework: In order to ensure that students have the materials they need to complete their homework, they have to plan ahead while they are in school. They need to first record their homework, then determine the materials they need in order to complete the assignments, and lastly, make sure those materials get from their desks or lockers to their backpacks to go home.


  • Following specific directions/guidelines for an assignment: Using resources and rubrics to plan for assignments is an essential skill for success in the classroom. Students need to plan ahead to make sure they meet assignment guidelines, such as page formatting, length, and content requirements. Asking clarifying questions about requirements before the assignment is due is also a strong planning skill.


  • Handling multiple assignments at once: Balancing multiple assignments can be challenging and requires strong planning skills. A student who plans ahead will likely determine when assignments are due, estimate how long each assignment will take, chunk long-term assignments into manageable pieces, and make sure each assignment is turned in on time and according to guidelines.

Teaching Planning Skills with Digital Media

Games digital media are often very useful in developing planning skills. Students can use note-taking and brainstorming technologies (like Evernote) to help them to plan and organize a written piece. Programs that allow students to customize projects, like Glogster or Keynote, require them to plan ahead and think about multiple components before creating the final product. There are also numerous digital planners available to help students keep track of their assignments and schedules in and outside of school.

Many video games require the development of short and long-term goals for the player to be successful. For example, players often need to collect certain rings, coins, or other items in a game that later will allow them to achieve larger goals and move on to subsequent levels. Games can also provide an understanding of the step-by-step process that mastery frequently requires. In addition, games provide direct and personal feedback to players regarding the success or failure of their plans. Learn more about how digital game play can help develop Planning Skills.

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

Alternative Learning Concerns & Planning

Alternative Learners sometimes struggle to use Planning skills when they approach academic tasks. Some of them might not see the value in thinking ahead, while others might need guidance about how to plan effectively for different tasks and assignments. 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 Planning skills.

ADHD & Planning

Students who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other attention problems often don’t take opportunities to plan ahead. For example, some of these students might think it is not necessary for them to write down the things they need to bring home to complete their homework, however, they continuously leave things at school that they need. Often students with ADHD are not sure how to approach a planning task. Without a lot of guidance, they might sit down to brainstorm ideas for a paragraph and instead start writing it right away in a stream-of-conciousness fashion. Many students with attention difficulties need explicit instruction on how to plan appropriately for different classroom assignments and tasks.

Using video games and other kinds of digital media can help students with ADHD build Planning skills. There are so many technologies available that teach students how to use planning strategies, and can be individualized depending on what works for the student. Many videogames also require students to use planning skills in order to accomplish goals in the game. Our Classroom Guides provide a variety of suggestions for how to integrate digital media into your instruction to help students build Planning skills in the classroom.

Behavioral Problems & Planning

Students with behavioral problems often struggle to think ahead about how to avoid conflicts and make good choices in the classroom. Many of these students are often described as acting without thinking, not considering the consequences of their actions. Often, students with behavioral problems need explicit instruction about how to stop and think before reacting inappropriately in a situation where they feel frustrated or angry. They may also need guidance about how to make good choice and plan ahead so that they can avoid situations that might lead to conflict or make them upset.

There are many video games and other digital technologies available that deal with conflict resolution and thinking before acting. Incorporating digital media like this into your instruction can greatly benefit students with behavioral problems and help them build important planning skills that can help them succeed in the classroom, both socially and academically.

LD & Planning

Planning can also be a struggle for students with Learning Disabilities. tudents with Learning Disabilities will have different planning concerns based on their individual profiles. For example, some students may have difficulty planning to complete a long-term project. Others might need help prioritizing homework assignments. Some might need structured plans for reading comprehension or organizers to help them plan out a written assignment.

Incorporating digital media in the classroom provides many opportunities for differentiation in order to meet the needs of all students, and to help build Planning skills. Our Classroom Guides can help teachers of students with Learning Disabilities and can be adapted to meet the needs of individual students.

Educators Guide to the Executive-Functioning Skill of Planning

Planning involves the development of a roadmap or set of strategies in order to accomplish a goal.  Components of Planning include prioritization, sequencing, and foresight.  It may involve both short- and long-term goals and taking all aspects of a situation into consideration while making a plan.  Responsiveness to the environment as well as social cues may also be important, as well as estimation and possible anticipation of outcomes.

Planning may be a very complex process that utilizes previous experiences and then applies them to a new situation.  It is very important in short-term tasks such as determining whether one’s clothes match prior to going to school and also in more long-term goals such as having a strategy for completion of a lengthy book report.  It tends to involve a degree of problem recognition such as wanting to look good in your clothes at school, as well as the ability to deal with impediments to achieving a goal such as being aware that your jeans are dirty and you need to wear something else.  Planning also takes into account the present situation such as realizing that you have 10 minutes before you have to leave the house to go to school and can’t wear a T-shirt with inappropriate language to school.

Planning skills are needed in many aspects of a child’s life. At home, Planning is important in extending invitations to friends for a play date, completing one’s homework so that a child has time to watch her favorite television show and complete a chore before his/her parents get home. Planning is involved in a wide range of play activities, as well, whether in developing a strategy while playing a board game, putting together a model, or creating some type of art project. At school, Planning is extremely important in written tasks such as writing a brief paragraph or essay, as well as in longer-term projects that may involve conducting research, writing drafts, editing, and completing a final project. The ability to formulate a plan that identifies a set of goals is very useful.

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

These descriptions might help you identify a student struggling with Planning in the classroom.  In general, look for difficulty in preparedness and prioritization.  Students who are always jumping into activities without reading directions or completing classwork at the last minute may  experience difficulty with Planning.  Students who experience difficulty with step-by-step processes and forget materials and equipment may find it have to plan.  As with all of the Thinking Skills in the Playing Smarter curriculum, struggles in Planning are likely to co-occur in most students with other areas of weakness in thinking skills.  

All Students:

  • Being unable to complete an in-class test, quiz, or assignment in the allotted time period
  • Being unprepared for field trips or after-school activities
  • Having a messy desk, cubby, or locker resulting in failure to find needed items
  • Displaying difficulty fitting desired work into the allocated area when space is a concern such as in a writing assignment, spelling test, or art project
  • Forgetting to take home books, notebooks, or handouts needed to complete homework assignments

Particularly Important for Elementary Students:

  • Dressing inappropriately for weather during recess such as forgetting a coat during cold weather
  • Having difficulty completing a morning routine such as putting backpack away, dropping off homework folder, or taking out silent reading in an efficient manner

Particularly Important for Middle School Students:

  • Rushing to complete homework assignments during first period or homeroom after not having allotted enough time to finish these assignments the night before
  • Struggling to prioritize assignments in order of importance such as working on a science project due in two months rather than studying for a math exam the following day

When do students use Planning skills at school?

These are common school-based situations where the thinking skill of Planning is needed.  The best way for students to learn the skill of Planning 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 Planning skills.


  • When finishing an in-class test or quiz in the allotted time period
  • When dressing appropriately for recess or physical education such as having a winter jacket or sweatshirt
  • When remembering to take necessary articles such as letters to parents and report cards home and returning articles such as field trip permission slips to school
  • When recognizing what books, notebooks, and supplied are needed for homework assignments and taking them home
  • When being able to follow specific directions such as a recommended page length, format, or topic for an assignment
  • When prioritizing multiple assignments in terms of importance and due date
  • When turning in homework assignments in the appropriate place at the appropriate time

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

  • Create a classroom master calendar of events each month to help your students plan ahead.  This calendar should include important events, assignments, trips, and deadlines and be displayed in a visible area of the classroom.  You could also help the students to create and personalize their own calendars by printing out a blank calendar from the classroom computer and having them fill in the calendar with information from the master calendar.
  • Prepare your students for transitions and changes.  For example, provide your students with a 10-minute warning, and then with a 2-minute final warning, prior to heading to lunch or recess.  This would allow the students to practice Planning transitions between activities.  A kitchen timer can also be helpful in keeping track of time chunks.
  • Assist your students in breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones. Have your students write down the steps they create in their notebooks to allow for easy reference with future assignments of the same nature and designate a due date for each of the steps they denote when preparing for a long-term assignment.  This would allow them to practice accomplishing tasks in small, achievable, and efficient steps, rather than being overwhelmed by a large task at the last minute.
  • Initiate conversations with your students about topics of interest that involve cause-and-effect relationships.  This could help your students to focus on planning and persistence.  Brainstorm age-appropriate topics such as global warming, the effects of exercise, and what makes a movie popular.  Help your students to see the connection between planning, effort, and results.  For example, explore how a popular movie such as Harry Potter or Shrek) required years of planning, production, and the efforts of many people.

What tips can I give my students to help them improve their Planning skills:

  • Have your students identify a desired day trip or outing as an activity, then assist them in identifying what is needed to plan such a trip.  For example, students who enjoy nature and animals could benefit from planning a trip to a zoo and being responsible for printing out a zoo map from the computer, finding out the entrance fee and park hours, and prioritizing what exhibits they would like to see.  
  • Work with your students to create checklists of items needed each day for various activities and events such as a sports game, field trip, or homework.  A checklist for after-school baseball practice might include a bat bag, baseball bat, glove, hat, cleats, and water bottle, while one for daily homework might include notebooks, textbooks, calculator, handouts, and pencil case.  These lists could be posted in the students’ locker, cubby, or bedroom.  Over time, the students should become less reliant on these lists.

Classroom Guides for Planning

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