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This section contains techniques and approaches relevant to executive function skills such as those related to WORKING MEMORY, ORGANIZATION, PLANNING, and INHIBITORY CONTROL.

Working Memory:

Working Memory allows us to keep information ready at-hand in out thoughts while incorporating new information, or performing an operation.  Some students will have very different working memory abilities for visual versus auditory information, and also meaningfully related versus unrelated information.  

For students who struggle with working memory relative to unrelated information, creating a personally meaningful narrative out of seemingly unrelated or abstract information can be an effective strategy.

Working Memory training not only improves recall of specific items but also fluid reasoning and reading comprehension (Zhang et al. 2018).   For this reason working memory training should be implemented along with other reasoning and reading skills as appropriate. 

Students who need support in this area may struggle with the following skills (click to jump to section):






-decide on a method (agenda, digital device, wall calendar) and discuss the value of knowing dates for events that matter to the student in extra-curricular life.  Connect this to academic date tracking, not only what is due but how many days until the weekend, holidays, etc.

-the student will need to build the habit of recognizing that the teacher is mentioning a due date.


-role-play listening for clues that the student should be recording a date


-make a game of noticing dates, script: "At some point during the session today, I'm going to mention a date, see if you can notice and write it down without me asking you to".


Depending on the level of ability and degree of working memory deficit, different strategies may be more or less effective.

Students with very low working memory should build the habit of short note taking on a  pad that is always on hand, on top of the desk/table.  Students who require this level of support should have an accommodation allowing this in the classroom.

Build the habit of recognizing when a list or set of instructions is about to be given and when multitasking is required.  

Discuss some topics that would likely include a set of steps ("ok class next we are going to....), and some that would not ("We are going to discuss our favourite part of the book").  Practise noticing cue words: after, before, first, next, starting with, while, during, at the same time, etc.

Have the student visualize a hero figure completing the steps as they are described and make it into a story the student can repeat back to you.  Multitasking activities should be broken down into the different tasks and recorded on a note pad for reference.  Working memory has been shown to not only affect the speed of multitasking but also the accuracy of the completed work (Buehner et al. 2006).  For this reason, students should always review and compare the final product with assignment expectations.


Remembering the rules of a game while playing is an excellent analogue for remembering assignment requirements while working.  Students who struggle with working memory may lose track of assignment requirements while working and this results in completed work that does not meet classroom expectations.  Playing simple games can help build the habit of keeping expectations in mind.  Have the student retell the rules before playing; students who struggle with working memory to a more severe degree should have a short a reference sheet and get in the habit of checking it as they play.  This sheet should be provided by the coach initially but eventually students will learn to create their own.  Using a villain/foil can be a fun way to anticipate rules/requirements that would be broken or not followed by the character.  Students should regularly check in with assignment instructions as they are working and always do so before considering work completed.


Narrative Association is a powerful tool to establish new information.  To help students remember new information, make connections and associations for the student through narrative and play-based activities.  These must be consistently used and reinforced by the coach.  I.e. if a fictional character is used to demonstrate poor inhibitory control, the same character should not be used as the ideal of inhibitory control (unless the character is an example of how these behaviours can improve).

Acrostics and Acronyms are excellent tools for learning lists of items.  It is easier to create these with non-sequential items but the technique can be used for sequential items as well.  The student will remember these more easily if they have a personal meaning for them or are silly and unusual.  


Categorize large numbers of items into sub-categories and have the student then study each category separately (an acrostic can be made for the categories themselves if there are 3+).


Flash Cards: single term per card, term on one side, definition on the other.  The definition must be brief, point form, in the student’s own words.  Formulating the definition briefly engages the student to conceptualize the concept more clearly.  Creating definitions using four or fewer words has been shown to increase retention of larger concepts (Schultz and Evans 2015).


Note-taking: outline style, Cornell, fill in the blank (guided notes).  Having a note-taking method has also been shown to reduce distraction in the classroom (Schulz and Evans 2015).  After instructing and guiding note-taking, independent attempts at note-taking should be reviewed with detailed feedback from the coach with reference to instructional points.






Students with a diagnosis of ADHD are often disorganized in terms of their possessions, thoughts, and behaviour (Schultz and Evans 2015).  This is also true of students without a diagnosis of ADHD but with weak executive function skills.

-Physical Organization tracking (use skill mastery sheet to track overall progress): select a personal item or area (book bag, binder, room, study area) and have the student describe what this would look like when organized.  Create an organizational checklist from this description and have the student do a self-assessment at each session.  The coach should offer constructive feedback and make suggestions as necessary after the student self-assessment.  The checklist should be consulted until mastery is achieved for each item needing organization.  Once the coach feels the student is ready (multiple organizational items mastered), the student can attempt to independently organize a new item and identify items/areas in need of organization.


-it has been noted by some researchers that an organization skill can take around 16 sessions to show consistent improvement.  The most common trend of development is seeming inconsistency between sessions but an overall trend of improvement (Schultz and Evans 2015).


The organizational checklist for a backpack may include the following:

-no loose papers/papers filed in folder or binder

-stationary materials in a pencil case

-no old lunch food

-completely closed with nothing sticking out


-binders or folders


Students may also need a checklist to consult when packing the backpack to go to school and and packing it to come home from school again.  If possible, these checklists should be fastened to the bag zipper so that the student is reminder to check the list when opening and closing the backpack.

These lists may include:

-lunch containers

-water bottle

-any outdoor gear (boots, umbrellas, mittens, etc)

-mask(s) (during Covid protocols)


-assignment sheets


Students should be encouraged to decorate the list with drawings, stickers, etc. with colours and characters that they enjoy.  Symbols or pictures can be used in place of words to create a checklist for those who are still learning to read.


Students can sometimes feel at the mercy of events that are part of their daily life.  Discussing the morning routine so they can understand its purpose and anticipate it can give the student a greater sense of involvement in the daily routine, and it is a great way to introduce the concept of planning.



Planning and time management are among the most important base skills for academic success in general and these skills can be particularly challenging for students with ADHD.


-agenda/calendar use

-practise estimating how long different activities take, record estimate, time actual work and compare results


-enter precise timeframe for each scheduled activity and note if the time scheduled is too much or too little


-enter exact activities to be accomplished in the scheduled event.  I.e.rather than “5pm-5:30pm Study” the student should enter “5pm-5:30pm create flash cards for definitions 1-10”.


-enter social and non-academic events and responsibilities as well to show how organization is about life, not just about school. 


-enter time for activities the student enjoys that are not school-related


-learn to set, snooze, and edit digital alerts and notifications (discuss best use)

-consult online calendars, resources, and classroom teacher notes


-being in contact with the classroom teacher ensures effective planning of due dates until the student develops independence

Inhibitory Control:

Inhibitory control refers to the ability to resist our initial, reflex reaction to a situation or question and consider alternatives and options before acting.  This ability is important in situations ranging from emotional response management to multiple choice quizzes.  There is evidence that control over response can be developed by practicing similar activities (Zhang et al. 2019).  There is even some evidence to suggest that improving inhibitory control also improves working memory (Zhao et al. 2015), perhaps because we need to hold rules or exceptions in mind to resist an initial reaction.  Types of activities that are used to practice and assess inhibitory control include: the Stroop task, Go/No-Go task, Stop-signal task, and the flanker task.

The Stroop task presents students with the names of colours, but written in a coloured font that may or may not match the colour name.  For example YELLOW, RED, etc, and asks students to respond with the colour of the font rather than the word written (the correct example responses would be Green and Yellow respectively).  The student must build the habit of resisting the existing habit of reading the word, and instead think about the font.  Cards or slides can be created by the coach to practise this task.  This activity is not recommended for students who are still learning to read colour names. 


An online demo can be found here:

Go/No-Go tasks present students with two types of of stimuli; one type requires a response (Go), and the other requires the student to resist responding (No-Go).  An example could be created using a deck of playing cards and having the student respond quickly when a black card is dealt but resist responding when a red card is dealt.

The Stop-Signal task is a more complex version of the Go/No-Go task in which there are still two types of stimuli, but each type does require a response, unless a third signal is present, in which case the student must resist responding.

An online demo can be found here:


The Flanker task asks student to provide a response based on whether the focal stimulus is from one of two groups, but the stimulus is flanked on either side by contrary or irrelevant stimuli.


An online demo can be found here:

Coaches can easily create quick games that employ these principles.  Some card games that have elements of inhibitory control practice include go-fish, and war.




Buehner, Markus & König, Cornelius & Pick, Marion & Krumm, Stefan. (2006). Working Memory Dimensions as Differential Predictors of the Speed and Error Aspect of Multitasking Performance. Human Performance. 19. 253-275. 10.1207/s15327043hup1903_4. 

Zhang, Wang, C., Zhao, Q., Yang, L., Buschkuehl, M., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2019). The malleability of executive function in early childhood: Effects of schooling and targeted training. Developmental Science, 22(2), e12748–n/a.


Zhao, Chen, L., Fu, L., & Maes, J. H. . (2015). “Wesley says”: A children’s response inhibition playground training game yields preliminary evidence of transfer effects. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 207–207.

Working Memory
Due Date Tracking
Multi-step Instructions
Remembering Instructions
Recalling Information
Inhibitory Control
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