Classroom, Curriculum, Elementary, High School, Junior High, school

Tips for Supporting Students with Poor Time Management Skills

We’ve all had students who have little to no time management skills. Often, this happens with our students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, but it can occur in others as well.

Sometimes, as with those with ADHD, students have extreme difficulty with this due to their neurological development. Other times, students just have never been taught how to properly manage their time.

Either way, time management isn’t specifically included in most of our curriculum, but it’s just one of those things we get the added benefit of teaching as educators! JOY!


There are quite a few ways in which we can help our students with poor time management skills to improve. Here are some of my personal favourites:

Assist in prepping and beginning tasks

Students who have little to no time management skills don’t know how to begin their assignments. They want to do well but don’t know how to do so. Therefore, it’s extremely important to guide them in beginning their work.

These students often see only the large assignment due but don’t know how to break it down into manageable steps. Thus, they feel overwhelmed and will often put off beginning for fear of failure.

To help these kiddos reach success, sitting with them and guiding them right from the beginning will help. They will likely need to know what resources they will need, what steps to take, and a timeline that will help keep them on track.

Work on goal setting

All students need practice setting and meeting long and short term goals. Start small with these goals so that students can feel positive about themselves after meeting some smaller goals.

Work with your students to set up small goals that you know they can meet – this way, they will see the steps involved as well as feel success. Therefore, setting up more difficult and longer term goals will seem more purposeful for them and they will know how to do so.

Be sure to walk student through this and support them. Check out my tips for goal setting with students here.

provide plenty of examples

When you assign a project, task, assignment, or so on, make sure you provide your students with plenty of examples of what you are looking for. Merely explaining what you want will serve some students well, but leave many more lost and unsure of how to proceed.

When you provide examples, students have a much better idea of what they are expected to do and where they should begin. Ensure you check in with any of your students you know have difficulty with time management to ensure they understand what to do, what the examples were showing, and how they should begin.


model what on-task behaviour looks like

As teachers, I think we all know by now that we can never assume kids know what we’re expecting of them.

I was shocked in my first year or two of teaching about just how much I had to teach kids. Things I thought were logical or implied – like how to stand in a line, not to pick noses in public, or how to sharpen a pencil.

I can’t remember ever explicitly learning these things, I thought I just was born with this knowledge. Obviously, that wasn’t the case.

So, don’t assume your students know what on-task behaviour is or looks like. Show them, explain to them, and praise them when they exhibit expected behaviour.

Often, our expectations for classroom behaviour is different than other teachers, so students really may not realize that yelling across the room to ask a peer a question isn’t okay in your class. Don’t assume they’re trying to press your buttons, just tell and show them how to behave in your class.


Teach how to “chunk” assignments


As I spoke about in the first point, students need support around beginning their tasks. When we simply assign something and expect them to be able to complete it, we are ignoring all those kids who have difficulty understanding where to start.

I could throw in a quote about eating an elephant here, but I’m not that cliché (usually).

Help your students break their larger assignment into smaller, more manageable tasks. Talk with them about how long each one of these tasks will take, what resources they’ll need to each, and what they will need to do in each. Also assign a due date for each of these tasks to ensure they are cognizant of time and complete the larger assignment on time.


Show them how to use time management aids


In addition to teaching kids how to chunk their time, it’s important to also introduce them to various time management aids which can support them reach their academic goals.

Being in a role where I work with our diverse students, I have created several tools over the last few years to help support them stay on task. From time management and habit trackers, to graphic organizers, to student planners, physical aids like this are really important for keeping many of our kiddos on task.

For the littles, I find physical timers, visual checklists, and when/then seem to work the best. For older students, checklists to break assignments into smaller tasks and student planners are more mature and work to help organize them.

Use graphic organizers


Graphic organizers are an excellent way for students to organize their thoughts and/or their plans before beginning a task. Seeing everything they need to complete or understand before they begin the larger task helps with overwhelm and confusion.

For students who are significantly behind their peers, you can also just grade them on completing a graphic organizer, helping them to build up those basic skills before asking them to do more challenging and time-intensive work.


use tracking sheets

Tracking sheets are great for both older and younger kids. Depending on the task, the student, their age, and maturity level you can choose to be in charge of the tracking, or allow them to use a sheet (much like a checklist) to track their own progress.

Set this up at the beginning of an assignment with students, making sure to include all the steps they’ll need to complete. Then, as they complete tasks, either you or they can check them off.

Make sure you acknowledge and praise when they complete these smaller tasks – that will keep them motivated and let them know they’re on the right track.


consistently monitor progress


Most of what I’ve talked about has highlighted the need to help students begin their work. It’s extremely important to ensure students start on the right track. However, that doesn’t mean we can just help them plan, then throw them into the deep end.

It’s an important part of our jobs to monitor how they are progressing and ensuring they stay on-task. If students start out on the right foot, but then something happens that throws them off course, it’s extremely easy for them to get frustrated, overwhelmed, and give-up or complete their work incorrectly.

Instead, ensure you are consistently checking on your students, especially those you know struggle with time management and using their time effectively. Ask them how they’re doing, ask to see their work, and give them any support you can to keep them on the right track.

utilize reminder cues

Many of our students want to stay on task, but find it incredibly easy to become distracted by other students, external stimuli, or even their own wandering mind.

Sometimes, calling a student out verbally is effective, but more often than not, this simply acts to embarrass them. I find there’s only a select few of students this works effectively for, and they have very specific personalities and a strong, amiable relationship with the teacher calling them out.

Most students would much prefer to be asked to stay on-task with a simple and covert reminder. Often, you don’t even need to set this up with a student, just a simple and pointed look, or a gentle tap on the shoulder will let them know what you’d like them to do.

Other times though, especially with those with severe attention difficulties, you’ll need to sit down with the student and discuss ways in which they would like you to remind them to stay on task. In some situations, you may even need to create something like a reward system or a visual.

I find this generally isn’t necessary though with the majority of the population, only those with quite severe learning needs (for example, students on the Autism Spectrum require a very black and white system they’ve been taught and also often require a visual).

provide positive reinforcement

As I’ve mentioned in several points above, providing students with positive reinforcement is vital when keeping them on track.

Of course, positive praise is going to look different for various students. Some kids just need a quick thumbs up or a whispered, “you’re doing great”, while others love a ton of energetic praise.

My biggest rule here is to never give praise that isn’t genuine. Our students are smart and can tell when we’re not being sincere. If they’re colouring looks like a blind bat did it, don’t tell them it looks good. Instead, let them know that you love that they’ve stayed on task and are now on the colouring portion of their work, but suggest they try going slower. This is still positive while providing some direction.


provide a workspace free from distractions

Many of our students, especially those with ADHD, are easily distracted. They attempt to focus on their work and stay on task, but every little thing can move their attention away. Especially if other stimuli is more exciting than their school work (spoiler alert: it usually is, no matter how hard we try).

Try to keep your classroom as quiet as possible and have easily distracted students work in spaces away from peers, windows, and doors. A lot of the time, we’re unable to provide a completely quiet or peaceful space, as when doing group work or depending on the assignment. If students require a space with fewer distractions, allow them to work in the hall, an empty room, the library, or so on.

Students may also benefit from working within a trifold to distract from external visual stimuli, wearing noise-cancelling headphones, or listening to their own music.

alter your expectations


Finally, our students who have significant difficulties with time management often cannot complete the same work as their peers. Of course, our goal is to teach them enough strategies that they eventually can find success with larger projects and assignments, but this needs to be slow.

When first teaching these students time management skills, you may need to grade them on less than their peers. For example, they may only be able to complete half of the questions, complete the first few steps, or so on as they learn to better complete their work.

Don’t be afraid of students taking advantage of your lesser expectations. Students want to be “normal” and they want to succeed. They do not want to stand out from their peers, they want to be able to complete the same work within the same timeframe. Therefore, they will want to learn these skills and find success.

If you are finding students are still off-task, you may need to take their time away. For example, if they spend ten minutes talking about video games instead of working, and reminders have not helped, it is reasonable to have them stay in for ten minutes of their time at lunch or recess to make up for the time they’ve wasted.

Be careful with this, though, especially if a student has a significant amount of difficulty focusing. We want to make sure we are allowing these students to succeed in ways they can, and this requires small steps. Don’t punish them if they are unable to complete the work – it may be too hard, too confusing, or too overwhelming. Always attempt to “get to the bottom” of why a student isn’t completing work before applying any sort of punishment.

Well, what do you think? Are these tips useful? Is there anything else you do to ensure your students stay on task and complete their work? Let me know in the comments below!

Enjoyed this? Here are some other blog posts on Katie is a Teacher you may like:

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