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

Tips for Helping Students to Follow a Plan

I’m sure we’ve all had students who have had very high aspirations and want to do well, but when push comes to shove, they lack follow-through and/or don’t know where to begin. It’s really important in these instances to teach students how to effectively follow a plan.

Perhaps these kiddos are very distracted, get anxious, are perfectionists, or avoid work. There are so many different reasons why students may have difficulties following plans.

Thankfully, there are lots of tips and tricks we can use to try to support these students. Here are some of my favourite ways to support students with following a plan and effectively using their time.


Many students do not know how to properly organize their tasks, projects, and assignments. They just look at it and have no idea what to do, becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.

Sit down with students to talk about the different steps they’ll need to do in order to complete their work. Then, discuss how long each step will realistically take.

From here, you can work with the student to begin breaking the assignment into chunks, allocating time for each, and figuring out materials needed to complete each step.

As you continue to work with the student on this for various assignments, they’ll continue to improve. As their organizational skills improve, you’ll be able to ease off with your support and have them do more independently.


Just like it’s important to teach students how to organize and break up their work, it’s also vital to teach them time management skills.

Many students have never been taught how to prioritize or how to plan their time effectively.
One way to help students with this is to have them start with a list. Depending on what it is they’re planning, they should either write a list of the steps necessary to complete a task, or all of the things they have to complete.

It depends if they’re listing things which have to be done in a particular order or not.

If students are completing work in which specific steps are necessary, teach them how to think ahead and recognize each step necessary. Then, have them begin to think about how long each step will take.

Understanding how long things take to complete takes a lot of work. Even many adults have no idea how long certain tasks will take (we all know those people who are perpetually late for everything). Start by having students estimate how long things will take and then begin to time things.

The more they start to notice how long things take to complete, the better they’ll get at estimating how long specific tasks will take. Hopefully, they will also begin to get better at seeing what they wastec time in and how they can get faster at completing work.

For more of a “to do” list which includes things which need to be done, but not in a certain order, teach students how to prioritize.

Ask them what the most important things they have to do are. To have them start thinking about what makes something important are, you can ask questions like “how much is this assignment worth?” “When is this due?” “Are people relying on you to finish this?” And so on.

Many students have a difficult time figuring out what things should get the majority of their time or that they should do first. Asking them pointed questions will help them start thinking about these things and recognizing what makes some things more important than others.


Many of our students have trouble following plans because they don’t know how to start.

When they think about the entire project and everything that needs to be completed, they get confused and overwhelmed.

To help curb this, start helping these students begin the assignment.

As I spoke about above, a great way to do this is to help support kids with breaking the task into steps and working on time management skills. When you can help kids with these right from the get-go, they’ll be better able to follow all the steps and timelines set for them.

Further, as you continue to do this, they’ll start seeing patterns and strategies in how to begin assignments and will be able to start begin independently.


Monitoring how students are progressing will ensure thye don’t slip behind or that a due date approaches and only then do you realize they’re far from complete.

When students are working in class, make sure you check-in with them to see how much they’ve completed, if they have any questions, or if they’re “stuck” on anything. This way, you can address any concerns as soon as they come up and students won’t feel behind or lost while their peers continue to work.

If students are having trouble feeling motivated, make sure that you are consistently utilizing positive reinforcement. A tracking and rewards system may also be helpful in supporting their progress and ensure they know that you are noticing their improvements.


As students are working, they may becme distracted or unfocused. When this happens, it’s best to have a small reminder to let them know you want them to get back on track.

If you try to remind them in a way which causes too much attention from other peers, then they may feel embarassed and/ or upset. We obviously never want to do this to a child.

So, it’s a better idea to create a small cue they can understand and notice when you utilize it.

Something such as a small hand gesture, your hand on their shoulder, placing a finger on their desk, or so on, are all great ways to let the student know you’re monitoring them without calling attention to their lack of focus to the rest of the class.


Many students have trouble following through with a plan or assignment because they don’t exactly know what to do.

Having exemplars for students to reference is a must for students who have difficulty following a plan. They will have a clear cut expectation and can consistently reference the final product as they work.

Make sure that when you provide students with models and examples, that they understand what to do. Simply showing them a final product won’t work if they still don’t know how to actually get there.

So, ask them how they’re planning to compelte their work and if they have any questions. Check to see if they know what to do for each step required. If there are any concerns, you can work with the student through them.


Many of our students lack focus, and working in a classroom with plenty of distractions is certainly not gain to help this.

If you know that the classroom will be too noisy, or have too much visual and noise stimuli, do what you can to provide the student with an alternative work space.

If the school library or an unused classroom is available, those are great options. Even simple working out in the hall can be helpful for many students.

If it’s still not quiet enough, you can offer the student use noise cancelling headphones, which often help with blocking out things which distract them from focusing on their work.


Many of your students who have difficulty following a plan are likely not going to be able to meet the expectations that the rest of the class is able to.

Until they are able to progress and do more difficult work, you may have to alter what you are expecting them to be able to do.

You may have to lessen the amount a student has to do. For example, a three paragraph essay versus a five paragraph, 10 math questions instead of 15, two sentences instead of five, or so on.

Until a student is better able to complete their work and follow the plan the whole class can, this can be a good way for them to find success. They’ll still be doing enough work for you to assess them on and to be gaining knowledge and skills. Plus, they’ll recognize that they are able to complete work. This will be very successful as you “up” the challenge.

Well, how do you feel about these tips? Are they useful? Have you tried any of them in your own class? Let me know!

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

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