Additional Executive Function Activities
Cookie Monster and Self-Regulation
Cookie Monster is the poster-child for someone needing to learn self-regulation. In the PBS video clip “The Biscotti Kid”, Cookie Monster is trying to earn a black and white cookie belt. He has to listen with his whole body to earn the belt.
Whole body listening looks like this:
Suggested activities while showing the video:
The Biscotti Kid
Me Want It (But Me Wait)
My Play-Doh Brain and Its Functions
Teaching students about how their brains work and grow make a difference in how students are motivated to try new things and see struggle as good. Teach students the parts of the brain, brain facts, and how the brain learns using Play-Doh. You can teach the facts, use a book like Your Fantastic Elastic Brain Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak (2010), or watch one of the many kid-friendly brain videos on YouTube.
Mini Play-Doh colors (3 per student or team)
Mailing labels or tape and paper
Some brain facts (add your own or simplify for younger students):
Toss and Try This Brain Advice
The method of toss and try allows students to share what is on their mind, but in an anonymous way. This activity takes personal issues and allows students to share them in a safe environment. They also have the advantage of seeing that other scenarios may be very similar to what they have experienced and gain a new way to deal with the issues.
Roll Play With Puppets or Stuffed Animals
Create different command and control function role-play cards and place them in a can. Small groups of students (two or three) draw out a card and then play out the scenarios the “hot” way and the “cool” way. (see pages 42-44 in Teaching Kids to Thrive for more information on "hot" and "cool" reactions.)
Road Map to Success
Discuss goal setting using the SMART method. Use a SMART goal-setting resource worksheet for students. Here is a link to one example but there are many SMART goal resources and books available.
Specific – The goal should identify a specific action or event that will take place.
Measurable – The goal and its benefits should be quantifiable.
Achievable – The goal should be attainable given available resources.
Realistic – The goal should require you to stretch some, but allow the likelihood of success.
Timely – The goal should state the timeline for accomplishment.
Ask students reflection questions such as these:
Here is a great link for examples of goals broken down in the SMART method.
Old Games Made New
Students get the opportunity to practice flexible thinking with creativity. Give them traditional games like Candy Land, Checkers, Clue, and Sorry. Ask them to look at the pieces and come up with new rules for playing the game. The games could even be centered around classroom content. You will be amazed at how much students enjoy this and how creative they can be.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
Have students individually research several command and control function issues as they apply to academics.
Possible research topics
Breaking down a big assignment
Dangers of multitasking
How to stay organized
Organizing study space
Sleep habits for learning
Students use their research and work in groups of three to five to create short Public Service Announcement videos (two to three minutes in length). Teachers can upload these to YouTube or create posters with QR codes that link to the videos.
This game opens the discussion to self-control and allows students to problem solve as a group.
Classroom management tip: Explain to the students that the ball cannot hit the ground or the game will be over. This encourages students to keep the ball in control and not throw it to an unexpecting person.
Possible issues that might be written on the ball
I am not picked first for a team.
I get pushed in line.
I lose a game.
My mind is wandering during story time.
Someone interrupts me.
Someone knocked my papers off my desk.
What is self-control?
Why is focus important?
And Then ...
Create class stories where every student adds an event or detail to the story. The teacher gives a story prompt such as, “I was walking to school today, and you will never believe what happened…” Each student in the classroom is asked to add an event or detail to the story, one at a time. Students need to pay attention to each other, reflect on possible ways to change the story but ensure it continues to make sense, and add details. This activity will challenge their attention, working memory, and self-control.
Games, Games, Games
Any game that involves strategy, memory skills, or flexibility helps students practice command and control skills. We have made a list of several that are perfect for the classroom across all ages. We have categorized the games into whole-group and board games.
Bop It! by Hasbro
Players must follow verbal instructions to bop, pull, twist, and shout into the Bop It! device before the buzzer rings. The better the player does, the more difficult the instructions become. Similar to Simon, Bop It! requires the use of working memory to win and challenges students by rewarding success with increasing difficulty.
These games are great for working memory and flexibility. Use games like slap count, slap spell, and Miss Mary Mack, or simply use “clap, snap, pat” sequences that you create. Students work in partners to practice the skills.
Traditional Games With a Twist
Use traditional games like Red Light Green Light and Mother May I but reverse the actions to be different from the traditional models. “Red light” means go, and “green light” means stop. This activity is harder than it sounds! Students have fun while practicing flexibility and working memory.
Many teachers are gravitating toward using board games to exercise command and control function in the classroom. Board games provide opportunities to practice following directions, taking turns, and making decisions. Here are just a few great games to start. We encourage you to tweet us at @tchkids2thrive to share your favorite games.
Ages: 5 and up
This game promotes practice of planning, organization, and prioritizing. The animals need to cross the bridge before the river rises but they can only go across in a certain order. Players have to solve a puzzle to help the animals.
Ages: 5 and up
This spatial game offers practice in planning and prioritizing. Players take turns placing pieces on the board, starting from their corner. Each new piece played must touch at least one other piece of the same color. The first person to get rid of all of their pieces wins.
Ages: 8 and up
We love this card game that exercises working memory and recall. Players must remember a growing sequence of numbers as they draw number cards. If they draw a Distraction card, the player must answer a quirky question before reciting the numbers in order! Quirky questions keep everyone engaged. Students will have so much fun they won’t realize they are practicing skills, or they won’t care.
Simon by Schylling
Simon flashes colored lights and sounds in a pattern that children must remember and then mimic. This classic electronic game builds working memory and challenges students by rewarding success with increasing difficulty.
This game promotes practice of planning, organization, and prioritizing. Players work separately and as a team to get the bird, chipmunk, and mouse home before Max the cat pounces on them.
Ages: 12 and up
This game challenges the way players think! It contains ninety-six cards each of Classic Conundrums, MindTrap Mysteries, Picture Puzzles, and Rebus Riddles.
Ages: 12 and up
Pictionary is a classic game that encourages time management, flexibility, planning, and prioritizing. It plays like Charades, but instead of acting, players draw clues for their teammates.