Quick Tips to Help Students Who Have Difficulty with Organization, Attention, and Memory (Updated February 2021)

Many learners struggle with organization, attention, and memory. Here are a few tips to incorporate into your classroom routines. Links to instructional strategies, particularly HLP #16 Use explicit instruction, are included at the end of the page.
To focus attention:
  • Use class and individual schedules. Start and end each class session by reviewing.
  • Check off tasks as they are completed.
  • Set goals for how much of a task they can complete in an allotted time. Model setting goals for task completion in a given time. (“We have 15 minutes for you to work on this task with your partner. I anticipate you will complete Sections 1 and 2 in that time.”)
  • As you model activities or problem solving, think aloud so students hear each step AND what you are thinking while you are doing the steps.
  • Give students advance notice (a physical cue, special word) that you will be saying or showing key information. Use color codes to highlight key information, vocabulary, or directions
  • Break assignments down into shorter segments.
  • Alternate short work periods with teacher-controlled breaks - have this student be your official pencil sharpener, note-runner.
  • Use physical, visual, or auditory signals/cues to redirect student to stay on task (e.g., move closer to the student, clap, touch your watch—whatever you and the student or students agree on)
  • Use a digital, online timer during activities to help students better understand time.
Provide a physical environment that is:
  • Free from distractions and clutter. Have the student remove all but the material with which he is working from his desk.
  • Seat student in area free from distractions such as open doors or air conditioners.
To help with organization:
  • Provide a time weekly for organizing desks and notebooks.
  • Use assignment books and calendars. Check that students keep them current.
  • Have students "check" unneeded books and notebooks at the door. They can pick up their items as they exit class.
  • Check homework daily.
  • Send daily/weekly progress reports home.
  • Provide advanced organizers or outlines of the content.
  • Use checklists to help students remember the expected behaviors.
To help with following directions:
  • Have students repeat directions.
  • Check frequently that the student is following directions.
  • Provide a completed example. Model or demonstrate each step. Have students check off each step as it is completed.
  • Divide longer orally assigned tasks into shorter ones.
  • Very gradually help the student learn to take orally presented notes.
  • Give the student extra time to respond to oral questions.
  • Provide practice in noticing, describing, and comparing details.
  • Provide visual displays such as - flowcharts, webs, pictorials, pre-reading questions, and keyword note-taking organizers frequently to help students listen and follow directions.
To help with memory/recall:
  • Provide the student with a written-out schedule of classroom routines and timelines.
  • Use semantic maps and diagrams to help students remember the connections between concepts.
  • Provide multiple active opportunities to respond for all students

Explicit Instruction—engaging and effective instruction - HLP 16 Checklist: Explicit Instruction

Videos - Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching (Video Clips: Elementary & Secondary)

Highlight Tool - HLP Highlight Tool – HLP 16: Use Explicit Instruction

Training - Recorded Webinars: Explicit Instruction Online Series- The Magic Is in the INSTRUCTION, Parts 1 & 2

Student Engagement and Opportunities to Respond -
Increasing Opportunities to Respond (Center for Promoting Research to Practice, Lehigh University)
Opportunities to Respond - Group Instruction (University of Louisville)
Providing Multiple Opportunities to Respond (Kaimuki Middle School)

This information is updated thanks to the efforts of Dr. Peggy Weiss, Associate Professor, George Mason University, 2021.