Teaching Students How to Prioritize

Prioritizing: A Critical Executive Function

Two different categories of work are directed by the executive function of prioritisation. When the brain differentiates between important facts and less relevant thoughts, a process known as prioritisation takes place. When students plan how they will invest their time and effort, they are also engaged in this activity while at work.

In an earlier piece titled “Brain Development and Adolescent Growth Spurts,” I discussed ways in which students might improve their ability to organise their materials. This time around, I’m going to concentrate on teaching them skills like prioritisation, time management, and goal-oriented planning. My focus is still on the early adolescent years (ages 10–12), but the tactics may be modified to enable students of all ages become more adept at spotting higher-priority material and more self-directed in deciding how they will spend their time.

To begin, let’s go over the reasons why teachers are in such an advantageous position to provide pupils with guided experiences that engage neural networks of executive functions. When youngsters are in school, their brains undergo significant development that makes them smarter and more organised. Because neuroplasticity is a process that quickly prunes underused circuits and strengthens the circuits that are most used, it follows that when you provide kids with ways to activate their executive functions, the networks that exert the maximum amount of control will grow more robust.

Students need to have the executive function skill sets of prioritising clearly taught to them, as well as opportunities to practise using those skills. Utilize the following recommendations as a framework for lesson design in order to assist students in developing an understanding of what prioritising is and the behaviours that increase their capacity to prioritise.


1. Acknowledge the competencies that they already possess: Students need to learn how to prioritise their work in all of their classes. They make use of it when organising an essay, deciding which information to put in their notes, or analysing word problems in mathematics to determine which data are pertinent. In the beginning, you should have them think about which of these they are already good at doing, and then you should have a class discussion with the purpose of sharing techniques and making students aware of the talents they already possess. Included among the prompts are:

When taking notes in a lecture or from a textbook, how do you decide what information to jot down?
How did you pick which knowledge was the most necessary to acquire and study for a test that you prepared for by studying? When you were successful on an exam that you prepared for by studying.
2. Practice setting priorities without worrying that you could be “wrong”: Present the students with a number of photographs, paintings, or video clips, and then solicit their feedback regarding the aspect of the subject matter that stood out to them as being the most significant element or overarching concept. Remind them that the audience is encouraged to relate to the work and take away thoughts that are particular to them rather than necessarily those that the author intended for them to take away from the work.

3. Give priority to the “best”: Demonstrate to the students the mechanisms that they are already utilising in order to prioritise the quality of their work. Because of this, they are better able to become aware of the criteria by which they can prioritise relevant, legitimate, and quality information throughout the curriculum and beyond. An example of a task is as follows:

Students choose three print commercials that they feel are effective and select those to study.
They arranged the advertisements in a hierarchy from best to second best to third best.
After they have completed this ranking, you should ask them to consider and write the attributes that they utilised to determine the order of the best.
4. Work with notes that have been redacted. This is an excellent framework for students to use in order to aid them in prioritising the material from lectures or readings they should be jotting down and then examining afterwards.

Make an outstanding outline, or use inclusive student notes from past years, both of which should clearly distinguish priority primary issues and lesser subtopics. Creating an outstanding outline will allow you to save time.
Make this outline in three distinct forms, and save them all.
Students who are only starting to establish their note-taking skills should only have access to a tiny portion of the text. Remove more of the text for pupils who are at a higher reading level. If, for instance, the outline is about different forms of clouds and the scaffolded outline specifies three different varieties, then the student who is just beginning to strengthen her note-taking skills should skip over one type of clouds in the outline.


Students are able to analyse the order in which they will approach different components of a bigger assignment, as well as choose which components should get the most attention and planning by prioritising for planning purposes.

Allow students to experience the consequences of not meeting goals by the deadlines they set and give them opportunities to make their own prioritisation decisions. After this, provide direction by way of metacognition and an opportunity for modification so that they might gain insight from their erroneous calculations. Help them build prioritisation networks by getting them to make estimates, keep track of their progress, and alter their plans when they aren’t able to fulfil the interval goalposts you set for them.

An example of scaffolded prioritisation in the planning process is as follows:

Give an assignment for which you have clear expectations for the outcome, as well as a detailed rubric detailing the prerequisites, each of which has a corresponding point value.
Students create individual lists of what they consider to be the distinct tasks, as well as a sequence for following those tasks to completion, based on their perspective.
Give the kids a plan to follow, as well as a template that they can use to select dates for each of the tasks they need to do to reach their objective.
The students assign a certain degree of importance to each activity. For instance, if the grading rubric for the book report specifies that the concluding paragraph is worth 15 percent of the mark and the cover page is valued at 5 percent of the grade, then they should utilise that information as a guide to prioritise the amount of time that is allowed to each assignment.
Students keep a log of their actual time spent on each activity as they move through their plan (and later the outcome in points received for each aspect of the project).
Make sure that students have time in class to assess their progress and change their plans as necessary.
After the project has been finished, provide the students with a chance for metacognition in which they are to record which tasks need to be reprioritized to add extra time and in which they are to reflect on the techniques that they discovered to be most valuable to their successful plans.
It requires time for both teachers and students to plan lessons and lessons units that stimulate executive function processing, and this time is time that is already being used up to a significant extent. To be able to become self-directed learners who are able to prioritise, plan, and endure with foresight as they work toward achieving long-term goals requires students to develop their executive functions, which takes time. This time, however, is a valuable investment.