After introducing the concept of cognitive flexibility (which you can read here), I’ve found it effective to address executive function skills. Developing an alternate plan is a strength of students with strong cognitive/executive function flexibility. Unfortunately, students who are rigid in their thinking often get stuck on their first (and only) plan, which limits choices and usually results in emotional meltdowns and eventually getting nothing at all!
Take Nathaniel, for example. Because he loves pizza so much, his family started a tradition of Friday night pizza. His family also has another tradition: when it is someone’s birthday, that person gets to choose dinner. Nathaniel’s sister Julia’s birthday falls on a Friday and Julia doesn’t want pizza. Instead of accepting an alternate plan, Nathaniel is stuck on his original plan of pizza on Friday. Because he is stuck, he becomes unreasonable and winds up disappointed and spending time alone in his room sulking.
When addressing cognitive/executive function flexibility skills, I’ve found it important to teach students the importance of making another plan. This requires thinking ahead and anticipating outcomes — important executive function skills that support critical thinking and problem solving.
I explain that people often have a plan for how they want something to go. For example, Nathaniel wanted pizza on Friday night. This is Nathaniel’s first plan.
Sometimes our first plan does not work out. Julia’s birthday is on Friday. Without another plan, Nathaniel gets stuck and upset. With another plan, Nathaniel could have a choice and get something enjoyable. For example, he could realize that he will have pizza next week and enjoy his sister’s choice. Or perhaps there is some frozen pizza in the fridge to be heated.
This is also a good time to reinforce vocabulary such as compromise and idioms like “having an open mind”. I find graphic organizers like the one I made here to be helpful which helps to explain that once we decide what we want to do (goal) they must decide how they are going to do it (plan). Having students fill in the chart with different colors distinguishes between goal/plan.
This Pink Panther video, “Think Before You Pink” shows the main character trying to meet his goal (cross the street). It’s fun to have students keep track of how many plans the Pink Panther tries (there are 12 attempts).
These activities help to make the point that it is not enough to have just one plan–we need to have at least one other plan (in fact, we might need many plans!).
How do you help your students think flexibly and make alternate plans? Do you have any activities to share?
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