Group Projects and Executive Function

Project-based learning continues to be popular during remote or hybrid learning, allowing students to interact with each other while connecting their learning to real-world issues. What’s the secret to successful project-based learning? Weaving in executive function strategies.

Whether you are using breakout rooms for hybrid learning or crafting in-person groups at school, here are three ways you can integrate executive function strategies into your teaching.

Cognitive flexibility

Group work exposes students to the opinions and observations of their peers as well as various approaches to solving a problem. Cognitive flexibility is essential. If, for example, the group is reading an article together, students will have to shift between the details of the author’s argument, any unfamiliar words they come across, and their peers’ thoughts. To prevent students from becoming stuck, provide graphic organizers that offer them space to jot down the main argument, their ideas, and their peers’ perspectives.

Working memory

One way to help students strengthen their working memory while working in groups is to assign a “reporter” who will relay the group’s findings to the class. This person will have to work through the problem with their peers while noting salient details of the conversation to share with the whole class. You can support this activity by suggesting that students use a visual strategy or mnemonic to synthesize and remember the group’s main points.


As students wrap up their work together, take a few minutes for self-reflection. Students can complete short surveys to reflect on the strategies they learned and used. Ask them to think about what aspects of working in a group were challenging or fun and decide what they might do differently next time. You can also encourage groups to complete a shared survey reflecting on how they worked as a team.

Making time to teach executive function strategies by incorporating small, explicit lessons like these into daily activities can lead to positive outcomes for students.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern