Executive Function Strategies Blog

Inside a Master's Mind: How Chess Builds Executive Function Skills

2020 was a year filled with discovering (or rediscovering) new activities to keep us occupied in a COVID world: the joy of baking banana bread, learning a new instrument, decluttering long-neglected areas of our homes - and, more recently, the mental workout of playing chess. Thanks to the popular Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” chess has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. And unlike the extra pounds you may be carrying from those kitchen endeavors, it turns out that chess is one of those “good for you” activities - especially when it comes to building Executive Function skills.

Why Does My Child Struggle with Writing? 6 Skills Your Child Needs

Do you have a child who can talk at length on a topic but struggles to get all those great ideas down on paper? Because writing draws upon Executive Function skills such as planning, organizing, time management, attention, working memory, and metacognition — it’s no wonder we Executive Function coaches see many of our students struggle in this area. In fact, writing can feel so difficult that just hearing about that upcoming assignment for a 500 word essay can send chills down a student’s back. (Add emotion regulation to the list of Executive Function skills involved in writing!)

Steps to Writing a Paper: Tracking Quotes

About a month ago I attended a relative’s 60th birthday party where many guests brought delicious homemade items. In true party-goer spirit I proceeded to try nearly every dish on the table, often discussing with the chefs how they were made. 

Four days later I was standing in aisle 9 at my nearest grocery store, thinking back to the delicious items I’d sampled and feeling motivated to recreate a few. I could remember the sweet vermouth chicken had, of course, sweet vermouth in it, but I failed to recall if she used raw mushrooms or cream of mushroom soup. I reminisced about the coconut macaroons, but fretted over whether she said coconut flour was the key, or maple syrup.  So I did what any person who doesn’t have cell service in the grocery store does: I bought all of the items just in case and trekked home. My still unused cream of mushroom can tells me this was not the best approach.

It reminded me of the students I work with and how they often make a similar tactical error by not planning for an essay as they read. Using my own cautionary tale as an analogy, I urge students not to leave out one of the first steps to writing a paper: tracking quotes.

How to Write a Paper: Write the Introduction Last


In 2000, there were two trailers for the movie Cast Away that were released, one of which I’ve linked here. In it you learn the entire plot of the film: a man gets on a plane, the plane crashes, the man is stranded on an island long enough to sport an impressive tan and facial hair, and he eventually makes it home after friends and loved ones have had a funeral for him and moved on as best they could.

After watching the trailer, I moved on, too. I had no need to see the film because the trailer was a sufficient SparkNotes-like version of the actual movie. But that’s not what movie trailers are supposed to do. They’re supposed to give you just enough information to make you want to see the movie. If the Cast Away trailer wrapped up after the first clip of Tom Hanks on a stranded island, I might have been all “oh-my-gosh-does-he-survive-and-make-it-back-to-Helen-Hunt?” about it.

Essays have their own trailers: introductions. An essay’s introduction should grab the reader’s attention, introduce some of the key elements of the essay, but not give away the entire argument so that there’s no need to keep reading.