Getting Started on Assignments: Impact of Attention and Temporal-Sequential Ordering

Getting started on writing assignments in school and at home requires students to use their attention. Students must have the mental energy or "fuel" to initiate and maintain the task. In addition, students who are able to preview, or think about the outcomes of the task before beginning, are helped in many ways. They can have an idea of what their story or report will be like once a topic is selected as well as what materials will be necessary to do the assignment.

Moreover, students who also have a strong sense of "step-wisdom," knowing how tasks or activities can be broken down into a series of steps, will be able to determine the first step needed to get started on a writing assignment.

Here are some strategies the help students improve their abilities to get started on classroom or homework writing assignments.

Helpful Hints

  • Help students get started on assignments by encouraging them to preview (to think about ahead of time) what the completed assignment will look like, or what they will do in the assignment. For example, have students make a list of materials they will need to write their book report or have students outline what information they will include in their story or report. What will they need to describe in the beginning and middle so their ending will make sense.  
  • Provide jump-starts for students to help them begin homework or classroom assignments. For example, provide the first sentence of a paragraph they are to write.  
  • Encourage students to start a homework session or study period by planning what will be accomplished during the session. If necessary, help students develop objectives that are clear, specific, and measurable (e.g., how long they will work, how long the report will be).  
  • Encourage students to include reviewing as a regular part of their study or homework routine. For example, suggest that they start a homework or study session with a quick review of the last assignment in class, or recently covered material related to the same topic. This sort of reviewing can be brief, taking only 10-15 minutes, and can be thought of as a kind of "warm-up" to get students started on the task at hand.  
  • Use affinity areas, or topics/activities of high interest to students to enhance the likelihood that they will initiate and sustain work on an assignment.  
  • Assess students' attitudes about assigned activities. Be sure that students feel that their abilities match the demands of the work they have been given. For example, be aware that fears of doing a less-than-perfect job might be interfering with students' willingness to start assignments on their own.