5 Ways to Keep Students from “Overthinking” Assignments

I hate to shop. So much that I am often accused of having an online shopping addiction. So, when I was out of groceries earlier this week, the dread started. I made a list like always, but the thought of going to a food store literally turned my stomach.


By the time the day ended, I had myself worked up into a real tizzy...over shopping for food. My back hurt, I reasoned. I needed so many things that it would just make the whole situation worse, like pouring gasoline on a fire. My mind churned. I had better things to do than shop for food. The internal whining and sniveling were totally unacceptable.


Oh, it went downhill from there.



If you’ve ever seen a student with a writing assignment he/she doesn’t want to do, the same thought process takes place. If you ask this student why twenty minutes has passed and there isn’t a single word written, the child will invariably say, “I’m thinking.”


Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between thinking and overthinking. Even for adults who don’t want to buy groceries.


Kids with learning disabilities get so worked up over the small details of an assignment or some other chore they might need to perform that by the time they sit down to perform the activity, they’re in emotional turmoil. Writing really sends them into a tizzy, as there are so many variables and strategies involved with this subject that they end up overwhelmed.


Let the internal whining and moaning commence!


So, how do you help these kids structure their time so they can complete an assignment without wear and tear to you both?



1. Chunk the information for the student. This could involve cutting a longer assignment into smaller pieces, practicing easy chores or learning activities and building up endurance, or even formally teaching your child how to “chunk” number or letter sequences.

2. Set time limits. Kids can be famous for wasting time, whether it’s a being made to eat a vegetable or a finish a math assignment. If you give them time parameters, it helps. Set a timer with clear yet realistic expectations. For instance, tell the student that in ten minutes you expect five math problems to be completed. Then reward the student for finishing!

3. Use graphic organizers. Stamps, checklists, or other markers help. Just like I made a list for my grocery shopping, some kids need help in organizing their activities and the process of finishing them.

4. . Do the worst thing first. If given the choice, kids – especially those with learning issues – will usually put their least favorite thing first in their lineup then hem and haw, waste time, and fail to finish the assignment. If you let them choose their least favorite activity and get it off their plates, it will help curb that overthinking and the consequent time wasting.

5. Rewards always help. Kids with learning differences rarely perform an assignment just for the pure fun of it. That’s because learning isn’t necessarily fun or easy for them. But if you can give them a fun reward, it helps make the assignment bearable. When my son was young and struggling to learn, I had a bag of Matchbox cars that he adored. Every night when he finished his homework, he got to pull out a car of his choice. It helped take the “sting” out of the difficult activity.



Kids want to do well and they want to please both their parents and their teachers. But sometimes they fail to see the intrinsic value of what they’re doing as well as (ahem – guilty as charged) overthinking something they don’t want to do.

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