It’s inevitable. You assign a paper or a project weeks in advance, remind students about it daily, and still they scramble to finish their work the night before the deadline (if they even finish on time). Unfortunately, procrastination also often leads to less than stellar work. Take these steps to help students to get assignments finished with plenty of time to spare.
Check In with Students
Perhaps the easiest way to fight procrastination is to require students to share their progress as they go. If you assign a project a month in advance, have students share their progress with you every Friday until the project is due. At the first check-in, students should be 25% finished with the project, the second check-in should show 50% completion, and so on. Require students who fail to show sufficient progress to stay after school for half an hour or e-mail their parents to remind them that students need to spend more time on the project.
Break Assignments into Parts
By breaking assignments into smaller parts with individual due dates, you held ensure students gradually complete an assignment rather than doing it all at once. For example, if you assign an essay, students may be required to show their outline one day, their introduction another day, and their first draft a third day. You can do the same with projects, reading response activities, and even review activities.
Teach Time Management Skills
One reason many students procrastinate is because they don’t have strong time management skills. Take some time at the beginning of the school year to teach students some basic time management skills. Some tips that may help students avoid procrastinating include:
- Write all assignments in a planner
- Create and follow a daily schedule
- Make a list of priorities
- Avoid time-suckers and other distractions
- Carry assignments with you work on during spare time
- Learn how to say no
- Set aside time to work on school work every day
Remind Students about Upcoming Due Dates
Many students have a lot going on in their lives and many are easily distracted. If you tell them a project or paper is due more than a few days in advance, don’t be surprised if they forget about it as the due date approaches. Give students regular reminders about upcoming due dates. You may keep a note on the board and change the number of days each day (for example, 10 days until your essay is due), add reminders to the top of worksheets, or even send out regular e-mail reminders through your school’s server or text reminders using a free service such as Remind. You can also encourage students to set up their own reminders in their phones or through a program such as Remember the Milk.
Give Clear Guidelines
Sometimes students procrastinate because they aren’t sure what’s expected of them and, rather than ask for help, they put off the assignment and throw something together at the last minute. When you give the assignment, make sure students are clear about what the final product will look like. Include a checklist or rubric to guide them. You may also choose to show students a few examples of what a finished assignment will look like. After giving the assignment, let students know it’s okay to come to you if they have any questions or need help.
Make the Assignment Realistic
Even if students know what to do, they may simply not have time to do it. If you teach middle school or high school, chances are you’re not the only teacher with a big assignment due. Collaborate with other teachers to stagger when you give big assignments to students. If you know the social studies teacher just assigned a 10-page report on World War II, you might want to wait to have students write a lengthy book report. Aside from collaborating with other teachers, take a close look at your own assignment. You might be able to complete it in a week, but is it realistic to ask your students to do the same? Students shouldn’t have to spend more than 30 minutes to an hour on the assignment each night to get it finished in time.
Make the Assignment Interesting
You’re not going to interest all students all the time and sometimes you have to give assignments that aren’t a lot of fun, but whenever you can, look for ways to make assignments more interesting to students. Do students really have to write a book report or can they create a video book report instead? Instead of writing a long research paper, can students write a shorter paper and also create a visual display or presentation to accompany it? The more interesting the assignment is, the more likely students are to complete it early or on time.
Give Assignments that Matter
If students don’t think an assignment is important, they’re less likely to make it a priority. To help fight procrastination, don’t just give students an assignment for the sake of giving them an assignment. Instead, focus on assignments that are really designed to build and assess students’ skills. Also take time to explain the importance of the assignment to students. If they know why they have to do a project, they’re more likely to complete it on time.
Enforce the Deadline
Experts have mixed opinions on whether students should be penalized for turning in work late. If they show they have mastered a concept, what does it matter if they do it on your timeline? While you may not dock students’ grades for turning in assignments late, you can introduce other consequences, such as assigning a detention or taking away a reward for every day the student’s assignment is late. If students know you’re serious about the deadline, they’re more likely to work to meet it. If you’re always giving extensions and accepting excuses, they’re more likely to wait until the last minute and take advantage of your leniency.
When you set the deadline, also take into consideration when you plan to grade the work. If you want students to turn something in on Friday, but know you won’t start grading it until next Thursday, then why not make the deadline next Wednesday? When students turn something in and don’t get feedback in a reasonable time frame, they’re less likely to respect the next deadline.
Reward Students for their Work
In the real world, do adults always get a reward for doing the job they’re supposed to do? No. However, they will occasionally get a note from their boss saying, “Thanks for getting this to me” or “You did a great job on this.” In the same way, motivate students to get their work finished on time by offering them a reward. That reward may just be a bit of positive praise or it may be something more enticing, such as an extra bathroom pass or a piece of candy (we know it’s not healthy, but it’s a cheap way to motivate kids and teens).
For more ideas on how to help students learn to manage their time, develop study skills, and curb procrastination, check out our Study Skills and Strategies worksheets and 5 Ways to Improve Study Skills.
How do you help students avoid procrastination? Share your ideas in the comments.