3 Key Elements For Designing a Student Planning System That Works

Aug 20, 2021

How many times have we handed our students a planner or agenda at the beginning of the school year, required them to copy their homework and reminders that we write for them on the board, but failed to actually teach the skill of what it means to plan… sound about right? 

When faced with the task of planning, let’s face it, most students have no idea where to even start.

And that’s not surprising. Because unless we actually take the time to consistently teach planning skills and allow for opportunity to apply these skills through practice, it’s just not something we can expect our students to do naturally.

I’ve always been a bit planner-obsessed, myself. For as long as I can remember, New Years and Back-to-School season have been heightened times of excitement for me because, hello, those are primetime planner seasons! 

But the truth is, for the longest time, I struggled to make it past the first few weeks of “planning” out my life. I carried my planner around and kept it front and center on my desk, because, ya know, it was too pretty not to look at. But I totally missed the mark when it came to actually USING the thing. Whether it was my personal planner, teacher planner, budget planner, fitness planner, you name it… I can’t point to one single planner that was ever fully used up. 

Why is that?

Well for starters, I didn’t have a system. Yes, in my opinion, planning goes so much deeper than just writing out a to-do list and crossing off appointments. Without a system, the planning process lacks direction and fails to become an ingrained practice that can ultimately contribute to productivity.

So when I started thinking about how I would intentionally teach planning skills to my students, I knew the foundation needed to be a system that would be simple enough, yet powerful enough, for students to value using.

When I discovered my Teachure Trademark earlier this year, I realized that Growth is one of my core principles as a teacher. I decided the task of planning, and by extension the reflection of those plans, was one way to help my students demonstrate growth through our classroom experience.

So, initially, I created a digital planner that looked like all the others… you know, with pages for each month of the year and a spread for each week with places to write down assignments and to-dos… and I enthusiastically offered it up to my students as if it was the best thing since sliced bread. I was SO excited about that thing, I thought for sure at least some of my students would jump on the planner-bandwagon with me and get excited about this amazing tool I had bestowed upon them.

But it was a total and complete flop. Even my most driven kiddos never opened the planner on their own after that initial day I presented it to them during class. 

And how could I blame them? I had dangled this great tool in front of them, told them it would help make them into even better students, but I hadn’t created a strong enough system for them to follow with independence. Honestly, I think I expected them just to know and do on their own. I told them how great and useful the tool could be, but I failed to effectively show them through consistent application of a system that works.

Rookie mistake.

Fast forward and it’s a new school year now. I spent time over the summer revamping my ideas for student planning into the student planning system that I now follow, and the results are like night and day when compared with the experience I had last year.

Read on for a look into this system of planning and some tips to make it a reality for your students too.


There’s Soooo Much to Cover Already… Why Teach Planning?

But first, are we sure that planning actually needs to be TAUGHT? I mean, there’s already sooo much on the curriculum map we’ve gotta cover, right?

Wrong. Well, right… but wrong. 

Planning most definitely needs to be explicitly taught because as I pointed out earlier, for most students effective planning isn’t something that just comes naturally. 

A lot of students will tell you they don’t need to write things down and they’ll give you any number of excuses for why planning doesn’t work for them.

But in reality, they’ve just never experienced the pay-off. They haven’t yet had a learning experience where planning and writing things out brought true value for them. 

So it’s your job to provide them this experience.

The fact of the matter is, carving out a few minutes during each week to teach a planning system and allow students the opportunity to apply those skills welcomes the chance for all kinds of extra perks to seep in.

For one thing, when students have the opportunity to plan out their life, so to speak, a natural consequence is stress-reduction.

Dealing with our cognitive clutter can help to ease anxiety, while also creating a sense of control that we feel we have over our life.

Learning how to effectively plan also helps with the obvious… it increases productivity. 

The act of writing out objectives that we wish to target and accomplish helps us get more clear on the direction we are aiming and the actions we need to take to reach our end goal. 

Thus, with this clarity we are more likely to execute with more strategy and precision.

And finally, when you teach planning, you aren’t JUST teaching planning skills. You are also helping students develop skills related to time management, organization, and problem-solving.

This is ultimately a practice that can take students beyond grade-level schooling and be useful to them into their adult life.

Go Beyond Just a “Student Planner”... Adopt a Student Planning System.

When I decided to implement some sort of student planner with my students, I did what most of us do and headed straight for Teachers Pay Teachers. I was hopeful to find something that would meet my expectations and even more hopeful to find something I could start implementing right away.

The first thing I noticed about the student planners on the teacher market was that they were either a.) boring, just a place to jot down to-do lists and pencil in things on a calendar or b.) super overwhelming with so. many. pages. meant to help students “organize” themselves.  

The goal with providing students an academic or student planner is not to overwhelm them with 100's of pages to help them stay organized. The truth is, they aren’t going to use all of those pages. [Truthfully, they are probably going to take one look at all of those pages and just feel overwhelmed, because I know I sure did!]

The goal, instead, should be to teach students how to follow a planning system that will keep them organized, while helping them develop planning skills through practice and application, and also being simple enough to start using with consistency. 

When I started making planning a regular part of our classroom routine, I saw first-hand the apprehension and overwhelm my students experienced. 

So the challenge was to create a system that would be engaging enough to hold their attention, while also simplifying the process so it would feel doable.

At the same time, it had to be a system that would teach students the most important habits of planning that they could carry with them into adulthood.

Key Elements of a Student Planning System

In the student planning system I’ve created, students learn to target three fundamental elements of planning. Besides the skill targets identified for each fundamental element, I’ve also installed accountability measures within each element for students to use for self-reflection and ownership of their performance. Furthermore, I’ve connected each element to a long-term practice for students to consider, as well.

Monthly | Goal-Setting

The first step of the planning process is to consider life at a monthly level.

The monthly skill target is Goal-Setting. The idea here is to approach goal-setting at a bite-sized level, so to speak.

Each month, students should set a goal for themselves. Ideally, this goal is specific, measurable, and realistic enough to be accomplished over the month-long period.

Students should identify their goal metric, or in other words, what they will use to assess and monitor their progress.

Then, students should identify three action tasks that will help them accomplish their goal. These action tasks may be one-time tasks, weekly tasks, or daily tasks they must adhere to in order to reach their target.

Finally, to cultivate a sense of accountability, students should track their goal during each week of the month, according to the goal metric they establish.

So, here’s an example for reference.

A student’s monthly goal might be to reduce overdue assignments to 0 by the end of the month [by the way, real goal example here!]. Their goal metric would be the # of overdue assignments they have at a given time. Action tasks might include: determine how many assignments need to be made up per day and write in planner, devote at least one hour after classes per day to making up overdue assignments, and plan for upcoming assignment due dates by noting them with a sticker in the planner. Finally, each week, the student would note how many overdue assignments they currently have using the Goal Tracker.

As an extension, a vision board tool can help students connect their monthly goals to longer-term aspirations.

Yearly goals can be so hard to set and KEEP because of their extended-time nature. Instead, help students brainstorm goals they want to accomplish for the year, creatively represent these goals on a vision board, and then visit the vision board on a monthly basis to guide monthly goal-setting.

Weekly | Habit Development

The next step in the planning process is to consider life at the weekly level. 

The weekly skill target is habit development. Our habits are the things we repeatedly do and because of that, they essentially either make or break us. The idea here is to draw attention to the power of habit and the conscious control we have over shaping our habits.

Students should be encouraged to set an intention for one new habit to practice during each week. I tell my students this doesn’t just have to be a school-related habit either.

For example, maybe they want to devote 20 minutes to practicing their favorite instrument each day. Or maybe they want to increase their water intake and drink a certain number of cups of water per day. Or aim for some type of physical activity each afternoon. Or commit to reading for at least 10 minutes each night before sleeping. And so on. 

It’s helpful to provide students with a box for each day of the week, where they can check off whether or not they did the habit for that day. 

When planning out the week, students can then consider their Top 3 tasks they need to focus on. 

My students struggled so much with this at first! It helps to offer suggestions and to help them tie at least one of their Top 3 tasks back to their goal for the month.

So, working off the monthly goal example I set on the previous page, one example of a Top 3 task related to the goal I set would be to make a note of how many overdue assignments needed to be made up each day during that week – and write this on each day of the spread.

Take a look at my example for reference.

Notice how after the Top 3 tasks are listed, any other tasks they want to make note of for the week can go below this on the corresponding weekday. 

It can be useful to segment each weekday, Monday through Friday, to help with organization: To Do, In Progress, and Done. 

When planning at the weekly level, students should also have a space to reflect on their weekly wins, challenges they experienced, and ways they can improve the following week. This is an important step for taking ownership of what went well, as well as bringing awareness and intention to what could use improvement.

Students should be encouraged to visit and update their weekly spread throughout the week.

Since with this planning system students are creating new habits to follow each week, I like to tie this in with my 52 Week Habit Challenge. This is a tool I provide students to track their new habits over the long-term. 

This tool is so useful for Showing students the power of small change. When they make one small change [new habit] each week, by the end of the year they will have had 52 opportunities to make small changes towards becoming the best version of themselves.

The idea with this practice is Growth > Perfection.

Daily | Task Orientation

The last step in the planning process is to consider life at the daily level. 

The daily skill target is task orientation. The idea here is to go beyond listing out the tasks that need to be completed during the day by learning to prioritize those tasks in order to improve productivity.

​​As with planning at the weekly level, students should begin by identifying their Top 3 tasks they need to focus on for the day. These tasks can be thought of as non-negotiables. If these three tasks are accomplished, the day can be considered a success.

Other tasks can be noted in a separate space, labeled Other Tasks. This space should be segmented to help students learn to prioritize their tasks: important tasks, tasks that can be done if there’s time, and tasks that there’s no rush for – complete if time allows. 

Students can take it one step further by planning out the tasks for their day using the hourly schedule. This can help them ensure they are devoting specific times during their day to completing their tasks.

At the end of the day, students should rate their productivity. This can be a quick and easy opportunity for students to self-reflect on their work performance.

I like to provide a Task Manager tool for my students to help them think about how to break down important tasks that need to be completed. 


Here’s an example of what my Task Manager tool looks like in action…

I love that this tool can be used in different ways. I find it super helpful to use with my students who struggle with multi-step processes. We can use this to break down those processes into singular steps that students can identify and follow. Thus, this can be a great aid for tasks that students are expected to complete more frequently, such as daily or weekly. 

It’s also useful for one-time tasks, like larger projects or assignments. Students can break down the project or assignment into smaller, more manageable steps to ensure 100% completion.

Tips For Cultivating Student Planning Skills 

Once you make the decision to teach your students a full-on system of planning, there are a few tips you should keep in mind that can help increase your students’ odds for success.

Tip 01 | Make weekly planning a part of your routine.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t offer your students this totally amazing, magical tool that’s capable of transforming their productivity in its entirety…. And then fail to revisit it week, after week, after week.

Planning is not a “periodical” thing to do. And we already know that [with most students, at least] we shouldn’t expect students to sit down on their own and tackle the practice.

We must find a time each week to intentionally open up the planners and practice the skill in order to reap the benefits.

For my students, I find that providing 15 minutes once a week is adequate enough for them to develop their weekly plans. We usually do this on Mondays. 

When it’s a new month, you might tack on 5 minutes or so to allow students the opportunity to plan their new monthly goals.

Additionally, 5 minutes per day is a good starting place to encourage the habit of referencing a daily spread each day, in order to plan and assess progress on daily tasks. 

Ideally, we want to get to the point where students are facilitating their planner upkeep on their own, without our prompting or designated class times. This comes with consistent practice [it will become a habit, eyyy!].

Tip 02 | Differentiate the planning process.

Every student group is different. You know your students best. Some students may need a little more hand-holding during this process than others.

This was true in my case. 

In case you’re new here, I teach 9th grade SPED in a virtual public school and my classes are conducted via a small group format. I see a total of five small groups per day and they are differentiated based on sectioning.

For a couple of my groups, introducing the entire student planning system, and the accompanying student planner I created to facilitate the system, right from the get-go was totally fine and manageable. But for my other groups, it was wayyy overwhelming.

So I ended up creating a sort of scaffolded approach to help ease my students into the planning system, without overwhelming with them with an entire planner to keep up with.

I created the template below, which includes the fundamental elements of the student planning system. 

I post this template in my students’ breakout rooms, where it stays all week long. We tackle template completion on Mondays.

With this template, I’m asking them to set a monthly goal and track their progress each week. I’m also asking them to set a new weekly habit and track their success with that habit each day. There’s also space for task notation, but I make this about tasks completed in my class only. So since this is posted in their breakout room everyday, I ask them to note the tasks they work on during independent work time.

You can see that I still include accountability measures for them to take ownership of their performance during the week. 

Another idea for differentiating the planning system I’ve outlined above is to offer the system in an alternative format.

The examples I’ve shown have all referenced a planning system facilitated digitally. However, you could just as easily utilize printouts of the monthly, weekly, and/or daily spread and laminate them for reuse.

I call these my “planning notepads” and they provide all the same goodness as my digital planner, but in a PDF format that can be printed and used pencil-to-paper [or marker to laminate if you decide on laminating for repeated use!].

Tip 03 | Establish a sense of ownership.

Finally, we all are more likely to use something when we feel a sense of ownership. This sense of ownership can be cultivated through opportunities of choice.

So, provide your students with a choice when it comes to picking out their planner.

Provide opportunities for students to choose a planner that appeals to them and makes them excited to use on a daily basis. 

One way I did this was by differentiating the cover options I offer my students. I provide my students the opportunity to go “shopping” for their planner by choosing the cover that most appeals to them and then they make a copy of the digital planner they like to save in their own Google Drive.

It’s a small choice, seemingly minor choice, but one that no doubt makes the process a bit more fun for them.

I also make the planner more engaging by providing my students with stickers to use. No doubt, stickers make things more fun. Whether it’s the simple stickers, like basic sticky note style, or fun and quirky stickers that add flair, I let them use the stickers at their whim to give their planners a more personalized feel. 

I’ve even used stickers as a form of classroom management. When students meet certain expectations during the week, I send them a “GIF box” by email. Underneath the GIF box is a new sticker or two for them to add to the collection in their planner. The trick is, it’s always something relevant and out-of-the-box that they can anticipate at the end of each week.


Tips For Cultivating Student Planning Skills 

I mentioned earlier that when I initially decided to start implementing some sort of student planner with my students, I scoured the Internet looking for something that I could start using right away. 

Unfortunately for me, I found nothing that met my expectations. [womp, womp]

But fortunately for you, that’s what led me to develop this student planning system and an accompanying digital student planner to guide students through the process. [whoop, whoop!]

All of the examples I’ve included in this post come directly from the Digital Student Planner I created to use with my students. Click here to check it out.

If you want to take the guesswork out and, even better, get your hands on something that’s ready to go for you to start implementing right away, you can check out the digital student planner here.

The student planner is accessible digitally via Google Slides, which means students can access it from pretty much anywhere and across devices. Gone are the days when the planner gets lost, damaged, or left at home!

The digital nature of this resource makes it convenient, easy-to-navigate, engaging, more versatile, and eco-friendly. Not to mention, it gives students a chance to consistently improve upon their tech literacy skills, which is a huge plus in the 21st century tech-centered world we live in.

Happy planning!



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