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How a simple checklist can improve learning

By Teach Thought Staff

From reminding doctors what to pack for a trip to helping them perform surgery, checklists are important for projects that require sequential steps or a series of tasks.

As Atul Gawande explains in his book ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ (affiliate link), checklists break down complex tasks and also ensure continuity and efficiency if more than one person is working on a project. If checklists are so effective for airline pilots, skyscraper construction teams, and heart surgeons, why shouldn’t students use them?

For younger students, simple, task-based checklists can help them become accustomed to following steps, add order to the relative chaos of learning, and provide a pathway for completing complex tasks. For older students, they can do all of the above, and also serve as mnemonic aids when working on unfamiliar or complex tasks.

Checklists help students feel in control and hold them accountable by removing barriers to success like “I didn’t know we were supposed to do that,” or “I forgot to do that part.”

see all 14 Questions to Guide Curriculum Mapping and Lesson Design

Checklists can keep students on task. Instead of losing focus and forgetting where they left off or abandoning a task altogether, a list of (hopefully) actionable items helps students know where they are on a task or project. . Checklists can also help communicate the details or goals of an assignment or project to other teachers, parents, or relevant community members.

Benefits of Using Checklists in the Classroom

organization and structure

Checklists provide a clear and structured framework for learning. They help break down complex tasks or concepts into smaller, manageable steps, making it easier for learners to understand and follow the learning process.

focus and attention

By using a checklist, learners know what they have done and where to go next, thus motivating them to pay attention to specific details and important elements of a topic or task. This helps them focus on relevant information and is less likely to overlook key points.

retention and recall

Checklists can increase memory and retention of information. When learners engage with the checklist, they actively review and reinforce their understanding of the material. The act of checking off completed items also serves as reinforcement, making it easier to recall the information later.

progress tracking

Checklists provide a visual representation of progress, allowing learners to see how far they’ve come and how much they have to do. This sense of accomplishment can foster motivation and encourage learners to continue their efforts.

confidence building

Checklists provide learners with a sense of structure and guidance, reducing uncertainty and increasing confidence. When learners complete items on the checklist, they feel a sense of accomplishment, which further boosts their confidence in their learning abilities.

improve metacognition

Education expert Dr. Kathleen Dudden Rowlands believes that checklists are not a way for students to stay organized and stay on task. As he writes in “Check It! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning,” checklists can help students develop metacognitive awareness of their own learning process.

“When used effectively, checklists can help students develop metacognitive awareness of their intellectual processes,” Rowlands explained. Metacognitive awareness is essentially an understanding of both the learning process of people and how they can adapt their learning of certain knowledge or skills.

“Metacognitive research consistently suggests that students who learn to learn, know what strategies are most effective when faced with a problem or task, and have accurate ways of assessing their progress, are better than those who There are better learners who don’t,” Rowlands said. He also discussed the role of checklists in the process of fostering strong metacognitive awareness: “

By clarifying and labeling actionable steps, checklists form the basis for students’ metacognitive development.

error handling

Checklists act as safeguards against errors and oversights. They serve as a reminder to complete all necessary steps or consider important factors, reducing the risk of making mistakes or leaving out important information.

time management

Checklists help learners prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively. By breaking down large goals into smaller, actionable steps, learners can allocate their time more efficiently and make progress in an orderly manner.

10 resources for using checklists in your classroom.

1. Perception

This turbo-charged tool allows users to collaborate on shared lists, turning it into a project management tool. You can create simple ‘to do’ lists or different lists (subtasks) based on more complex tasks. It syncs across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, and web browsers, and its powerful templates and teamsharing make it one of the top notes and checklist tools available.

There is a usable free version and others with more options starting at $8/mo.

2. Overstrike

An app designed for easy checklists with the ability to create reminders and due dates, perform drag and drop sorting, and change the background to fit the nature of your checklist.

3. Smart Tasks

You can search Pinterest and find a variety of checklist resources. Search ‘checklist classroom’ and find simple, pre-made checklists such as the ‘dismissal checklist’, a list of tasks to help young students leave school at the end of the day. A writing checklist for older students helps them make sure they are taking the necessary steps to successfully write essays and compositions. Other checklists include ‘end of the year’, ‘field trip’ and ‘active listening’.

4. Posture

5. Toodledo

5. Templates

From simple ‘homework checklists’ for younger students to more in-depth rubrics for older students, there are countless checklists for both teachers and students on the Internet. Even if you don’t find everything you need here, you’ll find plenty of ideas that you can incorporate into your own custom checklist.

You can start by exploring the many templates available from Microsoft and Adobe.

Other Checklist Resources

6. App: Google Keep (Browser, Android & iOS)

7. App: Microsoft To-Do (Browser)

8. App: Checklist+ (iOS)

9. App: Productive (iOS)

10. Book: The Checklist Manifesto (Affiliate Link)


Any checklist you use in the classroom should be a flexible document that adapts to the needs of your students. Remember to go back over your checklist critically to make sure it’s still working for you and your class. As you work through your checklist and realize ways to improve it, take the time to do so. Ask for feedback from your students as you implement the new checklists to ensure that they are serving as effective learning tools.

They may surprise you.

Kristin Marino writes about education for several websites including, He has a bachelor’s degree in English Composition from the University of Nevada, Reno; how a simple checklist can improve learning; How a simple checklist can improve learning

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