How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning

Used effectively, checklists can improve learning by helping students develop awareness processes, goals, and priorities.

This Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning

by TeachThought Staff

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

As Atul Gawande points out in his book ‘Checklist Manifesto‘ (affiliate link), checklists break down complex tasks and also ensure consistency 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 as well?

For younger students, simple, task-based checklists can help them become accustomed to following steps, adding order to the relative chaos of learning, and offering a pathway to accomplishing complex tasks. For older students, they can do all of the above, and also serve as memory aids as they work on unfamiliar or complicated tasks.

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

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Checklists can keep students on task. Rather than losing focus and forgetting where they left off or abandoning the task altogether, a list of (hopefully) actionable items help students know where they are in 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.

The 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’ve done and where to go and what to do next, thus are prompted to pay attention to specific details and important elements of a subject or task. This helps them stay focused on the relevant information and reduces the chances of overlooking key points.

Retention and recall

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

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Progress tracking

Checklists provide a visual representation of progress, allowing learners to see how far they’ve come and how much more they have to do. This sense of accomplishment can boost 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. As learners complete items on the checklist, they gain a sense of accomplishment, which further boosts their confidence in their learning abilities.

Improving Metacognition

Education specialist Dr. Kathleen Dudden Rowlands believes checklists are more than just a way for students to stay organized and on-task. As she explains in “Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning,” checklists can aid students in developing metacognitive awareness of their own learning process.

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

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

By articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development.”

Error prevention

Checklists act as a safeguard 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 skipping crucial information.

Time management

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

10 Resources To Use Checklists In Your Classroom

1. Notion

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 complicated 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 backgrounds to fit the nature of your checklist.

3. Smart Task

You can do a search on Pinterest and find a variety of checklist resources. Search on ‘checklist classroom’ and find simple, pre-made checklists such as the ‘Dismissal Checklist,’ a list of tasks to help young students prepare for leaving 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. Asana

5. ToodleDo

5. Templates

From the simple ‘Homework Checklist’ for young students to more in-depth rubrics for older students, there are countless checklists for both teachers and students across the internet. Even if you don’t find quite what you need here, you’ll discover plenty of ideas that you can incorporate into your own custom checklists.

You can start by searching several templates available from Microsoft and Adobe.

Other Checklist Resources

6. App: Google Keep (browser, Android, and 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 visit your checklist with a critical eye frequently to make sure it’s still working for you and your class. As you work through your checklist and realize ways to make it better, take the time to do so. Ask for feedback from your students as you implement new checklists to ensure that they are working as effective learning tools.

They might surprise you.

Kristin Marino writes about education for several websites, including She 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