Unstuck and On Target!

Unstuck and On Target!
An Executive Function Curriculum to Improve Flexibility, Planning, and Organization
Second Edition
Middle School
High School
Item Number:
Unstuck and On Target!: An Executive Function Curriculum to Improve Flexibility, Planning, and Organization


For students with executive function challenges, problems with flexibility and goal-directed behavior can be a major obstacle to success in school and in life. With the enhanced second edition of this popular curriculum—now optimized for both in-person and virtual instruction—you’ll have everything you need to explicitly teach executive function skills in today’s educational environment.

A highly effective intervention for students ages 8–11, Unstuck & On Target! gives you 21 ready-to-use, field-tested lessons that boost critical skills like cognitive flexibility, problem solving, coping, and goal setting. Ideal for use with learners with autism, ADHD, and other challenges that affect executive function, this curriculum includes a comprehensive manual and a package of digital, downloadable components that are easy to print and use in face-to-face or virtual settings.

To obtain downloads, enter the case-sensitive keycode listed on page iv of the manual for access to the fillable PDFs, digital poster files, and digital gameboard files.

Unstuck and On Target! Benefits:

  • Optimized for the way you teach today. The new reconfigured format makes the kit more flexible—you can use it in schools or during remote instruction.
  • Meets the needs of MTSS Tier 2 learners. This proven curriculum is one of the few tailored to the needs of Tier 2 students who need more focused instruction.
  • Gives you explicit, step-by-step routines, activities, and scripts to help students improve executive function skills.
  • Targets the flexibility and planning skills every student needs to learn effectively, reduce stress, get along with others, problem-solve, and more.
  • Can be done in any classroom, by any teacher. Each ready-to-use lesson comes complete with clear instructions, materials lists, and tips for teachers.
  • Makes learning fun with engaging games, role plays, stories, and lively class discussions.
  • Reinforces new skills through 19 Home Practice handouts in English and Spanish (available for download online).


  • One print manual
  • Two digital, print-ready gameboards, available as one-page 11x17 PDFs, two-page 8.5x11 PDFs, and PowerPoint files
  • Four digital, print-ready posters
  • 50+ handouts—digital downloads now available as fillable PDFs
  • Tested with a diverse sample of children and refined to increase student engagement


”Unstuck and on Target! does a remarkable job of translating complex ideas and abstract terminology into concepts and language that make sense to children. It is evident that this curriculum reflects years of hands on experience working with executive skills in the classroom. The user can be assured that every lesson has been tested and refined, leaving a distillation that is accessible and appealing to children and easy for teachers to implement.“

—Peg Dawson, co-author of Smart but Scattered

”Too often, when students have deficits in executive functioning, they are erroneously perceived as having behavior problems. This book is an excellent resource that helps educators fully understand the complexities of executive functioning. Readers are provided with step-by-step instructions for proactively teaching essential skills and coping strategies to support students in overcoming barriers associated with executive functioning challenges.“

—Debra Leach, Professor of Special Education, Director of Winthrop Think College


Unstuck Fast Facts
About the Online Materials
About the Authors
Foreword John Elder Robison
Reinforcement System
Icon Glossary
Script Practice Throughout the Manual

Topic 1 Foundational Skills
Lesson 1 Get to Know You
Lesson 2 Introduction to Goal, Why, Plan, Do, Check
Lesson 3 Emotional Identification
Lesson 4 What Can You Do to Feel Better?
Topic 1 Progress Report

Topic 2 What Is Flexibility?
Lesson 5 Flexibility Investigation
Lesson 6 Flexibility
Lesson 7 Getting Stuck
Topic 2 Progress Report

Topic 3 How to Be Flexible
Lesson 8 Plan A → Plan B
Lesson 9 Compromise
Lesson 10 Big Deal/Little Deal
Lesson 11 Choice/No Choice
Lesson 12 Expect the Unexpected
Topic 3 Progress Report

Topic 4 Why Be Flexible?
Lesson 13 The Advantages of Being Flexible
Lesson 14 Being Flexible Can Make Good Things Happen
Topic 4 Progress Report

Topic 5 Your Goals: Getting What You Want
Lesson 15 Setting and Achieving Goals Using GWPDC
Lesson 16 GWPDC Application and Practice
Lessons 17 & 18 GWPDC Stations
Lesson 19 Event Planning
Lesson 20 Event
Topic 5 Progress Report

Topic 6 Flexible/Goal-Directed Futures
Lesson 21 Interview (& Optional Game)
Topic 6 Progress Report


An Executive Function Q&A

How to Get Students Unstuck & On Target: An Executive Function Q&A

Executive function is one of our most popular topics here on the Inclusion Lab–we know our readers are always on the lookout for more tips, insights, and resources on helping their students improve these critical skills. So today we’re bringing you a great Q&A with Monica Adler Werner, Parent and Executive Function Coach at the Center for Autism Assessment and Treatment. Monica is a coauthor of the brand-new edition of Unstuck & On Target!a curriculum that helps explicitly teach executive function skills like flexibility and goal-setting to learners with autism, ADHD, and other challenges.

In this interview, Monica talks about the importance of flexibility, introduces the steps of the Unstuck approach, and talks about how busy teachers can make Unstuck a part of their day to day classroom routine.

Q1. Unstuck & On Target! is a curriculum focused on helping students who have executive function challenges. For teachers who might have limited experience recognizing executive function issues–what might they look like in a classroom? What kinds of behaviors and struggles might you see in a student who could benefit from your curriculum?

Some students are often called inattentive, inconsiderate, disorganized, and unmotivated. They are the students who are “really smart” but just “seem like they won’t do anything they don’t like.” We hear a lot of “won’t’s” and “should be able to’s” about the students Unstuck targets. We also hear a lot about students who are really rigid or “stuck.” Once they get an idea, they won’t flex, and they will persist down their path heedless of the consequences.

Students may be having meltdowns, disrupting class, refusing to do work, or rushing through the work. Others may be quietly withdrawn and doing the bare minimum. They are often highly verbal and intellectually engaged, and can tell you all the right things to do. But when they have to do those same things, they don’t. That’s a hallmark of executive function difficulties, what H.L. Teuber once called the “curious disassociation between knowing and doing.”

Teachers are often very frustrated because they have tried countless approaches, taught and retaught, put in point systems, called parents, and yet there is still no progress. And that’s how Unstuck started, with teachers and psychologists working together to try a different approach, one that was brain based, student centered, and teacher friendly. That’s why teachers like Unstuck so much; it works and is doable!

Q2. Boosting cognitive flexibility is one of the central goals of your curriculum. Why is flexibility so important to success in school, and can you give teachers some practical tips on how to encourage flexibility in their students?

Flexibility is so important to be a good problem solver and find success. If we are rigid, we live in the black-and-white binary world. Everything becomes a high-stakes endeavor, with success or failure as absolutes. But with flexibility comes the ability to appreciate and live in the grey area, to learn from mistakes and solve problems and move ahead.

Teachers and parents see this all the time. A child becomes stuck and then loses everything. They have a meltdown because they’re disappointed (what they expected to happen didn’t happen) and then they feel terrible not just about what didn’t happen the way they expected but about the fuss and dislocation they caused to others. This kind of vicious cycle is so terrible for everyone. So we teach children that in fact they are more flexible than they realize and how to be flexible. We catch the child in the act of being flexible and notice how they made a Plan B: that’s Unstuck! Now you’ve given the child a starting point for success, they’ve experienced the power of the Plan B, and everyone is celebrating.

How does that look in school? Say the child comes into class and forgets their homework folder. The teacher smiles at them when they come back in with the folder, even after they were reminded, and says, “you were so flexible! We made a Plan B to go back to your locker. What a great way to start the day!”

Q3. You have an overarching strategy called Goal-Why-Plan-Do-Check that you use as a framework for the lessons in your curriculum. Can you explain the five steps of this process and why it’s an effective way to support students?

Goal, Why, Plan, Do, Check (GWPDC) is central to the Unstuck intervention and is the system, or formula, that we can all use to solve problems. The starting point is to get real clarity on the goal. Often students say they have one goal–e.g., “play with Timmy at recess”–when in fact there is a larger goal they have at recess, e.g. “have fun and play at recess.” Playing with Timmy can be a Plan A to achieve that fun and play goal, but there are usually many other plans that will help them reach that goal.

Most students won’t struggle with the “why“ in the recess scenario, but they do often struggle with this step when it comes to nonpreferred work in school or at home. A student who constantly balks at math and refuses to do the worksheets can really benefit from the teacher and student using GWPDC to figure out how to get the student engaged in their math learning. The “why” is often very abstract for students or too remote or even dictatorial (“because that’s the way it is!”). So working with a child help them find a “why” that is meaningful to them is really important. And that “why” may end up being pretty simple: so that I can finish and get to a more preferred activity. Teachers and parents should share their why’s, too, but remember: we do things for our own reasons, not other peoples’.

The idea of making a plan in advance is the third part of the Unstuck approach. Students often have a plan that is not working for them, but don’t recognize it as a plan. By first looking at the fact that they already made a plan (even without knowing) and then encouraging them to do and check the plan. we are encouraging self-reflection and course correcting. So after a plan has been executed, students reflect on whether the plan worked; if not, there’s always a Plan B. It’s important that students recognize that the problem is not them, it’s the plan. It helps students understand that success comes from systematically trying and when something doesn’t work, looking at where the problem was in the plan and making a new one. That’s how we really help students learn to problem solve and persist in the face of obstacles.

Q4. A big part of ensuring the success of interventions is keeping the home-school connection strong. How can teachers get parents more involved in strengthening their child’s executive function skills?

Unstuck makes the home/school connection easy. Every lesson has a “home extension” that summarizes what the student learned and gives ideas for how the parents can use the ideas at home. Parents love these handouts as they give parents concrete ideas for how to use the strategies that their children are learning, which leads to more positive interactions with their children. 

Q5. As you mention in Unstuck, it’s important for teachers themselves to be flexible, organized, and supportive if they want to encourage those qualities in their students. What are some specific steps a teacher could take to improve in those areas?

Teachers have so much on their minds these days. But we always start by reminding teachers that the students who most need Unstuck are usually already taking a lot of time and energy. What Unstuck does is allows teachers to be more effective in their work with their students–the whole reason we went into education in the first place!

Teachers can use the Unstuck strategies to think about their own flexibility and plans. Using the GWPDC approach on ourselves as educators can help us reflect on what’s going wrong in our interactions: Do we have different goals from the child? Do we have Plan As (that while beautiful) are not working for the child? A teacher can help just by narrating their confusion: “I think I have the wrong plan here, but feel a little stuck. I’m going to take a break to think of a Plan B.”

Teachers already have so many of the tools that Unstuck recommends, but often forget to use them. To that end, we remind them of some basic strategies: create routines, write things down–we love small whiteboards for communicating with students–and be a good coach by breaking things down, practicing and then practicing some more.

Specifically, teachers should try to the following:

  1. Have clear, checklist-format lists for repeated routines, especially transitions, arrival, and dismissal.
  2. Have small whiteboards easily available. When a student is overloaded, write a short note, maybe even with a yes/no box. For example, “Please do 3 problems and then check in with me. If they are too hard, see me sooner.”
  3. Make it a collaborative process. Think about where a student struggles the most and find a quiet time to do a GWPDC with them.
  4. Make the implicit explicit. Don’t assume the student knows the why or even the how just because they have done it before or you have told them before.
  5. Focus on success. Praise students five times for every time you make a correction or demand. That is going to change teacher behavior a lot: it forces us to really decide what is important.
  6. Use the scripts whenever possible and narrate your experience. You might say, “I had a great plan to make marshmallow sculptures today, but my daughter got sick and I ran out of time to buy marshmallows. We will have to make a Plan B!”

Q6. What would you say to a busy teacher who knows her students need executive function support but is worried about the time it might take to incorporate a new curriculum? How does Unstuck fit in with what the teacher is already doing?

Unstuck is a reallocation of time: Teachers are substituting the time they spend in frustrating, nonproductive crisis management with teaching and scaffolding for success. The idea is to not add too much in, but rather become aware of how you can incorporate Unstuck in your day to day practice. So “students will be able to (SWBAT) or Objective” becomes “goal” on the board. “Plan” is what the work will be. “Check” comes in at the end of class when the teacher quickly reviews how he lesson went or does an exit ticket. Some teachers just put GWPDC on their whiteboards and fill it in for each class!

The real power of Unstuck comes from the incorporation of the strategies in day to day life. You know you’re there when you ask the customer service representative on the phone if they can help you make a Plan B. Then you’ve truly embraced the Unstuck scripts and approach!

Q7. Can you tell us a little about one of your favorite Unstuck & On Target! lessons–maybe one that teachers tell you they especially love?

I think my favorite lesson is the story of Silly Putty. It’s such a compelling story of invention and failure–and how looking at an unintended consequence flexibly can lead to wonderful things. My other favorite is the obstacle course. Students run an obstacle course first with their bodies completely rigid, and then they run the course being allowed to be normally flexible. We compare the two experiences, both in terms of time and experience. This kind of kinesthetic learning is so powerful and salient–and fun!




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Unstuck and On Target!

Game Board & Posters
Unstuck and On Target! Game Boards & Posters
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