I recently went to a conference that purported to inform us about “Good Instruction for Teaching Study Skills.” Ironically, it was the most boring conference I have ever attended. The keynote speaker lectured in a monotone for an hour and a half straight, with smudgy, unreadable overheads, and there were no opportunities for participation, reflection, or personalizing the material. I was reminded of that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the teacher is droning on about Voodoo Economics. Anyone? Something d-o-o economics? Anyone? Anyone? Class?
So how do you teach study skills in an interesting way?
The answer depends on the age group and the context in which you are teaching the skill. Luckily for me, I attended a great break-out session with a dynamic presenter with practical ideas.* The following suggestions were utilized in a whole group approach in a 5th grade classroom, but can likely be adapted to younger or older students and possibly taught individually as well.
1) Know that students with effective study habits:
• Use a variety of techniques
• Can articulate their reasons for choosing a particular tactic
• Monitor success of learning
• Monitor success of tactic
• Self-monitor success and change methods according to effectiveness
• Do not use every method in repertoire
• Change strategies according to subject, teacher expectations, task demands, and their own learning style.
2) Laying the Groundwork for Teaching Study Skills
• Help student assess their study goals through visualization. Ask student to visualize the very best student in the world and asked what do they think that student does to learn. Then ask what is holding the student back from being the best student in the world (e.g. What’s one behavior that’s keeping you from being the best student in the world, What’s one thing you don’t do enough of in school?).
• Normalize negative emotions (e.g. You may feel like you don’t want to do it, but you have to do it anyway. Many kids feel that way,” tell the student to say the rhyme “I don’t feel like doing it today, but I’m going to do it anyway”)
3) The Study Pie Technique
• Make a “Study Pie” of all the strategies the student knows and ones you or the teacher will teach. This will assist students in
understanding that there are many strategies to “study” and encourages him/her to practice ones they have not tried yet. At first, they may only have one or two strategies to choose from. Increase their repertoire through direct instruction or class-wide lessons.
• Examples of “slices” in Study Pie: Doing homework, discuss topic with someone, make a list, chunking, pre-reading captions, headlines, look at pictures in the text first, write practice test questions, make flashcards, re-read the material, link to something personal, make a concept map, practice over time (not all in one night) use visual imagery, review notes, summarize in own words.
• Evaluate with student which strategies they used for a particular assignment or test and use information constructively so the student can keep or modify the strategies.
4) Teach a “Study Skill Of The Week”
• Here’s a good example of an activity to teach one of the study pie slices of “re-reading.” Many students have the idea that if you read it once, you’re done “studying.” To illustrate the value in re-reading, have the students in the class read a short passage, maybe one or two pages long. Then, instruct them to read it again and stand up when they come across something they didn’t remember reading the first time. When the whole class is standing up, have a class discussion about how the study technique of re-reading.
• Another fun way to practice memorizing facts or key terms is the Fly Swatter Game. Get two fly swatters and put up the answers to your questions on the board. Then have the students line up in two lines. Explain that the rules are that if there is arguing about who swatted the answer first, the game ends. (Usually it is clear who hit it first, but it’s good to set the stage in this way). Read out the first question and have the first two students in line run to swat the correct answer. Then they return to the end of the line and the next two students go. This game is fun because it gets the students up and moving and is a fun way to drill information.
*The one useful presenter was a woman named Louise Chickie-Wolfe. Great name. Great presenter. The study techniques can be found in her book with Virginia Smith called “Fostering Independent Learning.” I wish I could take credit for the Study Pie, it’s a great idea to expand student’s studying repertoire.