Do you have students who seem to be completely lost when it comes to organization, completing assignments, preparing for tests, and so on? OF COURSE YOU DO! We all do! Unless your teaching in some faraway Utopia we can only dream of, you definitely have some of these kiddos in your class!
Or maybe you’re in charge of teaching a class based around school success and you have no idea where to start? I absolutely feel you because I’ve been there. I wanted to, and was excited about, teaching a school and study skills class when we first started offering it a couple of years back.
In case you couldn’t tell, I am overly passionate about all things school and organization. So obviously, I was extra pumped to teach students about it. Then, I realized that I had absolutely no idea how to teach such a course; all those things just came naturally to me. I’ve just always loved and been good at school. Seriously, I think if I won the lottery I’d just take a whole bunch of undergraduate degrees for fun. That’s my idea of an ideal life.
After a couple of years, and some ups and downs, I’m now feeling really comfortable teaching school and study skills, and it’s definitely one of my favourite classes! Here are some of the best tips I have for you to ensure your students get the most out of your organization and study skills class:
Teach students reading skills
This may seem a bit odd or obvious; but it’s really important to teach kids how to read and to read with a purpose. So often, people waste their time reading without actually intaking the information. It’s really important to teach kids to recognize why they’re reading and to accomplish that.
The SQ3R reading method is really useful, and so are checklists. Personally, I give students a checklist which goes through what they need to be doing before they start reading, while they are reading, and after they are reading. I also really emphasize the fact that reading, like everything we want to get better at, requires practice. I have multiple degrees (and one of them is in English Literature!) and I still catch myself reading the same sentence over and over without actually comprehending it; that’s completely normal and kids need to understand that rather than giving up or assuming they’re just “bad” at reading.
It’s really important to have students understand what the author’s purpose for writing is, what they want to get out of the reading, and then check if they’ve hit that goal after they finish the reading. This will take some practice, but it’s a really important skill to learn.
Specifically teach note-taking skills
Just like explicitly teaching reading skills, it’s really important to teach note-taking skills. So many students have never learned how to write notes, they just got thrown into classrooms where teachers assumed they knew how. It doesn’t matter what class you teach, students will use note taking in every single class, so you’re doing them and all their future teachers a favour!
I personally like to teach kids the Cornell notes taking method because it’s pretty universal and useful no matter what the class or grade level. We’ll practice this a few times as a class, and I’ll also give students a short lecture-style video to watch and take notes during to practice.
Of course, this style doesn’t work for every student, but I find that if they have the opportunity to practice just note-taking, without having to worry about the content, they find a style which works for them. You really aren’t “wasting time” doing this; you’re setting them up for the rest of their academic career!
Offer practice tests
Most of the time, when I teach school and study skills, the kids who sign up are kids who really don’t need school and study skills. They’re already straight A students who are excelling in all classes. Of course, I still go through lots of tips and tricks, but usually they just want extra time to work. I’m always available to help them, and I always offer practice tests as well. I like to collect an assortment of tests from different subjects that have a mix of multiple choice, long answer, matching questions, and so on.
When I offer these, I’ll also talk to the students about different strategies for answering various types of test questions. This is helpful for them because they can practice tests for whichever course they need support with, and they also get practice writing various types of tests. They really appreciate this practice and find it very beneficial.
Give organization tips and support
As someone who has binged all of Marie Kondo and The Home Edit multiple times, I am always mind-blown when I see a chaotic locker or overflowing binder. How can anyone thrive in such pandemonium?! First, I stare in disbelief, then I get really excited about the project ahead of us!
As with all organizing projects, it’s important to put in place something students will actually use. Having them all attempt to stick to a beautiful, perfectly organized, colour-coordinated plan may seem great for you, but it’s not going to work for everyone. Have kids think about things like whether they prefer binders or notebooks, if they carry their backpack between classes or just their books, if they’re going to lose a pencil case, and so on. They need to figure out a plan that will work for them, then you can help them implement it.
I find that, in general, students with trouble organizing do best with one big, zippered binder that can hold their pens, pencils, calculator, and so on. They should divide the binder according to their subjects, and have a spot at the back for paper. As they begin to use this, it’s smart to check in with them every day or two to go through the binder to maintain organization. After a while, they’ll be able to do it on their own and need less of your support.
Ensure you teach time management skills
I find that tons of students struggle with time management. It’s like they thrive on procrastination and the thrill of how long they can wait to complete an assignment. Just thinking about this makes me itch as I’m the type of person who still has nightmares about being unprepared for exams. I have seriously woken up in cold sweats because of this dream in the past week.
It’s always a good idea to have kids set up a planning system that works for them. Our district now only gives out paper agendas to elementary students, so I encourage older kids to buy or make their own paper version, or to use a digital calendar that works for them. It’s beneficial to show them several different options and have them choose what they like best. Just like with binder and locker organization, they won’t use something if they don’t like it or find it simple to incorporate into their routine.
I always show the students my Happy Planner as well as the organization binder I have with pages I’ve made myself (yes, I have two planners). I point out that adding things like stickers and fun colours is helpful for me, then we start talking about what they think will be useful for them. Do they need something digital or on paper? Do they have to set up reminders/alarms? Do they like monthly, weekly, or daily spreads?
After they’ve figured out what type of planner they need, it’s vital to have them include all test dates, due dates, and so on. Many will also need help with how to break up assignments into chunks with mini due dates and how to spread out their studying so they don’t end up cramming the night before an exam.
Don’t skip discussions around healthy habits
Being healthy is imperative to being successful at school! More and more I’m working with students who are staying up late into the night on their technology or trying to complete work, drinking way too much caffeine, and living on candy. Not to mention the crazy amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression kids are feeling. Spoiler alert; kids who choose this course are probably stressed. They are probably over achievers and may not be taking care of themselves properly.
I always talk to students about how important it is to get enough sleep every night, drink enough water, move their bodies every day, and eat healthy. We also spend a good chunk of time working on strategies to calm down and stay stress-free during tests.
Make sure students know how to self-advocate
One of the things we often miss when teaching our students all of these skills is how to actually speak up and advocate for themselves. It’s really important for them to try a variety of strategies and tools to help them at school, then recognize what works best for them. They should have the confidence and ability to tell all their different teachers what they need for success in each class.
This is a major life skill that most kids need support to develop. If we help them too much, we are actually hurting them and creating a crutch, not forcing them to speak up for themselves. I like to have lots of conversations with kids about how they like to learn and different tools they may need. We talk about how they can ask various teachers for these things and how they can work in conditions which are optimal for them (for example, do they need a quiet setting or do they prefer background noise?).
When kids discover what type of learner they are and what the need for success, they begin to take charge for their own education, which is hugely important for their entire lives!
I hope some of these prove to be helpful for you and your own students! What do you think, are there more ideas you have for teaching school and study skills? I’m sure there’s at least one thing I’ve missed. Let me know in the comments!