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53 Interesting Ways of Helping Your Students to Study: Proven Strategies for Supporting Students

53 Interesting Ways of Helping Your Students to Study: Proven Strategies for Supporting Students

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by Hannah Strawson

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Tried and tested tips for instructors to help students make the most of the learning process Designed to help those who teach adults, this guide provides practical suggestions for helping students to improve their learning in class and at home. The authors demonstrate how educators can effectively support students through the whole learning process,


Tried and tested tips for instructors to help students make the most of the learning process Designed to help those who teach adults, this guide provides practical suggestions for helping students to improve their learning in class and at home. The authors demonstrate how educators can effectively support students through the whole learning process, helping as they learn to plan their studying and to study through reading, taking notes, and writing, as well as learning with others, using library resources, revision, and exams. With very little direct advice on "how to study," this guide will help instructors embrace a student-centered approach, in which students are encouraged to become autonomous learners.

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53 Interesting Ways of Helping your Students to Study

Proven Strategies for Supporting Students

By Hannah Strawson, Trevor Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs, Sue Habeshaw

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74331-159-2



1 Starting off

2 What do I do in the lecture?

3 Mottoes

4 Concentrating

5 Understanding and remembering

6 Keeping organized

7 Self-help groups

1 Starting off

Students starting a new course are full of anxieties: they are unsure what is expected of them; they are uncertain about how to behave in this strange new environment and they are afraid they won't be able to cope.

Tutors can be helpful by encouraging students to express these anxieties and allowing time for questions and answers about the course.

The varied experience of students arriving to start their new course is such that what may be commonplace to some will be dramatically new to others. A simple way of identifying where the individual difficulties lie is to use a checklist. An example of a checklist follows; you may, however, wish to devise a new one to fit your own situation.

When they have done the exercise, your students may find it useful to keep the checklist for future reference. They could complete it again after a few months to have a visible confirmation of the progress they will certainly have made.

How to run the exercise

a Hand round copies of 'Exercise: Starting off' and 'Checklist: Starting off'.

b Keep an eye on the time. Tell the students when to begin and when it is time to move on to each new stage.

c When they reach stage 4, you will need to chair the question and answer session. Ask each group in turn what their questions are and either answer them yourself or invite other students to suggest answers.


a Spend a few minutes on your own completing the checklist, 'Starting off'.

b Show your completed checklist to your neighbour and spend a couple of minutes each talking about it.

c Join up with another pair to make a group of four. Go through the list, allocating about three minutes to each item. Anyone in the four who has ticked an item can say why. Anyone who hasn't ticked the item can offer help to those who have. In the last five minutes, note down any questions you would like to ask the tutor or any other member of the class.

d This will be a question and answer session arising from the 'fours' activity above.

e In your own time, after the session, make a note of any matters which are particular to you and which you still need to clear up with your tutor.


This is a list of things which often worry students when they start a new course.

Read the list of statements and tick those which you feel may apply to you. If you wish to add a comment about any item please do so. If you feel any aspects have been omitted, please add them at the end.

1 I'm not sure how much work I'll have to do on this course. []

2 I'm afraid I'll get behind in my work. []

3 I'm worried that I won't know what to write down in lectures. []

4 I'm dreading the prospect of writing essays again. []

5 I think that I probably won't be a very good student. []

6 I don't know how much I'll be expected to read for each subject. []

7 I'm not really sure what a seminar is. []

8 I hope no-one asks me to speak out in class. []

9 I don't want other people to think I'm stupid. []

10 I'm not sure what to do if I get into difficulty on the course. []

11 ______________________________________________ []

12 ______________________________________________ []

2 What do I do in the lecture?

For students starting a new course in further or higher education lecturing is an unfamiliar teaching method. When these students were at school they may have been subjected to dictated notes or uninterrupted talk from their teachers but they have probably never before been in the situation of being expected to listen to the teacher talking for up to an hour, make their own selection of the essential points and note them down coherently without any system for checking that they are doing it right. As well as developing these new skills they will need to adapt them according to the variation in their lecturer or tutors' lecturing styles. Students with unconventional entry qualifications may have particular problems. This exercise gives students the opportunity to admit to their difficulties in adjusting to the lecture method and to discuss solutions in a supportive group.

How to run the exercise

a Hand out copies of 'Checklist: What do I do in the lecture?'

b Give students four or five minutes to work on the statements printed on the sheet and, if they want to, to add their own statements in the spaces provided.

c Students then spend about ten minutes discussing their comments, either in pairs or in fours, sharing their knowledge and experience. This models good behaviour for any future collaborative activities they may enter into.

d At the end of the group discussion, move quickly through the statements, commenting from your own perspective on any outstanding issues. This can take as long as is needed to provide the information and to allay any remaining apprehensions.

e Recommend that students keep their copies of the checklist so that they can look back at them in a few months' time and see how much progress they have made.


Read the list of statements below and tick those which you feel may apply to you. If you wish to add a comment about any item please do so. If you feel any aspects have been omitted, please add them at the end.

1 I'm not sure what I have to do in the lecture. []

2 I'll probably try to write down everything the lecturer says. []

3 I'm not sure that I'll know what's important. []

4 I don't know how to make sure if I've fully understood what the lecturer has said. []

5 I'm not sure if it's better to get down as much as I can or just make short notes. []

6 I don't know what a set of lecture notes looks like. []

7 I'm expecting the lecturers to be pretty much the same in the way they go about their lecturing. []

8 I might join a note-taking 'co-operative' with other students. []

9 ______________________________________________ []

10 ______________________________________________ []

3 Mottoes

If you ask students to identify the problems which they are meeting or expect to meet on their course, you will find that only some of these difficulties can be solved by the acquisition of study skills: other problems, such as lack of confidence, divided attention or family hostility, require different treatment. This 'mottoes' exercise is based on the two assumptions that students have different problems from each other and that the best person to find the solution is the one who has the problem. This exercise also gives students practice in supporting each other without being intrusive.

How to run the exercise

a Give students the handouts and ask them to write down three major and three minor problems using the spaces provided. (The reason for including minor problems is to ensure that no problem is considered too trivial to mention.)

b Make a list of problems on the board. If the student group is small, you can include all the problems; if it is large, you can ask each person to contribute just one. (There is no need at this stage to distinguish between major and minor problems.)

c Organise the list into categories. Though this will clearly depend on your students' choice of problems, there are three categories which are generally found to be useful.


This category includes items such as 'I don't know how to get a locker', 'I don't know what plagiarism is', 'I don't know what "2 ii" means' etc. You can respond to these by either providing the information yourself or telling the students where it is available.

Study skills

This category includes problems such as 'I don't know how to structure essays', 'I can't keep up in lectures', 'I can't read all the books on the reading list' etc. You can use items in this category as a basis for your study skills programme.


This category covers such items as 'I easily lose motivation', 'I panic under pressure', 'I don't know if I'm clever enough for this course' etc. These are problems which lend themselves to treatment by the mottoes exercise.

d Read through the instructions for the pairs exercise, emphasising the roles of the speaker and the listener. It is helpful if you demonstrate the process beforehand with one of the students.

e During the exercise it is your responsibility to watch the time and tell the students when ten and twenty minutes are up. If there is an odd number of students in the group, you will need to join in yourself and do the exercise with one of the students.

f When you have completed the exercise, make a list of everybody's mottoes on the board. (You will find that they have come up with mottoes like 'I can do it!' 'Do it now!' 'Think positive!') Putting together such a cheerful and optimistic list is a positive way to end a class.

Exercise MOTTOES

a Write down THREE MAJOR problems and THREE MINOR problems which you have, or expect to have, on your course. Use the spaces below.







b As a group, list the major and minor problems.

c Explore the list to see if any obvious categories emerge.

d Get into pairs and take ten minutes each as speaker and listener.

SPEAKER: Choose one of the problems on the list on the board and take your time to explore it. Speak or be silent as you wish. As you talk, try to find a 'motto' which will help you to deal with the problem for yourself.

LISTENER: Listen. You can help the speaker by asking 'Is that a motto?' from time to time if you think you hear one.

e Each student in turn, going round the class, says 'A motto I've got from this exercise is ...'

4 Concentrating

Students often complain of not being able to concentrate. They say things like 'One minute I'm listening to the lecturer droning on – and the next I'm thinking about something completely different' or 'I can plod my way through a whole chapter we are supposed to read, and when I look back I find I can hardly recognise it, let alone remember what it was all about. My mind is a complete blank'.

To some extent the problem is to do with the way material is presented to students; teachers can usually predict which lectures, and which textbooks students will find tedious. But more importantly the problem is misconceived. Concentrating is not something which most people can will themselves to do. It is not an inbuilt ability, or even a skill, so much as a by-product of being involved in a task. Situations which encourage this involvement are those where: the goals and purposes are clear; students are mentally active (e.g. taking notes, solving problems, answering questions); students are encouraged to complete tasks (by means of rewards, deadlines, dividing tasks into small chunks etc.); students acquire background knowledge to the topic; and, in particular, students themselves are in control of and are oriented to meeting their goals.

This exercise is designed to help students to recognise for themselves the characteristics of situations in which they find themselves concentrating, or losing concentration, and to share ideas about the implications for their studying.

How to run the exercise

a Hand round copies of 'Exercise: Concentrating'.

b Let the students do the exercise unaided. Your job is to provide the equipment (whiteboards, flipcharts or computers for PowerPoint presentations), time the stages of the exercise, lead the plenary discussion and announce the final round.


a Think back to two occasions on which you found yourself not concentrating on your studying. You may have been in a lecture, reading a textbook, or in any other situation. Write down what was going on. Why were you not concentrating? (3 minutes)

b Now think back to two occasions when you were concentrating really well and completely wrapped up in what you were studying. Write down what situations you were in and why you think you were concentrating. (3 minutes)

c Get into pairs and describe your experiences to your partner. Ask each other questions about your experiences. If your partner blames boring teachers or boring textbooks for loss of concentration (or puts good concentration down to exciting teachers and exciting books) don't accept this explanation; press your partner for descriptions of what he or she was doing at the time when concentration was good or bad. (10 minutes)

d Join with another pair to make a group of four. As a group write about your experiences under the headings: 'We find that we are concentrating when we ...' and 'We find that we are not concentrating when we ...'(20 minutes)

e Each group in turn displays and talks about what they have written. This can lead to a general discussion. (15 minutes)

f Each student in turn, going round the class, says one thing he or she is going to try doing in future to avoid losing concentration.

5 Understanding and remembering

It is common for students to believe that they are supposed to memorise and remember all their course material. This is not only misguided but actually impossible. Much of what students encounter is meant to be understood rather than memorised. (If it is understood it is in any case far more likely to be remembered in the long term.) Students often need help in recognising what they are supposed to understand and what, if anything, they are supposed simply to memorise.

How to run the exercise

(This is written in the form of a script for the tutor who is running the exercise.)

a 'The content of your course is not all meant to be memorised. Amongst all the information and explanations there will be a few facts which you will have to remember – and you will have to spot which these are. But mostly you will be expected to understand what the material is about, so that you can use it. (You will also find that if you can understand something, then you will be able to remember it better.)' b 'Have a look at the handout. It shows some of the things which have to be memorised, and some which have to be understood, in a variety of different subject areas. Can you see the difference? The things to be memorised are mainly names, figures or simple procedures. The things to be understood are things which need explaining, and you need to understand them in order to be able to use them. Try listing ten things you have to memorise and ten you have to understand from your own course.' (5 minutes)

c 'Now, in pairs, compare your lists of ten items with your partner.' (5 minutes)

d 'Now, in fours, discuss the following questions:

1 What items (if any) do you need to memorise before you can understand what the topic is about?

2 What items (if any) do you need to understand before it is possible to make much progress in remembering the details?

3 What sorts of things do you do with material when you want to memorise it?

4 What sorts of things do you do with material when you want to understand it?' (15 minutes)

e 'Now can we discuss your answers to the questions? Can we start with question 1? Can you give some examples of items which you need to memorise? ...'

6 Keeping organised

Students very often find themselves with a mass of papers in little or no order. This makes life far harder both when preparing for exams or assignments and when past notes are needed in a new class. Thus all students should be encouraged to be as organised as possible.

For those students who like to record and store their notes electronically, request that they keep a separate file of documents for each subject and give the document a name that corresponds with the name of the lecture/seminar.

The majority of students will write on paper during lectures and seminars. You should request that each student has a separate folder for each module they study and that the papers within the folder are kept in chronological order. Sometimes, a handout may need to be used regularly. If this is the case, a plastic wallet can be used to keep the handout separate and easily accessible. These students should also be encouraged to type up their notes shortly after their class so that they are easier to read when it comes to revision.


Excerpted from 53 Interesting Ways of Helping your Students to Study by Hannah Strawson, Trevor Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs, Sue Habeshaw. Copyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Hannah Strawson is a lawyer. Graham Gibbs was professor at the Oxford Learning Institute at the University of Oxford. Trevor Habeshaw and Sue Habeshaw lectured at the University of Western England.

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