Getting students to pay attention when teaching study skills can be tough. Especially in the last period on a Friday afternoon. But don’t worry, we’ve got seven fast and easy ideas for teaching study skills to help you out.
Let’s face it, learning about how to take notes, read more effectively, focus and concentrate, and get organized can be dull. Especially when your phone is beckoning to you with endless bite-size TikToks, YouTube shorts and Instagram reels.
So if you’re wondering how to teach study skills to teens and pull their attention away from their phones and friends, read on.
Picture this . . .
It’s Friday afternoon, last lesson. Your students are slumped over their desks. Their eyes are glazed and there is a slight tang of teenage stank permeating the air.
You know your students have the attention spans of gnats right now. They’re restless and can’t focus for more than a few minutes.
And you may be feeling the same way (but without the slight whiff of BO and instead the subtle scent of perfume reapplied in anticipation of Friday afternoon drinks).
One of the hard problems that teachers have to deal with is their students lacking basic study skills to perform to their best ability. Many students fail to realize the importance of learning how to study effectively, and so tune out when teachers try to teach it.
This can lead to a negative spiral of disappointment, where teachers get disappointed students don’t listen to advice, students don’t perform to the best of their ability, teachers don’t bother to re-teach study skills, and students don’t bother to try to improve.
So, how do we get our students to pay attention? How do we stop the words study skills from sinking to the bottom of their bellies on a Friday afternoon? How do we avoid that negative spiral of disappointment and instead activate inspirational-study-skills-teacher mode?
1. Rewards for learning study skills
The first idea to engage students in learning study skills shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reward students for paying attention. Not going to lie – rewards can also be bribes.
And I know you’re thinking that rewarding students for their attention (which, let’s face it, they should be giving you anyways) is mildly irritating. It’s like that hormonal pimple that reappears every month in the exact same spot on your jawline.
But think about it. Will it help your students learn valuable study skills that they’ll use for life? Will it help them perform to the best of their ability? Yes? Then it’s totally worth it.
Simple (and cheap!) rewards include stickers, positive phone calls to parents, positive letters or postcards sent home to parents, and colorful pens and pencils etc.
And if you’re school allows it, candy, lollipops, and mini-chocolate bars still hold dominion as the holy grail of student rewards. (But be careful to only buy sweets that you don’t like or you might find yourself polishing off two bags of mini Mars Bars in a week. Ask me how I know that).
You can also prime students before a study skills lesson by mentioning the reward of performing better academically, and getting to spend more time with their friends because they’ve finished all their homework and assessment.
What matters here is that students know there will be some sort of reward for paying attention and engaging in the study skills lesson.
2. Use logic to convince them that study skills are important
Another idea for teaching study skills is to answer that question for students – why are study skills important? You can do this by reminding students that effective study skills will save them time (which they can spend doing fun stuff) AND help them do better at school.
CrashCourse has a great video that explains the difference between high-density and low-density fun. By explaining that effective studying leads to more time for high-density fun (eg: hanging out with friends), students may learn to reduce time spent on low-density fun that is basically just procrastination (eg: scrolling their Facebook/Insta feeds).
Another idea is to ask students what they think about why study skills are important. You might find that students know why they’re important but just don’t know which skills will really help them out.
If your students are sold on the why, but don’t know the what, you could do a quick classroom survey to try and figure out what skills your students need. Once you know what your students really need help with, you’ll find it easier to tailor your study skills lessons to their needs.
3. Use videos to engage them
Another easy idea for teaching study skills is to use a video. Playing a video can engage students very quickly..
And let’s face it, sometimes they’d rather listen to someone other than you. Especially on a Friday afternoon.
And frankly, you might be done talking by a Friday afternoon. Especially if you lean to the introvert side of the introvert/extrovert scale.
Great videos for teaching study skills include the free Crash Course Study Skills videos on YouTube. These videos cover important study skills such as
- Taking notes
- How to prioritize reading
- How memory works and how to use that information when studying
- Planning and organization
- Focus and concentration
- How to avoid procrastination
- Studying for exams
- Writing papers and essays
- How exercise benefits studying
Thomas Frank also has lots of videos on his YouTube channel College Info Geek.
You can read more about other great study skills videos to use in your study skills classes here.
4. Keep it moving
You might have noticed two main problems when your students are starting to lose attention in class.
Problem one starts with students getting the fidgets, whispering to each other, and wiggling in their seats. It ends with students being off-task and calling across the room to each other.
Problem two starts with glazed eyes, slouched or hunched bodies, and radio silence whenever you ask a question. It ends in head on tables and gentle snores that susurrate through the classroom.
Either way, an easy fix for attention is to get students moving. Movement can get students to expend their fidgety energy. It can also help students wake their brains up.
Easy ways to include movement in your class include:
- Playing a review game where students stand for true and sit for false. This can be no-prep if you can rattle off ideas without thinking. Or you can just write a simple list of ten statements if you’re not great with off-the-cuff facts.
- Choosing students to write answers on the board.
- Doing a movement break where students hop on one leg, do a wall sit, or do a plank for a specific amount of time. To bring them back in afterward, let them shake it off for a minute. Then do a countdown of when they need to be back in their seats, sitting down, and paying attention
- Using gallery walks for note-taking or introductory activities
- Doing rotation activities for skills practice so students get the chance to move desks every 10-15 minutes
All of these are easy ways to include movement in your lessons. And movement helps not only students’ memories, but also their engagement by waking their bodies and brains up.
5. Make it short
Another idea for teaching study skills is to use mini-lessons within your lesson. For example, if you wanted to explicitly teach students how to summarize, you could
- get students to read some notes
- model how to write a summary
- get students to do independent practice by writing one-sentence summaries, 20-word summaries, or 50-word summaries about a different set of information
This teaches students how to summarize and also keeps the study skill lesson short by focusing on one skill and using that skill to learn content.
6. Use a podcast to teach specific skills
Another of our easy ideas for teaching study skills is to use podcasts. College Info Geek has a podcast with loads of study skills topics. Easy activities to teach study skills using podcasts include
- Giving students a choice board of study skills podcast episodes to listen to
- Listening to specific podcasts on skills your students need to improve
- Dividing your class into groups who listen to a podcast and then report back to the rest of the class so that you cover several study skills over the course of a lesson
- Free choice of podcast episodes at the start or end of the lesson
- Assigning podcasts to individuals or pairs of students to listen to and report back to the class about
There are so many ways to use podcasts in your study skills lessons. And if your students are into podcasts is a great idea for teaching study skills.
7. Model how to prioritize and avoid procrastination
The final idea for teaching study skills is to explicitly show students how to prioritize their study tasks.
Many students struggle with studying because they simply don’t know what to start on. So they start on the easiest thing, or the thing they remember how to do, which might not be the thing they really need to do.
By showing students how to prioritize their work, you are helping students deal with the overwhelm.
Easy ways to do this are to get students to arrange study tasks in order of importance. Talk with students about how they might evaluate the importance of tasks. Discussion points would include
- Due dates of tasks
- Difficulty of tasks
- How much the task contributes to grades
- Whether or not students know how to do the task
- How long the tasks take to complete
Another important study skill is how to avoid procrastination. In fact, this is probably one of the most important study skills for 9th graders who seem to want to chit-chat the lesson away.
A fast way to do this is to show students timers such as the Pomodoro timer and tell students to just get started and work for a specific amount of time.
Pomodoro timers are an easy way to try and keep students on-task during assessment drafting times. By giving students a ‘silent working time’ of 10-15 minutes, and then a ‘break time’ of 5 minutes, you can really get students working.
Most students can concentrate for 10-15 minutes, and if they have the reward of talking with friends for 5 minutes, they are more likely to stay on-task and silent during the silent working time.
Want more ideas for teaching study skills?
Hopefully, you’ve found some useful activities for teaching study skills and are no longer stumped about how to teach study skills in your ELA or social sciences classroom.
If you want more ideas for teaching study skills, check out these blog posts
- Why teach study skills? 8 awesome reasons to focus on study skills in ELA
- Teaching students to take notes? Why your students’ notes suck and how to improve them
- Ideas for teaching study skills to students and study skills teaching resources? 10 awesome study skills worksheets: high school and middle school edition
- Have a class full of procrastinators? Avoiding procrastination: 10 tips to teach your students how to stop procrastinating
Updated 27 March 2023