“All You Need to Do is Study” — But How?

I teach a mixture of age levels in high school, but a majority of my students are freshmen.  They come into high school fresh from middle school where the culture shift both academically and socially is huge.  One of the biggest gripes we teachers have is that our students, primarily freshmen, don’t study.  One of the main reasons for this is that they simply don’t know how.

In learning a foreign language, it can be particularly challenging for some students because how do you study for a speaking assessment?  A reading assessment?  How about a writing assessment?  There is no one size fits all answer.

Our plates as teachers are always full, but if we work in some study and practice methods during classtime that they can take home with them in addition to whatever homework is given then the end result should be better, right?

Here are a few nuggets and strategies that I’ve learned.

Use Technology Whenever Possible

Over the years, I have discovered several websites that are great for practice and drilling that offer immediate feedback.  Among them are Conjuguemos, Quizlet, SpanishSpanish, BKNelson, Duolingo, and 123TeachMe.  The great thing about these sites is that they can be used in class where you have a chance to get the students to practice for a set amount of time, and it is easy for them to practice at home or on the go.  Also, access to these sites offers students a variety of methods that allow them to find out what best helps them.

A Few Notes Go A Long Way

I am a huge fan of comprehensible input because experiencing a word or phrase beyond its translation does wonders for building proficiency.  But when it comes to introducing grammatical concepts, I firmly believe that direct teaching that involves giving notes provides a concrete reference tool.  While many campuses utilize electronic note-taking programs such as Evernote I prefer having my students write down the notes given to them in a binder or composition book.

It’s one thing to take notes and a whole other thing to get the students to use them.  That’s where some in-class activities that encourage use of those notes can be effective.  I often give my students a quick assessment immediately after note-taking to hold them accountable for having paid attention during my direct teach.  I also redirect struggling students to their notes when they have difficulty understanding a lesson.

Model, Model, Model!  Repeat!

One of the most effective ways to get your students to study is to model how and repeat.  A one off demonstration wears off after a short while.  Repetition is key.

Of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) that are essential to foreign language acquisition, it is possible for students to study all four of them outside of class.

Here’s how.

Writing

Using a prompt, some sentence starters, and graphic organizers, students can practice at home.  In practicing for a test or a project, prompts that mirror exactly what you expect them to produce give students less apprehension as to what will be expected of them.  Also, make sure they have access to the rubric and some exemplars.

Reading

To be a better writer you must write more.  To be a better reader you must read more.  In helping students study this skill, I like asking them to document a few things as they are reading various pieces of material.

  • Words I know
  • Words I didn’t know and looked up
  • Cognates
  • Main idea
  • Answers to comprehension questions

Listening

As with reading, having a few sample recordings for students to review along with the following questions to answer is effective.

  • Words I understand
  • Cognates
  • Main idea
  • Answers to comprehension questions

Speaking

This is perhaps the most difficult skill to study.  Start with giving students a sample speaking prompt and examples of answers based on your rubric.  Then ask them to record themselves more than once and self-assess based on the rubric.  Though they will strongly dislike hearing recordings of themselves, learning to self-assess is very valuable.

In the end, the students have to learn different methods of studying in order for them to find out what works best, but most importantly, evolve with your students, and keep those resources ever accessible to them!

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