Study Skills They Don't Teach in School

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Updated on Jul 9, 2013

In middle school, study skills are key. But, often kids don't know the best place to start. Even your child's period of “study hall” or “independent reading” will be usless if she’s never been shown how to utilize that time. Teachers seldom train kids to read with a purpose, organize their thoughts and notes, infer what comes next, or connect what they read to their own lives. These are critical thinking skills we assume students have, but don’t formally teach!

Honing reading and study skills takes practice, and synthesizing facts from a textbook, even a nontraditional one, is never easy. Here are key strategies to get your middle schooler started:

Identify text features: It’s not surprising that blossoming readers fail to recall the title of a book they’ve been reading for weeks. Kids must learn to navigate between the covers and identify text features, particularly elements of a nonfiction textbook.

First, have your child study the book jacket: what information is presented on the front and back flaps? After scanning the table of contents and the index, ask him to predict what the book is about. Next, flip through the first chapter, say, “Birthing a Universe.” What does this title imply? Is the chapter about the Big Bang, or how societies began? Introduce terms like epigraphs, sidebars, and captions. Infer themes from epigraphs, and discuss the difference between the main text and information in margins, columns, and small boxes of text.

Read with a purpose: Your child’s fact-filled chapters may be overwhelming. If she's trying to absorb tough material, it may take several reads. “Most schools don’t let students read over their heads, but good readers do that all the time,” says Joy Hakim, author of the series the Story of Science and the History of US . As we know, even adults need to read material more than once to retain large amounts of information. When reading, Hakim suggests a quick overall read, then follow-up readings with specific goals.

Kids may sometimes feel bombarded with information that is “all over the place.” But such material can actually be helpful for showing them how to sift through text and grasp main ideas. “Part of the process is to learn what is important to remember," says Hakim. "Later, in the greater world, most of them will have to do Internet research and read information-heavy manuals and reports.”

After your child reads a chapter the first time, he should identify the major points, and decide what was a key idea, and what was simply a detail. Once he knows that the chapter focuses on two main ideas, for example, he can read the chapter again, keeping in mind how these topics interplayed with one another.

Know when to skim: When your child reads, she’ll occasionally run out of time. It’s best to encourage her to read all the text presented, but sometimes – in a timed exam – covering every bit may be impossible. So then what? Introducing the technique of skimming can be complicated: you should train your child to “speed read” if she’s pressed for time, but you don’t want her to get into the habit of scanning.

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