Teaching Students How To Study

As educators, our mission is to empower students not only with information absorption but also with the skills to truly understand and retain knowledge. If you want to help increase positive learning outcomes for your middle or high school science students, teaching students how to study is the first step towards improved student performance. Note: I said TEACHING studnets how to study. Yes, good study skills don’t “just happen.” These good study habits must be taught (and reinforced) by teachers. In this comprehensive guide, we explore several good study techniques that can be used to help your students review their course material and improve their long-term retention. 

Why Studying Must Be Taught

The idea that students will naturally acquire effective ways to study simply isn’t correct. When it comes to increasing students’ knowledge and understanding of new concepts, it’s important to dedicate time to modeling specific strategies for your students. Teaching students how to study is a good idea for several reasons:

  1. Maximizing Learning Potential: Effective study techniques enable students to absorb and retain information efficiently, preventing the pitfalls of inefficient methods or information overload.
  2. Building Confidence: Proficiency in studying fosters confidence. Understanding how to approach different subjects and tackle complex concepts empowers students to overcome academic challenges.
  3. Preparing for Diverse Learning Environments: As students navigate various learning settings, adaptable study techniques become paramount for success, whether in lectures, hands-on activities, or self-directed study.
  4. Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Beyond memorization, effective studying involves critical thinking and analysis. Teaching students how to study promotes skills like evaluating information, making connections, and drawing conclusions.
  5. Fostering Lifelong Learning Habits: Viewing studying as a lifelong skill instills a mindset of continuous learning, adaptability, and resilience – essential qualities in today’s ever-changing world.
  6. Addressing Individual Learning Styles: Recognizing and leveraging individual learning styles through explicit study instruction allows for a personalized approach to learning.
  7. Mitigating Stress and Anxiety: Efficient studying reduces academic stress. Equipped with effective strategies, students approach exams and presentations with confidence, contributing to a positive learning environment.
  8. Promoting Accountability and Responsibility: Teaching students how to study instills a sense of accountability for their education, emphasizing the role of effort and commitment in achieving success.

The act of studying is not just a means to an end but a crucial skill laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning. By recognizing the importance of explicitly teaching students how to study, as an educator you are able to help your students take ownership of their own learning. The time you dedicate to study skills activiites will support their learning, not just in science class, but in many different classes. 

Strategies for Teaching Students How to Study

Let’s transition from theory to practice. HOW do you tangibly go about teaching study skills to your middle school students? Here are my best practical tips for teaching students how to study: 


Introducing metacognitive skills, which involve thinking about one’s own thinking processes, empowers middle schoolers to understand how they learn best. Educators can guide students to reflect on their learning strategies, set goals, and evaluate their progress. By incorporating metacognition into lessons, teachers provide students with the tools to navigate challenges more effectively, adapt their study approaches, and develop a deeper understanding of their strengths and areas for improvement. This not only enhances their academic performance but also cultivates a lifelong skill that will serve them well in higher education and beyond, fostering a mindset of continuous learning and critical thinking.

Teaching middle school students how to effectively use study guides is a valuable skill that equips them for academic success. A good study guide serves as a roadmap for learning, helping students organize information, prioritize key concepts, and prepare for assessments. As the teacher, you can choose to provide a study guide for your studetns to use, OR you can guide students in creating their own study guides. A good student guide should include: 

  • Clarity: Ensure that the study guide is clear and easy to understand, presenting information in a straightforward manner.
  • Conciseness: Encourage students to condense information, focusing on essential concepts without overwhelming details.
  • Organization: Emphasize the importance of organizing content logically, with headings, subheadings, and bullet points for easy navigation.
  • Visual Elements: Incorporate visual aids such as charts, graphs, or illustrations to enhance understanding and memory retention.
  • Active Engagement: Encourage students to actively engage with the material while creating the study guide, promoting deeper understanding.
  • Review Sections: Include dedicated sections for reviewing previously learned material, reinforcing connections between concepts.
  • Self-Assessment: Integrate self-assessment elements, like practice questions or prompts, allowing students to gauge their comprehension.
  • Summarization: Teach students to create concise summaries for each section, reinforcing key takeaways.

By instilling these attributes in their study guides, middle school students develop a valuable tool for effective learning and preparation for exams. Curious what an effective study guide might look like? I’ve created a line of study guides to accompany most units within a middle school science curriculum. Check them out: 

Flashcards truly are one of the oldest study tricks in the book! They serve as a vital study tool due to their versatility and effectiveness in enhancing memory retention and active recall. Their simplicity allows students to condense complex information into manageable chunks, facilitating focused study sessions. The act of creating flashcards itself promotes engagement with the material, as students must distill key concepts into concise questions and answers. Here are a few simple strategies for using flashcards to improve student learning: 

  • Basic Information Retrieval: Create flashcards with questions on one side and answers on the other to facilitate quick recall of essential information.
  • Partner Quizzing: Engage in collaborative learning by quizzing each other with flashcards, promoting discussion and reinforcing understanding.
  • Digital Flashcards: Utilize technology for study sessions by transitioning traditional flashcards to digital platforms, enhancing accessibility and flexibility.
  • Mnemonic Devices: Incorporate mnemonic devices on flashcards to aid memory retention, turning abstract concepts into memorable associations.
  • Interactive Quizzing: Turn flashcards into a self-assessment tool for interactive quizzes, allowing students to test their knowledge and identify areas for improvement.\\

Introducing Cornell notes as a study tool can significantly enhance their learning experience. To effectively teach students how to utilize Cornell notes, it’s essential to start with a clear explanation of the method’s structure and purpose. 

Encourage students to divide their notes into three sections: 

  • A wide column for main ideas and key concepts
  • A narrower column for cues or questions
  • A summary section at the bottom for synthesizing information.

Emphasize the importance of active engagement during note-taking. Encourage students to summarize information in their own words and ask questions to deepen their understanding. Additionally, regularly reviewing and revising Cornell notes can reinforce learning and help students retain information more effectively. By incorporating Cornell notes into our science classrooms, we empower students to become more organized, engaged learners, setting them up for success not only in our class but also in their future academic endeavors.

Picture this: colorful drawings, cool diagrams, and funky symbols all mixed in with our usual note-taking. It’s like science class meets art class! So, how can we teach our students to rock sketch notes? Well, first things first, we’ve gotta show them the ropes. Explain that sketch notes are all about combining visuals with written notes to capture key ideas. Encourage them to get creative and let their imaginations run wild! We want them to actively listen, pick out the most important stuff, and then turn it into awesome sketches. With sketch notes, learning becomes an adventure, and our students become the artists of their own scientific journeys. Let’s dive in and make our classrooms burst with creativity!

Mind mapping is one of the best ways for visual learners to organize their notes. This technique nvolves organizing information hierarchically, using branches and nodes to connect related ideas. Encourage them to start with a central topic—like photosynthesis or the water cycle—and then branch out with subtopics, facts, and connections. Emphasize the flexibility of mind mapping; there’s no one right way to do it! Encourage creativity and experimentation as they map out their thoughts. With mind mapping, our students can unlock new pathways to understanding, making science even more exciting and accessible. 

Effective study strategies are the key to success, and teaching annotation can be a game-changer. Start by emphasizing the importance of active engagement during both class time and study time. Encourage students to take good notes during class discussions. Begin by having them practice highlighting key points and jotting down questions or comments in the margins. Teach them how to interact with the text by underlining important concepts, writing summaries, and making connections to prior knowledge. By practicing annotation, students can transform passive reading into an active learning experience, improving comprehension and retention. Plus, it’s a skill that will serve them well beyond the classroom.

Continue the discussion in my Facebook Group for Middle School Science Teachers or my Classroom Management Facebook Group.

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