We all learned study skills in school.

Some of them worked well, while others didn’t.

A lot of the success or failure of our studies in school depended on how well a technique worked for us as an individual. Now that we know learning to be an individual process, we can’t simply rely on paying attention, reading a textbook, and working through example problems.

One size does not fit all when it comes to study skills.

The challenge we face as educators is getting something to “stick.” The challenge we face as students is making it stick. Whether it’s a concept, a philosophy, a fact, or an approach to solving a problem, if we don’t get it to stick, we haven’t accomplished much more than merely getting acquainted with knowledge. We would enjoy far greater if we’re able to get knowledge and know-how to stick with us so we can make good use of it.

When I think back on what lessons have stayed in my mind from my days as a student, things that stuck with me were always surrounded by enthusiasm and interest – mine and that of my instructor.

Here is a suggestion for creating another tool in the study skills toolbox to help make things stick.

Make lessons relevant by showing how it applies in the lives of the students, and help students generate sufficient interest in the lesson that they continue to “have a conversation” about it outside of the classroom.

That means the lesson must be something useful, interesting and thought-provoking to the point where students take action on their own to learn more about it and how to use it. In other words they develop their own study skills process.

The Conversation is Key

When I speak of “having a conversation,” I mean that students are so intrigued by the lesson that they have it playing in their head like a song or jingle they’ve heard.

They talk with their friends about it. They explain it to others. They’re excited and keep thinking about what they learned. They are passing on study skills to their friends.

This “conversation” is immeasurably  enhanced when a lesson is particularly insightful or can be put to immediate use. An enthusiastic instructor is also key. An example from my school days will be helpful. Suddenly study skills emerges as “fun” and “interesting.”

Example Study Skills in Action

In an advanced science class for freshman in high school, our lesson was to measure the mass of wood that was converted to useful energy when it was heated and driven out.

Part of the experiment involved heating up wooden splints inside a test tube, then lighting the gas that escaped and measuring its energy output. I was very much taken by the fact that gas coming off of the heated wood was the substance that was flammable, not the wood. Here, I had always thought that wood burned, but it was the gas locked up inside that was flammable.

After my experiment was finished, I quickly ran through the wood heating portion of the experiment again to watch what for me was a revelation – wood gas as the flammable material, not the wood that simply holds it inside.

Sensing that he had a student veering off course, the instructor inquired as to what I was doing and why. His tone and demeanor was clearly that of disapproval, yet he couldn’t argue against my interest in making additional observations. This was my own way of using my study skills.

Others Had a Similar Conversation

I can’t help but think that there were other students who were similarly taken by this revelation, and who had “conversations” with themselves, and others, about its practical application.

I can’t help but think that some of them may have turned their “conversation” into a successful enterprise. After all, it’s this very concept that serves as the foundation for clean wood burning appliances today.

Many of us are familiar with air injection that supports complete combustion of wood gases in a firebox, and wood gasification furnaces that largely burn gas from heated wood instead of the wood itself. The study skills we implemented to learn this were practical and made the information easy to remember.

Implementing the Study Skills

So, whether you’re a teacher or a student, this is one of the study skills that you can promote. In a nutshell, it involves:

  • Generating enthusiasm for the lesson by connecting it to current events and showing how it’s useful now and in the future. Showing the practical value of learning and using the lesson.
  • Assigning homework that deliberately puts the lesson into action outside of the classroom and involves others. That’s where “the conversation” needs to take place.
  • Encouraging many and varied practical applications of the lesson to promote it sticking in the mind of the student. Engaging in problem solving outside the classroom using the freshly acquired knowledge.
  • Demand that instructors show a practical application of a lesson so it’s learned, and not simply memorized.

These study skills certainly won’t work for everyone, but they most certainly could be worthwhile for students who yearn to know the purpose of a lesson. They might also be quite appealing to thinkers and those who like to learn through practical example. In any event, generating “the conversation” is a good addition to any study skills toolbox.

The next time you catch yourself deep in “conversation” with yourself, remember it’s a valuable way to sort things out. It’s one of the useful study skills, even for someone who is no longer in school. Having “conversations,” aloud or simply in our minds, is something we should encourage in ourselves and in our students.

study skillsAbout the Author: Clair Schwan is the managing editor of www.Self-Reliance-Works.com and a firm believer in continuing education long after formal school days are over. He’s been known to talk to himself out loud while problem solving and formulating life plans. He doesn’t consider it to be an embarrassing moment at all, it’s simply a useful tool in his toolbox of study skills.