Teaching Children Organization, Time Management, & Study Skills

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Introduce your students to the real satisfaction that comes from being organized and prepared for learning! This chapter contains tips and practical steps to help your students form good study habits. There are also strategies to encourage your students to make the most of their time and efforts. Included is a sample schedule and checklist, and ideas for assessing your students’ progress.

Attitude Is Everything

A positive attitude is a powerful tool that fosters enthusiasm, promotes selfesteem, and creates an atmosphere conducive to learning. If your students do not believe in themselves and their abilities, it is important to change that belief for learning to take place. You can nurture a positive learning attitude by verbalizing positive expectations and by expressing praise for jobs done well and on time. Try these tips for building positive attitudes:
  • Show students that well-deserved self-praise is healthy by commenting aloud on your own performance. Example: “I like the way I read that story.” Frequently mention the satisfaction you get from some work-related job you have done well.
  • Look for opportunities to praise your students’ efforts. Even a little recognition, as long as it is genuine, goes a long way. Tip: Avoid hollow praise—save words like “terrific” for truly outstanding accomplishments. Use a smile, a light touch on the shoulder, or a wink to recognize everyday efforts.
  • Encourage your students to look upon their educations as their “jobs.” But rather than working for someone else, they are working for themselves. Explain that they are building the foundation for their futures—each thing they learn is like a brick laid for a future skyscraper! What they do now can help them stand tall and strong throughout their lives.
  • Encourage your students to develop an interest in what they are learning. Interest is a great aid to learning. Explain that the more they learn about a subject the more their interest will increase.
  • Give your students positive reinforcement for desired behavior and attitudes.
  • Set up a reward system for accomplishing short- and long-term goals. When used properly, rewards can be an effective way to bring about desired study habits.
  • Let your students see how you organize yourself. Show them your lesson plans, your daily schedule, and other organizational tools you use. Ask them to speculate about what a school day would be like if there were no set plans for what to do and when.
  • Make the tips you present on organization, time management, and study habits meaningful and relevant to your students. Example: As you give an in-class assignment, ask the students to estimate how long they think you should allow for completing it and why. Tell them how you estimate the time an assignment or other activity could take and how you rely on these skills daily.
  • Show your students how you schedule your time and activities. Stress the importance of organizing one’s time.
  • Point out to your students that everyone is required to do tasks of which they are not particularly fond. Talk to them about some of the things you must do and how you motivate yourself to tackle them.
  • Encourage your students to use “mind-motivators”—thoughts that get them mentally moving. Have them think about activities they must force themselves to do, such as homework or piano practice. Tell students to motivate themselves by applying “mind talk” to do these things. Example: “If I start this now, I’ll be done before dinner, and still have time to go out and play!” Help them practice this technique—it works!
  • Impress upon your students that they are in control of what they do. Tell them to visualize being the driver on the “bus of life,” not a passenger. A good rule of thumb: You have two main responsibilities in helping your students form good study habits. One is to ensure that the subject is presented clearly and reinforced appropriately. The other is to teach your students how to study and learn on their own.


Teaching organization, time management, and study skills should be as much a part of instruction as reading, math, and social studies. Your students will benefit from focused instruction that supports their learning efforts across the curriculum. Remember, they need your guidance and plenty of practice to develop good and consistent habits. Follow these steps:
1. Create the best possible environment for study. Tip: Share these ideas with parents for setting up a study area at home.
  • Make sure the study area has good lighting, good ventilation, a comfortable chair, and a sturdy work surface.
  • Choose a quiet place to study.
  • Study in the same place every day. This gets the mind in gear and helps concentration.
  • Devote a desk or table only to studying. It should be large enough to spread out work and hold supplies.
  • Remove items from the study area that may distract or interrupt concentration.
2. Make sure your students have all the supplies and materials they need to do their work and stay organized: pencils, pens, scissors, tape, glue, rulers, erasers, paper, a dictionary, and notebooks. Make a cardboard tray (cut from a box) to hold supplies, or label pockets of a hanging shoe holder for storing materials.
3. Establish a permanent work center in your learning environment. Make and post a fancy “Learning Zone” sign to identify the area.
  • Create a message board in the Learning Zone where you and your students can exchang information. Students can use it to ask for help from you or another student, post messages, or display work. You can use it to post assignments.
  • Supply the Learning Zone with color-coded folders for organizing work by subject or topic.
4. Instruct your students to keep notebooks that contains a supply of paper and all the work for each of their classes. Help them organize their notebooks by offering the following suggestions:
  • Use dividers for each subject. Tip: If an instructor requires a separate notebook for each subject, dividers can still be used to separate sections or units. Example: Science notebook sections—class notes, homework, experiments, text notes.
  • Put a zippered plastic bag in the front of the notebook to hold pencils, erasers, an assignment book, or other materials. Tip: If using spiral notebooks, carry supplies separately in a zippered bag or a pencil box.
  • Keep a monthly calendar in the notebook. Record and circle the dates of upcoming tests, due dates of long-term projects, school activities, and extra-curricular activities. Check the calendar daily.
    Tip: Calendars are easy to create on a computer. One student can make a master calendar, then reproduce it for the whole group.
  • Know where the notebook is at all times and keep it well-stocked. When an assignment is complete, put it safely in the notebook until it is time to hand it in. Tip: Do not put papers in between the pages of the books where they will be lost or forgotten.
5. Suggest that students use pocket folders for all returned assignments, tests, etc. Tip: Plain pocket folders can be color-coded by subject. Remind students to keep returned papers for a reasonable length of time—at least until the end of the grading period. If any questions arise about a grade or a missing assignment, the mystery can be solved by consulting the returned papers folder.
6. Help your students learn to keep track of assignments. Every time you give homework assignments, announce tests, and assign book reports or projects, make sure your students record the assignments. If they do this repeatedly, it will become a habit.
7. Generate excitement about getting organized by distributing a gift to each student. Purchase inexpensive assignment books, or make your own assignment sheets and fasten them together in book form. Gift wrap the books and place them in a basket. Train students to write all assignments in their books. Check their assignment books on a weekly basis the first month of class.
Time Management Techniques
Try these time-management techniques with your students:
  • Instruct your students to track how they spend their time for two full days. Realizing how they spend their time will make your students better time managers. Follow up by asking them to evaluate their use of time in the 48-hour period. Example: spend time in such a way that you accomplish what you need to do and still have time for things you like to do?
  • Use a timer in your learning environment to encourage students to work within time limits. This is especially helpful for students who are capable but lack self-discipline with regard to time use. Tip: Invite students to use the timer in the Learning Zone and to try the same technique in their study areas at home.
  • Instruct the students to make a study or practice schedule and stick to it.
A good rule of thumb: Management tools such as schedules, checklists, and contracts motivate students and allow them track their own progress.
  • Prevent daydreaming. Call a “time to think break.” After a moment or two, snap your fingers to signal that it is time to tackle the work again. Your students can self-direct their study time using this technique.
  • Teach your students to rely on daily lists, crossing off tasks they complete throughout the day. Example: Things To Do Today—Remember lunch money, turn in homework, clean the gerbil cage, get to soccer practice by 4:00, study, write Grandmother a thank-you note.
  • Tell your students to attach permanent time-saving checklists to their work areas with any reminders they need frequently. Example: Did I put my name on my paper? Did I write down my assignments?
  • Conduct an end-of-the-week chat with your students. Review their activities that week, and ask them to check their lists and assignment notebooks to review what they accomplished. If they did not get everything done, ask them how they can improve the next week. Establishing the habit of a weekly review will help teach them to evaluate their priorities.
  • Teach your students to tackle tasks in manageable chunks. This will help keep them from viewing their workloads as overwhelming.
  • Point out to your students that they can reduce stress on long-term projects by anticipating and planning for deadlines well in advance. This serves the dual purpose of ensuring enough time to complete the assignment and allowing for review and revision of their work.
  • Support your students if they are having difficulty getting their assignments done and managing time. Create work contracts with them and reward them for reaching short-term milestones. This develops great work habits and leads to more competent long-term time planning.
A good rule of thumb: Keep students from feeling overwhelmed by the many time-related issues they face each day. Instruct them to set short, easily attainable time and work goals and to note their successes in accomplishing their tasks. Keep telling them, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”
Share these six time management techniques with your students:
  1. Study difficult subjects first. If math is hardest for you, do it first. If you put these subjects off to do later, they may never get done.
  2. Determine your best time to study. Some students study best when they first get home from school. Others do better after dinner. Some even like to get up early in the morning. Try studying at different hours to discover your best learning time.
  3. Turn off the television, radio, and stereo when you study. You may not like it, but the vast majority of research shows that silence is the best music for your study time.
  4. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of your study area when you are working. (Discuss this with family members first.) You will save lots of time if you are not interrupted while you study.
  5. Stay off the phone during your study time. Tell someone in your family to take messages for you.
  6. Do not get too relaxed! Study where you will be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you get sleepy.

Study Skills Strategies

You can help your students organize themselves for learning by developing their listening and preparation skills. Begin by teaching your students the following listening techniques:
  • Listen for numbers that tell what assigned pages to read, problems to do, length of a report, etc.
  • Listen for key words—important words that tell you to do something, such as read, work, study, draw, circle, tell, decide, remember, underline, choose, fillin.
  • Important words are often repeated or emphasized.
  • Picture directions in your mind. Example: Circle the correct answer.
  • Write down direction notes in your assignment notebook.
  • Look for nonverbal clues, such as gestures or changes in voice, that are used to emphasize important points.
  • Finish listening before drawing conclusions. Let the person finish speaking, then evaluate what you heard.
  • Ask yourself if you understand what was said.
Students in the middle grades and above must cope with greater organizational demands—changing classes, using lockers, keeping notebooks and folders for each class, and remembering assignments and homework given by multiple teachers. This can be overwhelming! Share these tips with students to help them be prepared for learning:
  • Plan locker visits. “When do I need to go to my locker?”
  • Decide what you need for the next block of time. “Do I have the books and materials I need until lunchtime?”
  • Take care of personal needs before going to class. “Do I need to use the rest room?”
  • Review where instruction left off and anticipate where it is heading. “What have we been studying and what happens next? What do I need to do to be ready?”
  • Review your notes and study guides. “What did we do during class yesterday and how will that fit into what we do today?”
  • Determine the meaning of the lesson introduction. “What should I learn today?”
  • Relax. “What am I so worried about? I can keep up.”
Try these tips to help students help themselves:
  • Go over written directions with students who are having difficulty with their work. Help them find and highlight key words.
  • Guide students in their independent reading. Instruct them to survey the material, read for key information, go back and study the key information until it is understood, then test themselves to see how well they know the material.

Study Plan

Here is a study plan you can share with your students:
1. When your learning day is done, go straight to your study area and put your books and notebooks there.
2. Take out your notebook and look at your calendar and assignment book. See what you have to do to prepare for the next day. Also check the dates for upcoming tests and long-term assignments.
  • Keep in mind other commitments you have. (They should be on your calendar.)
  • Look at your assignments and estimate how long it will take you to finish each one.
  • Completing long-term projects and studying for tests require daily attention. Spend time on these tasks each day to be well-prepared.
3. Get everything ready for the assignment you plan to do first. Put other books out of the way. It takes no more than five minutes to get ready for your study time. Do this every day—make it a habit.
4. Begin your first assignment at your regularly scheduled study time. Work through each assignment carefully and check off assignments in your notebook as you complete them.
  • If you have an assignment that expands on one you had the day before, briefly look back at the previous pages. That will help you focus on the subject.
  • 5. Continue with all assignments and study as planned. Do your work thoroughly, and put your assignments in your notebook when you finish each one. Finally, check them off on your calendar.

Note-Taking Tips

Note-taking is one of the most frequently used strategies for learning material. Here are some tips that will help your students become better note-takers.
  • Preview information before presenting it.
  • Write key words, names, and definitions on a chart or chalkboard as you speak.
  • When presenting lessons, make sure you are not talking too fast and that audiovisual materials are visible and audible to everyone.
  • Teach your students to recognize note-taking cues. Point out that information written on the board or chart is one cue for note-taking. However, make sure your students know that the material written on the board is not the only information they need to record. Teach them to listen for certain verbal cue words or phrases. Examples: “First” or “The reason for” or “There are three causes.” Other cues include repeated phrases or pauses by the speaker. Have your students brainstorm a list of other note-taking cues.
  • Teach your students some “shorthand” methods for recording notes—symbols used in place of high-frequency words. These must be “read” later, so neatness counts!
  • Provide skeletal notes—the basic content of what you plan to teach. Include headings, subheadings, key words or phrases, questions, etc. Leave blank spaces for your students to fill in remaining key information.
  • Review your students’ notes and suggest ways they can improve them. Periodically collect your students’ notes. Your suggestions should be concrete and apply directly to the lesson’s material.
  • Let your students review each other’s notes on the same material and describe their note-taking strategies to one another.

Test-Taking Tricks

Teach your students to take control of their tests. Tell them to follow these test
preparation steps:
  1. Know exactly what material the test will cover. When a test is announced, write it on your calendar and in your assignment notebook.
  2. Find out what type of test it will be, such as true/false or multiple choice, and study accordingly.
  3. Plan when you will study for the test. Begin studying for it the day it is announced.
  4. Study actively; do not just read the material. Recite the information. Pretend you are the instructor—what questions would you ask? Review all your lesson notes and underline or highlight important information. Rewrite important ideas.
  5. Study with a buddy. Find a classmate who will be taking the test and review together.
  6. Test yourself to determine how much you know and what you need to study.
  7. Get a good night’s sleep before your test.

Taking the Test

Points to remember when taking a test:
  1. Relax! If you have prepared for the test, you are ready.
  2. Look over the entire test before beginning to answer questions. Become familiar with the test. How long is it? What type of questions are on it?
  3. Answer the questions you know first. Put a mark by the ones you skip. Then go back and answer the questions you skipped. Be sure to answer all the questions
  4. Check your test when you are finished. Tip: Avoid changing answers unless you are sure you made an error.

Keeping In Touch

As your students develop study habits, involve yourself in each step of the process. Remember, habits formed now will last throughout their lives! Confer with students often to assess their progress and management skills. This is especially vital in the early months of training.
Conferences with your students can be short—about five minutes is sufficient to touch base and assess progress. Ask questions that focus on their time management, organization, and study skills. Ask to see their calendars and assignment notebooks. Here are some suggested questions you may want to ask:
  • How have you organized your learning time—at home and at school?
  • What can you do to improve?
  • What is your best study habit? Worst?
  • Do you feel you are using your time efficiently?
  • How do your study habits compare with your habits a week ago? A month ago?
  • Are you having any particular trouble? How can I help?
A good rule of thumb: Encourage your students to continually evaluate their work and study habits. By focusing on their strengths and weaknesses, they will become better organized and more productive.
Barbara Allman, Sara Freeman, Jeffrey Owen, et, al. (2000). Skill for successful teaching. USA: McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing

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