California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Study skills—teaching students how to learn

Teaching students how to be effective learners is another critical component of instruction. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) (Outside Source) and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP (Outside Source) are two programs designed to help teachers prepare students for success, particularly those from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. However, whether students participate in AVID or not, all students need to learn study skills and good academic habits.

Study skills programs teach students to:

  • Develop positive work habits.
  • Set goals.
  • Make effective use of daily planners.
  • Manage their time.
  • Understand and use academic vocabulary.
  • Understand, develop, and apply mnemonic devices.
  • Develop reading strategies such as text previewing.
  • Take Cornell notes.
  • Keep track of homework.
  • Plan how and when to study for tests.

In the Spotlight

Serrano Intermediate School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District
Using funds from a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Grant, Serrano Intermediate School staff members prepared a student booklet that outlines the practices that successful students often adopt. The booklet, called Passport on the Sea to Success, is used to teach all students those same practices. The sea theme mirrors the professional learning community focus and gave rise to the passport idea. The booklet focuses on habits to complement the science teachers’ use of concepts from the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. The focus on habits reinforces lessons from the Quest character development program used by the school.

The complete Passport on the Sea to Success is available from Serrano's Website. Go to the school's home page. select Students, and then select Sea to Success. Students receive a hard-copy booklet in September, but parents can always download individual pages or access the booklet when needed.

Each September, the school’s six departments teach various Passport pages to students the first two weeks in September, with reinforcement throughout the year. The department assignments are as follows:

  1. Electives: Since electives teachers see new students each trimester, they are responsible for teaching organization skills and checking students' notebooks. Students complete page one, "Check Your Logbook, Matey," during the first week of the new trimester. Students who do not have the recommended supplies are asked to obtain them and are then rechecked. If students still do not bring the required supplies, they are sent to the school’s guidance specialist, who gives them the materials they need.
  2. Physical education:  Since good sportsmanship is needed on the field, PE teachers cover the Citizenship Pledge on page two (signed by a parent) and the Inventory of Study Skills on pages five and six.
  3. Science/Health: Science teachers cover pages three and four, "How Good Are Your Study Habits?"; page seven of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens; and page 11, "The Academic Habit," which spells out a common policy on late work. This segment is reinforced through the Quest class and student planners, published by Premier Agenda, that are based on the Sean Covey book. The seventh-grade student planners have a special GO Program included in them that develops this material even further (goal setting, study skills, etc.).
  4. English: Teachers cover page eight, "Work Habits Pledge" (signed by parents); pages nine and ten, "Setting Academic Goals" (with a focus on encouraging students to set language arts goals); and pages 13-15 that include common paper formats for keyboarded and handwritten essays and keyboarded study questions. These formats are used schoolwide. Teachers also made posters of the three formats and display the posters in classrooms. Teachers require all essays to be in the Modern Language Association format to get students used to it.
  5. Mathematics: Because they work with numbers, mathematics teachers cover page 12, "Balancing Activities and Homework," which dovetails with the student planners. Through their mathematics class, students learn how to use their agenda planner. For example, mathematics teachers ask students to record their weekly personal commitments as well as their homework commitments to better see where their time goes during the week.
  6. History: History teachers go over page 16, "What's in It for Me?" on textbook utilization strategies; page 17 on "Cornell Notes"; and page 18, "How Do I Remember That?", which covers common mnemonic devices. The History Department is responsible for teaching students Cornell notes, which has been adopted schoolwide. All other academic teachers reinforce their use. Many teachers have developed special use Cornell notes, such as the one designed for research papers with source information at the top. Teachers at Serrano’s feeder elementary schools have asked to learn how the middle school teachers incorporate Cornell notes into instruction, which was added as a part of their articulation planning. For more on articulation, refer to Recommendation 6—Transitions.


Effective teachers prepare students for tests by showing them how to study and what to expect on tests (how many questions; how to keep track of time; and how to make outlines before short essays). Teachers give them practice through regular benchmark assessments that show them how they are progressing toward mastery. The section on Test preparation will provide more information.

In the Spotlight

John Glenn Middle School of International Studies, a 2004 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
Desert Sands Unified School District) is an AVID national demonstration school and implements Cornell note taking schoolwide so that all students benefit from AVID strategies.


The Magnificent Eight: AVID Best Practices Study (PDF; Outside Source) is a qualitative research study conducted by Larry and Grace Guthrie of the Center for Research, Evaluation, And Training in Education (CREATE) in Burlingame, California and provides more details about AVID. The study investigates how closely eight California AVID Demonstration schools, schools generally considered to be representative of mature AVID programs, follow the AVID implementation model. The researchers also discuss whether or not all of the eleven AVID essentials are requisite.

Related Links

Direct instruction

Questioning strategies

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