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Steps 2 Learning

Learning Tips and Strategies for Students, Parents and Educators.




First Steps to Learning - for Students (17 January 2007)
- Compiled by Joyce Sim to help students learn in a smart way.

It is not unusual that students may study hard, but still do not get good grades. Below are some fundamentals that could help students do well in school and be happy learners.



I keep getting distracted and don't have time to complete my work.
(Non-conducive Learning Environment and Inadequate Resources)


Find a comfortable and quiet place (a small corner) away from distractions such as TV, game console, toys, bed and conversations.
WORK AT A PROPER DESK with all your stationery and reference books available for use, so that you would not waste time looking for them when doing your work.Take ownership - Decorate your learning area with simple self-created posters, signs and art pieces (beforehand) to make the place appeal to you; that you would enjoy doing your work there.


I am overwhelmed by the large amount of work to be done.


Get organised - Create a simple daily study schedule. Break down your work into smaller pieces, starting from the quickest or most important. You would be motivated to complete the rest once you've completed a piece of your work. The most important thing is to stop wasting time complaining and worrying about not being able to complete all the work. JUST GET STARTED!


I feel tired when studying.


Study when you are fresh and alert e.g. after a shower, NOT after playing with computer games for long hours. Allow for short breaks to stretch your limbs and rest your eyes in between studies.
Plan your playtime after your work and / or at weekends.
Make a point to stick with your study routine. Also, observe a healthy lifestyle of exercising frequently, eating well, sleeping adequately and making time for relaxation.


Basic Learning Strategies

Use the PQRST Learning Method (recommended by clinical psychologist, Robert Sharpe) and complement it with K-W-L (Ogle 1986)

1. Preview the texts i.e. skim through the next day�s topics to have a brief understanding of them (Make connections with what we already Know of the topics).

2. Raise
Questions from the contents of the text (List out what we Want to know).

Read thoroughly and make appropriate notes.

Summarize the topics. It is easier to remember and understand key points.

Test yourself regularly (Reinforce what we have Learnt).

* Look out for related Reading Comprehension Techniques in one of the coming entries.



First Steps to Reading (27 January 2007)
Compiled by Joyce Sim to help learners read with understanding

Using the right reading techniques can help you understand and remember new information. Reading well also helps you do better in cloze passages, in writing essays, as well as in answering comprehension questions.


What to Read


Read different types of text, such as stories, magazine / newspaper articles, letters, Web pages, user manuals, etc.

How to Read

         Preview by *skimming (reading quickly) the text.
What's the story / article about? What's the main idea? What are the key points? Take note of any captions, photographs, diagrams, charts or graphs.

          Identify the purpose of the reading material.
Does it express opinions, introduce new vocabulary, provide fun and joy, show instructions, explain a concept or provide new information / facts?
Identifying the purpose helps you
stay focus in your reading.

         Identify the main idea. It could be a sentence (usually the first sentence of a passage), or details that relate to the topic.

         Predict and Question. Making predictions helps you develop your thinking around the main idea and thus improve understanding.
What do I think would happen next? What's the message that the writer is trying to convey? What do I think I would learn from the passage? Have I predicted correctly so far? As you read,
confirm or change your predictions. Use the information to visualize or imagine the scene you're reading.

         Read for details. Exploring the details helps you understand the important points that the writer wants to emphasize. Understanding and connecting the details help you remember the information better. To obtain this result, you need to 'read as a writer' i.e. putting yourself in the shoes of the writer. Find out the writer's answers to the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions.

         Recall. At the end of your reading, recall its main idea and key details. Write a brief review on it. Rephrase the answers to the 5Ws and H in your own words. Record any new vocabulary and highlight good and interesting sentences or phrases that you like.

* When skimming, you do not read every word. You read only:

1.     The title and sub-headings

2.     The table of contents (if you are reading a book)

3.     The synopsis or summary

4.     The first sentence from each paragraph, and the last sentence of the passage

5.     The first paragraph of the chapter and the last passage of the chapter (when reading a book)


First Steps to Good Memory - for All Learners (31 January 2007)
- Compiled by Joyce Sim to provide learners with a number of effective methods to remember new information.

Very often, when we read or hear something, we can remember it, but for a short period of time, as it is stored in our short-term memory. We must learn to use appropriate techniques to convert the information or knowledge from our short-term memory into long-term memory, otherwise what we have read or heard would be forgotten in no time.

You can help improve your memory by using the following techniques. Try them out to see which ones work better for you.


Memory Tricks / Techniques

          Make meaning of the passage you read. It is easier to remember a concept that you understand. Try to remember the message of the words and not necessarily the words themselves (Pompi and Lachman, 1967).

          Write it down (in point form).

          Develop your own interesting verses, riddles, vivid images (pictures / illustrations) or dramatic tools from the texts you need to remember. These will make an impact on your brain, thus you are not likely to forget them.

          Make up your own abbreviations to remember phrases as in A.S.A.P. (As Soon As Possible).

          Use mnemonics (simple phrases or verses that are memorized to remember concepts or the meanings of things). For example: To understand and remember the concept of arranging numbers in the descending / ascending order, recite this verse: 'd' as in 'down', descending as in counting 'down' (from the largest to the smallest number / from the highest to the lowest). *Note that you only need to remember the meaning of one to know both, as 'descending' and 'ascending' are opposites.

          Develop acronyms (another form of mnemonics) to learn lists of names which do not have any meaningful associations e.g. HOMES to remember the names of the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) and ROYGBIV to remember the colours of rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)

          Associate / Connect words. For example: To differentiate the spelling; and remember the meaning of the commonly confused words 'stationary' and 'stationery', rehearse this sentence: The car in the showroom is stationary. (Here 'a' in 'stationary' is associated to 'a' in 'car', and 'stationary' is connected to 'car' to help make it easier to remember that 'stationary' means 'not moving'.)

          Use the traditional method - Rote Learning. Although this is the least effective memory technique, it is useful when learning your multiplication tables, figurative expressions, idioms, similes and other lists of useful words. Here you repeat and rehearse the information; chanting it out loud, or memorizing silently to yourself, until it is etched in your memory. *To make it more fun and effective, sing out the information to the tune / rhythm of your favourite songs or raps.

          Follow up with the Mastery Training Method. It's a kind of repetitive training with emphasis on speed, for example: write out all the ten key points of a topic in eight minutes; next in six minutes; then four minutes; etc. *Do not fret if you can't get beyond a certain speed - your optimum speed, as your main purpose is to retrieve information from your memory in a reasonable time frame, and to make learning fun and challenging, not to beat the time.

          Revise and review your work regularly. Tony Buzan (2004): Five times repetition (revision) equals long-term memory.



First Steps to Note-Making (20 February 2007)
- Compiled by Joyce Sim to show learners the shorter way to revision.

Students need to develop a good habit of making notes to enable them to quickly recall what they have read and learnt during revision. Time is saved on not having to start from page one of the study materials.

Effective Note-Making Techniques

You can make notes on your study materials by:

          Using word-webs / mind maps to form a skeleton outline of the topic you need to learn.

          Using pattern notes (combination of diagrams, arrows, illustrations, fancy lettering, table, flow charts and label boxes). This is a very simple and effective way to jolt up your memory of the topic when revising your work.

          Listing and recording important formulae / definitions on a small, handy board or an index card.

          Summarizing texts. In your summary,

  1. Use headings and numberings for the points. 
  2. Use italic or bold for headings.

  Use Colour Coding . Link associated concepts and topics by colour. Choose a colour for all the points related to a particular aspect within a topic, e.g. A green colour code for the heading and all the sub-headings of your notes on 'Plants'.

  Highlight key words.

  Apply the final point of the Reading Comprehension Techniques discussed in the earlier entry.

          Creating a simple card index system to file your notes in their respective subjects for easier reference.

*Schools should encourage this practice to help their students get involved in the process of analysing the learning topics for better understanding during note-making.



First Steps to Exam Preparation (29 August 2007)
- Compiled by Joyce Sim to help students feel more confident during exams.

1 - 2 Months Before your Exams:

Set aside time each week to revise your notes (If you have still not make any notes, go over what has been done each week and start writing your notes now, otherwise you would not have time to read all your books from start to end of the term during the exam period.) *When you make notes, you condense what you have learnt into quick to read, easy to remember materials.

Re-write your notes with reference to your teacher's feedback especially if you had fared badly in that area.

Rehearse past exam papers to be familiar with the format. (Most school teachers will brief you on the format, instruction and procedures of the exam papers to help prepare you for the exams).

Develop timing techniques. From the exam format, divide the (given) total time into different time slots. Allocate shorter time for MCQ (usually not more than a minute for each question), slightly longer time for short answers, and more time for essay questions or problems. Always set aside a little time (about 12 minutes) for checking.

Exam Stages 1-2-3

1. Pay full attention to your teacher�s instructions.

2. Skim through the questions. Apply your timing techniques. Do not waste too much time on one question. Cross out (in pencil) and skip the questions you have difficulty with. Remember to come back to them once you are done with the other questions.

3. Attend to the questions you could answer first. Read those questions carefully. Underline key words / highlight special verbs e.g. modal auxiliaries (can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must, had to, do, does, did) that affect the form of the verbs that follow.

4. (For MCQ) Decide on an order:
nonsense out; best answer first (between two suitable answers). Choose the correct number.

5. Check that you have
shaded the correct number on the OAS.

6. (For Comprehension) Plan your answers. Again, highlight keywords
. Stick to the point of the questions.

7. Write your answers carefully.
Read your answers to make sure that your sentences make sense.

8. Check for mistakes �
spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you have time, re-read all your answers and make any necessary corrections.

9. Make sure you


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