Skills tips and referrals

Note: This is based on the survey of student skills given out on the first day of class. If you need more than a few of the skills listed here, you might seriously consider taking a study skills/college success class and/or visiting the Tutoring or Writing Centers. It would be well worth the investment in time for all future work. These skills are critical to passing history classes, and cannot be taught in detail in class.


reading for main idea: Schedule study time and stick to it. Assume you'll need six hours a week for your history class--more if you read slowly. Find a place without distractions to study--even if it means going to a cafe or library.

To train yourself, stop after every paragraph and ask yourself whether there was an idea there or whether it contained examples that illustrated other ideas. Do the same after every page, and every section. Look closely at chapter headings; in Zinn, they often contain main ideas that you will need to be able to explain and illustrate. Work with a tutor. Discuss reading with friend/s. Make notes of your questions or reactions, or write out the main points briefly, in your books (use pencil if you wish to sell the books back.) Re-read main text; never read when you're tired. Consider your learning style. If you're an auditory learner, read aloud to yourself. If you're a kinesthetic (tactile) learner, write notes or draw pictures of what you're reading.

marking key points/passages: As you read, mark things that seem to you to be major ideas, changes of subject, or especially important or interesting. Work with a tutor, friend, or study group to check yourself.


note taking main ideas in lecture: Never try to write down everything the teacher makes. Listen carefully for what seem to be main points and examples of those points. Write those down. Listen for new ideas or changes of topic; listen for "signpost" language that numbers points, sums up, alerts you to a comparison, etc. Compare your notes to a friend's soon after class to fill gaps. Ask the teacher to summarize at the end. If you have trouble keeping up, ask questions or raise your hand and ask the teacher to slow down.


writing summaries of written material: Go back to finding the main point/s; restate those in your own words and add examples from the reading.


studying for an essay test : Plan ahead and block out study time NOW for the weeks before tests. Tell employers, friends, family members well in advance that you'll need a special schedule. Find a pocket calendar and, using information above, fill in the dates of major assignments and tests (it helps if you do this for all classes so you can plot your workload.) Figure backwards so you have enough time to write papers, study for tests, etc. Block extra time in case of problems. Look at the calendar often; cross things off as you complete them. Then, using the study sheet as a guide, try to boil readings and lecture notes down to one page of notes in outline form. (Write small!) Study the page until you know it. Explain your page to a friend in the class, and have them do the same; you'll catch each other's gaps.


structuring an essay: Essays generally have a beginning, middle , and ending. The middle makes some kind of an argument or arguments, and has supporting points and evidence. Make a quick outline before writing. English 250 and 1A will help you here, as will the Writing Center.


working in a group : Agree before you begin working that you're all responsible to see that no one dominates and falls asleep. Agree to disagree if you must. Have one person keep time and another keep discussion moving productively.


using the Internet for research : Take one of the library or journalism Internet classes; use the Santa Clara County Public Library Internet system, or sign up at log on at the Gavilan library. It's not difficult to use the World Wide Web.


using the library , books, and magazines for research: :English 1A teaches these skills. Also talk to a reference librarian, or get the booklet on research papers produced at the Writing Center.


using examples to prove a point: First, have a solid point you want to prove to a reader. Then think what evidence you'd need to prove it. Generally speaking, you may want two or three examples. Arrange them according to strength. The Writing Center can help.


making an oral presentation Sorry, you need to take a speech class, practice, and/or read some books on this topic. Can't teach that skill here.


asking questions in class: Assume other people are also confused about the same thing, or have the same question; it's nearly always true. Write down the question/s you have if you are nervous about asking so all you have to do is read it out; confidence is what stops most students from asking. If you are really having trouble, show the questions to the teacher before class.


generating questions based on readings: Be aware of three different kinds of questions you might ask: factual questions, about what or when or where things happened; interpretive questions, about what an event or idea meant; and probe questions, about how or why something happened in the way or context it did. Don't ask obvious questions; really think about what you're reading and wait for something to nag at you. I will try to answer your questions, so don't waste your time and mine by asking something just to get a question down. Ask something you don't know, and want to know. Jump in! A tutor could be a big help here, as could a friend who wants to discuss the material.