Cell Study Skills

students_testIf you teach freshman, then you are probably aware of the difficulties they have with memorizing terms.  Often the cell chapter, which occurs early in the year, is the first test where they are required to remember a large number of facts, images, and functions.   Most freshman do not have the study skills to be successful at this point.  I partly attribute this to a middle school philosophy that assigns grades mainly based on worksheets and reading.  Most of my freshman tell me that all of their tests in the past were open book.   I also note that for the most part, these students are very good at doing seat-work and filling out worksheets.  What they are not good at is remembering terms.   This is not surprising, many have not had to do this in the past.

So, the question is, how do you teach them study skills?  How do you teach them to commit words to memory?   I asked one student who received a 33% on a multiple choice test how he had studied.  He said that he just looked over his notes.   That epitomizes their basic strategy – “look stuff over and hope for the best.”   You can save yourself (and your students) a lot of pain by teaching them study skills early on.   Aim for specific strategies, not general ideas.

A few days before the cell test (usually after the notes and before the labs), I give my students a pre-test to determine how much they have absorbed just from the classroom lectures and activities.   The pre-test is usually a simple matching, cell parts to their functions.  (For example:  ribosomes are responsible for making proteins.).    After the tests are graded, any word they got wrong goes on a list and they are given note cards.  The words they didn’t know are placed on one side of the card and their definitions (functions) are placed on the other side.  Now they play a little “game” with their lab partners by quizzing each other on the words on the card.   You can even spice it up a little by adding rules or including the whole class on the game.   What this does is give students a strategy for memorizing terms that goes beyond the “look it over and hope for the best” method.

To expand on this idea, tell students that they don’t have to make note cards.  They can use regular paper and right words on the left and definitions on the right.  Fold the paper to cover the definitions and try to recite their definitions in your head – then check to see if you are correct.   All of this may seem fairly basic to us or to students who have learned how to be successful on tests, but most freshman have not learned these study skills.

Another way to review that students really seem to enjoy is cell bingo.   Have students draw a 4×4 or 5×5 grid on a piece of paper.   Write a list of words on the board and tell them to fill out their square with those words – but they cannot use a word twice.    Have definitions written on slips or cards and randomly draw the cards.  Read the definition and students have to find their word on the grid.  The game proceeds like bingo until someone has a complete row or column.  You can use pennies, beads, paper or other objects to mark the squares.   Winners can get candy or other motivators.